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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Do some people take the Pub Landlord seriously? I really don't care

Al Murray on satire, the changing comedy circuit – and what he really thinks of Nigel Farage

It’s the question that’s dogged Al Murray throughout his comedy career. Is his Pub Landlord character lionised by the very small-minded Little Englanders he seeks to parody?

And it’s a question he has a very simple answer to:  ‘I don’t care. 

‘It bothers a lot of people,’ he admits. ‘Not me.’

Speaking at the Craft of Comedy conference in Llandudno, the comedian seemed cheerily resigned to accepting whatever an audience took away from his act.  ‘If you put a thing out there you’ve no control,’ he said. ‘You cannot tell how people will react to a joke.’

He said he’d read reviews that claimed that as much 80 per cent of his audience don’t realise the act is a gag – a figure he disputed, arguing: ‘ I’ve been to more of my gigs than anyone else,  so I don’t think it’s true.

‘But if it is – that’s hilarious.’

And when critics accuse him of encouraging bigots, he ’s certain: ’No I’m not, I’m taking the piss.

‘And you can’t depict the crazy, hallucinatory opinions that the Pub Landlord has without showing them.’

Murray believes his act has a newfound relevance in the wake of Brexit, saying it proved him right after critics dismissed the shtick was ‘out of date’ seven or eight years ago.

‘I thought it wasn’t, that such an attitude was out there and lurking – and I’ve been proved right. ‘

‘Now it’s a really interesting time to do the act.’

Of course he made maximum use of that timeliness when he stood against Nigel Farage in South Thanet at the 2015 general election… and the former Ukip leader looms large over Murray’s act,  a figure who shares the Guv’nor’s simple-minded nostalgia, blind patriotism and love a good pint.

Asked bluntly by an audience member if Farage was a ‘cunt’,  Murray replied: ‘Yeah.’

He described how that on the night of the election count, the Ukip table was ‘like a scene from Downfall’ – the movie about the last days of Adolf Hitler – when it emerged Farage was not taking the seat form the Tories.

‘God it was great,’ Murray gloated.

And when it came to making the speeches conceding defeat, an ‘absolutely leathered’ Farage, that champion of British fair play, said his piece and then abruptly left, not doing the decent thing and listening to the other candidates have their moment.

Murray didn’t have the words for his reaction to Farage’s behaviour… but he did have a universally recognised hand gesture.

As to the apparently chaotic way the Brexit negotiations are proceeding, Murray simply laughed: ‘I want the shitshow to unfold in full.’

‘It’s hilarious,’ he guffawed. ‘It’s quite hard to be too upset about it. The doublethink at the heart of it, that we are giving sovereignty back to parliament but they don’t get a vote on it!

‘Contradictions are funny and all our politicians were doing that at the moment.’

However pertinent the Pub Landlord is in these times,  Murray was keen to emphasise that’s not all he does. ‘Politics is a large chunk of what I do but talking abject shit is a big part too,’ he said.

And he said the longevity of an act – initially conceived as a five-minute filler for Harry Hill’s Edinburgh show more than 25 years ago – was because ‘I have no plan, I just try to make him as idiotic as possible.’

Murray explained that he liked performing in character as it ‘offers you armour’ and gives him a shortcut to get into the material, especially now audiences  know the character.

Besides, he insists: ‘I’m not interested in anyone knowing anything about me.’

And he says he ‘marvels’ at comedians who go out with a script and no audience interaction to shake things up, saying:  I would  get bored or go insane.’

Asked to reflect on how the comedy world has changed over his career, he welcomed the fact it was easier to get a start in the business these days.

‘Everyone’s a comedian now,’ he quipped. ‘There is now an industry. The first thing I did was the Oxford Revue in 1989, when  there was probably 40 or 50 comedians.  There were a few on telly: Kelly Moneith, Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrott, Victoria Wood hoving into view, but it wasn’t really a thing.

‘Edinburgh is now bigger, more exciting, with a lot more going on. It’s not as parochial as it once was and now people have heard of it.’

Outside of the fringe, he said the main change was that ‘being a comic seems to be a real option now there are so many broadcasters and even podcasting to get people to know you. The thought of being a comic never really occurred to us.’

He admitted the extra competition meant ‘all of the slices of the pie are getting smaller’ but  believed that competition drove he quality up.

‘Everyone’s brilliant now,’ he said. ‘You used to be able to chug away for years being rubbish, now you’ll get found out.’

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Published: 17 Jun 2018

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