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His memoir of life in his twenties and early thirties, Thatcher Stole My Trousers, is full of self-accusation, pratfalls, memories of idiocy and delusion, all built up for comic effect.
"I was thinking: 'I'm fucking brilliant, I am extraordinary, to be able to do this, and control this crowd on this night; there's nobody in the country who could've done what I've done, nobody in the world.'" You look at Sayle for signs of self-deprecation."He was very much an antic spirit, like a Lord of Misrule," says Sayle. We had a very ambiguous relationship because we were ploughing the same field. "It was Dennis who first summed up my contribution to comedy by saying I was the first comic he'd ever seen who didn't want the audience to like them."He took crazy physical risks, like riding on the roof of a train. What Keith couldn't do was bang it out every night. I wanted to make them laugh but I didn't want to do it by gaining their sympathy or trust." Sayle spends much of the book reporting how much people didn't like him and how he stayed aloof from celebrity, endlessly buoyed up by his 42-year relationship with his wife, Linda.I worried about putting it in the book, but I think it's a funny story, deciding which part of Marxist dialectic I was transgressing. I was interested in pretending to be a drug dealer." He's high-minded about not signing on the dole when out of work, although the welfare state is a central tenet of socialism.Later he disparages subsidised comedy or drama, and insists it should survive only with money from paying customers (very Thatcherite free market)."No, I didn't really understand them – they seemed unserious, dilettante-ish." Really? "So much about his experience was identical to mine. "What ruined Aaronovitch was that he believed it all, and was angry at his parents' betrayal of what he believed in. Instead I chose to stand on the sidelines laughing at everyone. "How would anyone in Anfield know what Chelsea Art School was like? I used to come down to London, on my free rail pass. I knew it was the No 1 school, so I wanted to go there." It was a shock to meet the rich for the first time – and to find that the staff encouraged rebellion.
Hence my subsequent career." Sayle came to London in 1971 to study painting at Chelsea School of Art. My friend Glen Cocker had a mate at the Royal Academy, and we went to Chelsea to see David Hockney give a talk. "They very nearly threw me out; but then I made this little film [about a magician performing inept tricks to a rapturous and adoring crowd] which they loved because they thought I was taking the piss out of them.
Like Frank Carson – he'd had an interesting life, he'd been in the Paras, served in Palestine after the war, and all he did was tell fucking gags. Bernard Manning or one of the others would say, 'I'm not feeling too well this morning,' and you'd say, 'Oh I'm sorry to hear it,' and it would turn into a fucking gag. ' Morecambe & Wise, you could see there was some heart in their material. They seemed tortured, like Arthur Miller characters." Some of the new-wave comedians don't escape a slap from Sayle.
His stories about Keith Allen, a Comedy Store stalwart, reek of exasperation at his manic behaviour: his penchant for onstage nakedness, his habit of throwing darts (not paper ones – real ones) at audience members, his love of smashing things. It doesn't work for me, but…" A writer called Dennis Berson makes an incisive comment about Sayle in the book.
I never really liked it." That would have been in 1968.
Was he inspired by the student riots in Paris that year? And 'bourgeois' and 'dialectic'." He's been reading David Aaronovitch's book Party Animals, about the journalist's communist parents. They fell out with him and found a non-communist one – and discovered you could get an injection before a filling." He laughs huskily.
He blazed a trail for a new generation of punkish comic violence (such as The Young Ones) and politically engaged stand-up, that consigned to oblivion the old gag- merchants; he effectively silenced the humour of mothers-in-law, tits, arses, Pakis, micks and poofs.