Al Murray: interview
As 'The Pub Landlord's Beautiful British Tour' arrives in London, Time Out discovers that Al Murray's not about to call time on his most famous creation
How’s ‘The Pub Landlord’s Beautiful British Tour’ going?
‘Wonderfully. It’s been excellent fun. It’s been a while since I last wrote a new stand-up show – actually the last one I wrote was probably three years ago – so it’s been nice to rediscover being a stand-up and the things that were (and still are) exciting about it.’
How has the Pub Landlord developed over the years?
‘The very first time I did him was with Harry Hill, when we were doing this pub band thing. The whole idea was that the act hadn’t turned up so the landlord of the bar was filling in. Initially, he was very reluctant to be on stage – he had opinions and was fond of the sound of his own voice but didn’t really want to be there. But that very quickly fell away because it didn’t work in a cabaret environment. I’ve always been a cabaret kind of comic – it’s not a needlepoint real portrayal of a character – it’s Homer Simpson, not Hamlet. He’s a caricature. I don’t know his middle name. I don’t know when he was born.’
Did you have any idea when you started playing the Pub Landlord 15 years ago that you’d still be doing him today?
‘No, but by the same token, I’ve never seen why I should stop doing it. People would come up to me after the first couple of Edinburgh shows and say, “How long are you going to keep doing this for?” and I thought: Well, for as long as I can write new jokes for it. And that’s been the key to keeping it fresh. In fact, the older I’ve got, the better he’s been for me to play. It was quite tricky playing him when I was 25 or 26, I was a bit young to be inhabiting the character, really. He’s a much more comfortable fit now. The other thing I’ve always thought is that he’s a totally bottomless pit of material, because unlike me, I know where the edges of his character are so I can dig deeper. Because he’s so opinionated it gives me much more scope.
'In real life I’m very ambivalent about things in general. I don’t like hard and fast opinions. I find it hard to deal with; political certainty, for instance – I mean it’s bullshit that one group of people have all the answers – so if I went on stage as myself you wouldn’t get very cutting satirical stand-up, because I’m all over the place. But as the landlord I can come up with a convoluted, beer logic, with hard and fast explanations for anything I fancy talking about. Take the credit crunch; the truth is I live in Chiswick, have paid my mortgage off and am fairly wealthy so it’s less of a drama for me – but for the pub landlord it’s a huge issue, like it is for most people. In a weird way, because I’m admitting to the fact I’m lying about myself by playing a character, I can get away with dealing with truthful subjects.’
Does it ever worry you that some members of the audience might not fully appreciate the irony of the character?
‘Once you’ve created a work of art you have no control of how people respond to it. People can find it funny or not; they can be offended or not. I think I know what I’m doing and I’ve got it under control. There are enough things that point out it’s irony, as far as I’m concerned. Some people miss it. I know of at least one critic who says it’s not ironic any more, it’s become the thing it’s parodying because of who’s coming to the show. But if someone comes up to me and goes, “I love what you say about the French. You’re spot on,” and you stop to consider what I’ve actually said, which is that the French are idiots because they’ve got a town called Brest and none of them think it’s funny, all they’re agreeing with is a load of mental bullshit, so the joke’s on them. It’s not my job to tell people what to think; I can’t bear comedians who do that. You’re supposed to make people laugh. If people are laughing, I don’t care whether they get it or not because I have a clear conscience.’
The gay Nazi character you played in your recent sketch series was fairly poorly received? In retrospect was that a good decision?
‘I fully expected people to read the wrong end of that. As I see it, it was a sketch where a gay man makes a fool of Hitler: that could possibly be the most politically correct thing you could ever do.’
What’s next for you?
‘I’ve been so bitten by the stand-up bug that if I just do that for another five years I wouldn’t be fussed at all.’
Al Murray’s ‘The Pub Landlord’s Beautiful British Tour’ is at the O2 Arena, Fri May 8 and Sat May 9.
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