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That Joe just isn’t funny anymore
For his latest project Alexei Sayle recalls a childhood steeped in Stalinism. How did he manage to extract laughs from so serious a subject?
Paul Nolan, 24 May 2012
Legendary alternative comic Alexei Sayle is set to arrive in Belfast shortly for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, where he will be reading from his memoir Stalin Ate My Homework. Over the past 15 years or so, Sayle has in fact moved more towards the world of literature, and has enjoyed considerable success as an author of fiction.
Nonetheless, his humorous streak remains and many of the stories in Stalin... have a hint of comedy about them, such as the occasion his leftist parents decided to take him to a Sergei Eisenstein film rather than a Walt Disney cartoon, explaining that the studio mogul was a supporter of McCarthyism.
I wonder how Alexei now feels about his upbringing?
“I suppose it gives you a critical attitude towards the world,” he considers, in his Liverpudlian drawl. “I don’t really resent being raised in that way. If you want to be an artist, I think you have to be an outsider by and large, because normal people can’t be arsed with trying to interpret the world. It’s like, so many actors and actresses were in the forces and stuff, and again, in that scenario, you’re detached from normal society.”
Was there a particular aspect of his life Alexei wanted to explore in the book?
“It’s sort of about ideology,” he replies. “In a comical sort of way, it’s about being raised in a cult. A lot of it is about that and my strange reaction to it. There’s a subtext there about the nature of belief, and the dangerous nature of belief, the cultism and psychology of it.”
Where does the dangerous element come in?
“Well, it wasn’t a negative influence on me,” responds Alexei. “My parents were good people – well, at least my dad was – and they genuinely wanted justice and an end to oppression, but they ended up turning a blind eye to government nations who murdered a hundred million people. Stalin and Mao between them are much greater mass murderers than Hitler, for example.”
Martin Amis explored similar territory – and sparked a bit of a spat with his late friend Christopher Hitchens – in the book Koba The Dread.