Alexei Sayle helped transform the face of comedy but he says he almost stopped for good after feeling “beaten” by the business.
The comedian’s show is one of the highlights at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It’s already almost sold out.
But Sayle was once prepared to walk away from it all.
“I felt like I’d retired, that comedy had beaten me when I stopped in ’96.
“I was so ambitious and competitive.
“I had to smash it every night, I had to be the best.
“You could be the best comic in Britain then because there was only 11 people doing it.
“To come back triumphantly in 2012 was important for me personally.”
While most comedians make an annual pilgrimage to Edinburgh, this year is just his third visit.
“All this is because of me,” he jokes.
“Me and Tony Allen were here in 1980 and we were the first stand up comedy on the fringe, basically.
“This promoter was saying to me, ‘All these people have got rich off your back,'” he laughs. “Well, how am I supposed to feel about that?”
In the 1980s, Sayle was front and centre in the alternative comedy movement.
British comedy underwent a seismic change – the anarchic spirit of shows like the Young Ones changed comedy forever.
His Edinburgh set includes musings on the depressing propensity for comedians to cash in on DVD sales.
“Comedy is a gigantic industry now matching aerospace and pharmaceuticals,” he said.
But there is little chance you’ll ever find him embarking on an arena tour.
“There’s not enough people that want to be yelled at by a fat man,” he added.
With a Zen-like acceptance, at the moment he is just enjoying going with the flow.
“It’s like the grand master says, ‘There’s always opportunity, when one door closes another opens.’ I used to have a Vauxhall Astra like that.”
Sayle is at the Underbelly Med Quad, Cow Barn, 2-11 August.