Grizzled but cool - Alexei Sayle at The Hobgoblin Comedy Festival
IT'S been a while since we last saw Alexei Sayle on tour. He's always been kind of a busy man though, what with acting, writing and – as he says himself – just generally being 60 years old.
But the Scouse comedian, once famed for acting roles in cult TV series The Young Ones and even Hollywood blockbuster Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, and for the success of his comedy song Ullo John, Gotta New Motor? is finally on the road again.
And one of his dates is at The Hobgoblin Cheltenham Comedy Festival on Tuesday, where he will be appearing on the Town Hall stabe.
"I haven't toured in the UK for 17 years," says Alexei. "I think I was just tired, which is why I stopped. Since I was the first MC of the comedy store in 1979 I'd been touring and we made a lot of mistakes because we were doing everything for the first time.
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"Trying to do stand-up in discos and car washes and recruiting tour managers from the Marines, that kind of thing."
For someone who was once so well-known in the country, and who is widely considered to have been a founder of the alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s, touring again must be like coming home.
"Its great. It's just me and my wife driving ourselves rather than a psychopathic Marine. But the shows are great too. Audiences are a lot less . . . violent than they used to be but also more interested in innovative material."
And as a writer, a radio broadcaster, a newspaper columnist and an actor, does he still consider himself a comedian first and foremost?
"I think a lot of the most interesting work I've done is as a writer but I feel a tremendous sense of brotherhood with other comics while none of my friends are novelists (I hear Ian McEwan isn't much of a laugh). So I have to say I'm a comic first.
"I don't have time to do anything else though at the moment. I'm 60 years old so the most energetic thing I should really be doing is walking a small dog. So I'm either driving to the show, doing the show or asleep these days."
His new column in the Telegraph is going down very well but it's not about comedy or politics, as you might expect. It's about cars.
"I've always been a motoring journalist," says Alexei. "For the Independent and Car magazine, and I used to occasionally present Top Gear when it was at its lowest ebb with long features about the boot carpet in the Ford Orion."
Most people think of Alexei as a political satirist, a comedian with strong leanings to the left and a cutting wit which hit a certain nerve in the Eighties. But surely he's mellowed? What's this new tour about?
"It's about change, I guess. How comedy's changed, how I've changed.
"Politics then, politics now and a bit about penguins," he laughs.
He's the first to admit he's aging so what about his audience? Are the people coming to his shows still politically-aware student types?
"There seems to be a nice mix actually. About 50 per cent are grizzled older people who remember me from the first time around and a lot of younger people who want to see a living legend shouting at them and perhaps having a stroke on stage."
Alexei's fans are a devoted lot and, as you can instantly tell from hearing him talk, he's a born performer and is still as quick and as funny as ever. Don't miss this rare chance to see him doing stand-up. The times have changed and his beard might be grey but Alexei Sayle is still one of Britain's greatest comics.
Tickets to see Alexei cost £14 from 0844 576 2210.