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Al Murray

Al Murray

Murray's grandfather Sir Ralph Murray was a diplomat, working at the Political< Warfare Establishment propaganda unit. And his great-great-great-grandfather was William Makepeace Thackeray.

Al wread modern history at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he started performing comedy.

His break came in 1994, when he was invited compere in Harry Hill's Edinburgh show Pub Internationale, and created the pub landlord character.

Nominated for the Perrier more often than anyone else, Murray was ruled out the running in 1999 for being 'too popular', until organisers relented. He was also nominated for best theatre tour in the 2008 Chortle awards.

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Stand-up For Satire

Stand-up For Satire

'I am going to reinstate your faith in censorship,' Frankie Boyle tells the audience at the Index On Censorship charity gig, foreshadowing the barrage of appalling-taste gags that provoke winces and laughs in equal measure.

And he should know about shutting down free speech, given that he's at the centre of angry protests for his Belfast show to be banned next week because of jokes he's previously made at the expense of the disabled.

At London's Union Chapel he delivers the anticipated outrageous gags – mocking the indefatigable evil of Jimmy Saville or suggesting alternatives to treatment for cancer sufferers – but he's also keen to explain himself. Jokes are a way to bring up ideas beyond the well-defined 'tramlines' in which most of polite society thinks, he argues.

It's not the only serious moment. He seems slightly out-of-sorts from fairly early on, revealing that he wasn't quite sure what he wanted to say given that he'd been so wound up by the awful dehumanising rhetoric surrounding the Calais migrants. Though 'dehumanising' is probably the word Boyle's many critics would use to describe some of his jokes. Complicated stuff this, isn't it…

Still Boyle has the temperature of the audience, winning applause breaks for sincere comments such as this, or his disgust at David Cameron's hypocrisy in vowing defence of free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders, while refusing a visa to Chinese artist – and regime critic – Ai Weiwei. (A decision now reversed this afternoon).

And those jokes, however brutal, are so devastatingly effective you laugh despite your morals being challenged, or perhaps because of it.

With material still in progress Boyle did not close the night, but was the penultimate comic – a decision that surprised headliner Andrew Maxwell as much as anyone. Though the Irishman's impassioned, mischievous brand of social commentary hit the spot precisely, and maintained the energy at the end of a long but entertaining night… as benefit gigs are wot to be.

Host Al Murray kept the mood buoyant, too – helped by answers to the 'what do you do?' questions that seem too good to be true. Not the usual procession of IT experts and administrators, tonight the comedy gods gave him Greek removal man, a posh museum worker and a dentist (topical) to play with, among others. And play he did.

Opening act Shappi Khorsandi was bang on message with tales about her father Hadi, exiled from Iran for his satire. She even tracked down the death warrant the Ayatollah signed. In defiance of the humourless, he remains an inviolate prankster even in his eighth decade, as Khorsandi Jr described wonderfully – alongside stories of her own feckless life, joking about being a neglectful mother unable to hold down a relationship.

Grainne Maguire comes from a different place (and not just Ireland); she's a childless thirtysomething and society heaps a whole lot of different crap on women in that category, which she addresses deftly. And although her acute take on the tyranny of clubbing as a way of meeting people was a little verbose, the blunt ending of the rant gets a hearty laugh. Kudos too for finding a new Monica Lewinsky joke after all this time, and for an astute take on Labour's leadership woes.

Like Maguire, Doc Brown isn't afraid to slow the pace down to set a mood that's undercut with a joke. And despite his protestations that he's not cool, he has the charm and charisma to keep the audience rapt during the down beats. The rapping that made his name made only a brief appearance as he discussed how he might get away with being gangsta only in the Cotswolds – including surely the first use of the word 'doily' in a hip-hop context. Instead he used his vocal talents for a pervy cod Italian accent – and silly voices are never not funny.

Brown also spoke about being a dad, making parenting the biggest theme of the night – far more than censorship – and it was a train that Kerry Godliman was happy to join too. As well as exchanges on Mumsnet or rows with her offspring in the pasta aisles, her well-crafted observational comedy ranged from intense passive-aggressive female friendships to the ubiquity of Buddha. There's astute thinking behind her relatable 'we've all been there' vignettes, too, guaranteeing success on the night.

Click here for photos from the gig and more about Index On Censorship..

Saturday 1st Aug, '15

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