Alexei Sayle was at the forefront of the alternative comedy scene back in the 1980s– surreal, inventive and, in the era of Margaret Thatcher, militantly political. However, despite comedy growing into a titanic industry in the interim, and a fractious political climate, Sayle believes there’s no real successor on television today.
“When this recession started in 2008, I was filming Miss Marple, and I remember my driver said ‘have you heard Bank of America have just bought Meryl Streep?’” he told an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, “I thought immediately that comedians would do that, just out of opportunism really, not necessarily out of their feelings in general.”
“But it never really happened, and I don’t completely know why, because I think there is a market out there.”
Asked about modern satire such as Mock the Week, Sayle believed they weren’t serving the same purpose: “There is Mock the Week and stuff like that, but that just seems nihilistic, saying they’re all as bad as each other.”
Sayle, who was promoting the third volume of his memoirs Thatcher Stole My Trousers, went on to note that while political acts like Mark Steel have a committed following “they’re not mass entertainers anymore, they don’t seem to have that impulse to play the biggest venues while being as provocative and innovative.”
However, Sayle wasn’t completely dismissive, highlighting an unlikely champion of switched-on comedy.
“One of the few people who tried to take it on was Russell Brand, while occasionally talking about his winkle, and that didn’t quite go according to plan.”