Litfest 2010: Alexei Sayle at Phipps Hall 11/03/10
AS A man who spent his early years in stand up braving the bear pits of the 80s alternative comedy scene, the audience at The Huddersfield Literature Festival can't hold much fear for Alexei Sayle.
The crowd which attended the comedian and novelist's reading at Phipps Hall in the university on Thursday were something of a dream for the scouse-born author, their questions afterwards focusing more on his Communist upbringing and political theory than what it was like meeting Motorhead on The Young Ones.
The delivery of extracts of his novel "Overtaken" is not exactly polished and he often finds himself tongue tied or losing the sense of sentences as he reads, stopping, having a quick swear, and finding his place again. For a comedian that made his name with agression however, it's his geniality and ease in front of a crowd that keeps you onside.
The slips in his readings were punctuated by his own asides, which still display the biting class conscience he made his name with. Particular gems were his confession that the arts are so prevalent in London his basement was infested with mime artistes and his opinion of the word "workshop", which unless used in the context of light engineering cannot be printed in a family newspaper.
It's when he moves to his yet-to-be-published memoir, still in the form of A4 sheets for the editing process, that the readings really take off.
"Stalin Ate My Homework" charts his improbable communist upbringing in Anfield, the kind of material that almost exists for an autobiography. His mum's innate suspicion of capitalism was so rampant she refused to believe taxis would turn up to her house, sure they'd ditch the fare in favour of any passing gentry. Cue little Alexei's constant shuttle missions to the rank to check that they were in fact coming and hadn't had their heads turned by an aristocrat.
It's material that really comes alive and he's fascinating on the gradual self delusion that can co-exist in a loving, happy family - organising the annual holiday to Southport one minute, excusing the policies of the world's worst mass murderer the next.
You could say that releasing an autobiography that only takes you up to the age of 17 shows some considerable ego, after all Presidents and Prime Ministers often manage to get born, elected and chucked out in one book. On this evidence though the post-war upbringing of a jewish, atheist communist who loves Christmas could probably fill volumes.