Al Murray at the Ealing Comedy Festival

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Al Murray’s the big draw at the penultimate night of the Ealing Comedy Festival, billed as a ‘special guest who cannot be named’, though it’s not such a big secret since the strength of his name is needed to fill the huge West London tent.

There’s no huge surprise, either, as to what the Pub Landlord does when he takes to the stage – mock and tease everyone in the ‘room’ who doesn’t fit his narrow definition of what’s normal, the highest aspiration of any true Brit, in his view.

But even though we know the drill by now – women should be nurses or secretaries, men should be called Dave etc, etc – the spontaneity of the performance stops it seeming tired. Rather it’s a game in which we all know our roles and play them with glee.

Away from the subtlety-sapping arenas, Murray can be more playful with the tropes he’s worked so hard to establish over the past 18 years. He only needs to hint at backstory and the audience make the crucial leap to where the comedy lies for themselves. Asides about the absent dads’ group he attends thus manage to be funny without to much explanation, though the hidden heartache no doubt goes some way to explaining the Guv’s bravado.

Maybe the relatively intimate surroundings allow him to play more freely with ideas that might easily be misconstrued by a mob mind, too, for he gets quite explicit in his character’s irrational queasiness about homosexuality without danger of anyone thinking: ‘He’s got a point there...’

The Landlord’s ideas of good old British down-to-earth common sense, seemingly inspired by Daily Mail columnists, are usually wittily misplaced, though he can also encapsulate big ideas pithily: the modern condition that ‘kids think they’re adults and adults think they’re kids’ is as good a way as any of summing up 2012 society in a single phrase.

Elsewhere, history buff Murray gets to show off his knowledge in an impressive barrel back through one ‘worst government ever’ before another. Yet he knows we’re in tough times, a perfect excuse for the back-to-basics ideas his persona so loves.

But let’s not look too closely at the motivations, this is simply 45 very funny minutes of a bloke taking the piss with a swaggering confidence and unrivalled crowd skills.

Preceding him, Ian Stone was more overtly political, mixing passionate views with the care-worn acceptance of a middle-aged man who knows he’s fighting a losing battle but still makes the effort. Although in some sense he’s preaching to the converted, this is not a routine of rallying cries, but a collection of rock-solid jokes based on current events, informed by a clear point of view.

Having said that, his description of the Twitter exchange between the Dalai Lama and ‘Sheffield Tony’ is one of the best bits of his sets, and that’s just silly. And the only political statement that really gets this crowd riled up is the council worker who admits to working in the parking department, prompting a deafening chorus of boos.

But overall, Stone’s wry commentary and efficient writing skills ensured this was a set that hit home.

Opening the night, Otiz Cannelloni took a few minutes to find his groove… or at least for the audience to become attuned to the facts that these corny ‘dad gags’ and half-arsed magic tricks are in fact his act, that he’s well aware how cheesy they are, and that is precisely why they are funny.

By the end he’d won most of the tent over, though it was more hit-and-miss than recent performances Chortle has seen… and the ‘3D magic’ finale seemed to lack any sort of purpose or punchline other than filling a couple of minutes with an audience distraction not connected to comedy.

As compere, Jo Caulfield kicked the night off with some rather workaday observations about reality TV or what a disappointment the Olympics will be – even though her grumpily dismissive attitude makes the straightforward content more appealing than it would otherwise be. But only material about the unwanted friendliness of the locals in he new home of Edinburgh seemed genuinely heartfelt.

By the time the second half arrived, she hit her stride with a routine about that inexhaustible subject of the difference between men and women. But her twist was to report back from the front line of a boys’ night out at the pub, reading ‘verbatim’ extracts of the conversation from her notebook with the cold, forensic detachment of a policeman giving evidence – and so exposing the banality of the banter.

Thank god we have Murray to show us how banter’s really done.

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Published: 20 Jul 2012

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Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2006

Ian Stone: Embrace The Chaos


Edinburgh Fringe 2007

Ian Stone: Healthy Disrespect


Edinburgh Fringe 2008

Ian Stone: Where’s the Down?


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