Interview: Al Murray

Interview: James Rampton
Monday 26 January 2004
reading time: min, words

'Representing decent, honest, hard-working, normal, tax-paying, law-abiding, ordinary people who don't want to pay their speeding fines.'


When he performed at the Royal Variety Show last year as the Pub Landlord, comedian Al Murray discovered that he had an unexpected fan. 'I did this routine about how all of Australia should be known as Queensland' he recalls, 'and in the Royal Box, I saw the Queen clapping. Afterwards in the line-up, she said to me, that was most amusing.

What was even more gratifying was that Murray did not have to tone down his raucous, riotous act one iota to gain this Royal seal of approval. 'I performed with the same degree of attitude as normal,' recollects the comedian, tucking into a bacon butty.'

'I love audience interaction,' he enthuses. 'It makes every gig unique and earths the whole thing. The alternative is doing a theatrical monologue. That's dangerous with character comedy because it creates a fourth wall and prevents any interaction. The live experience is different every night.'

The Landlord has also thrived on TV in such shows as Sky One's Time Gentlemen Please and BBC2's Live Floor Show. He is now on a 85-date tour of Britain - or should that be Great Britain? 'Representing decent, honest, hard-working, normal, tax-paying, law-abiding, ordinary people who don't want to pay their speeding fines,' the Guv'nor will be serving up his heady brew of British Thinking and Common Sense Reasoning to venues up and down the country.

Done up in his trademark, brewery-issue maroon jacket and BEER belt-buckle, the manic, crop-haired Landlord will soon be sloshing his pint about the Just The Tonic stage as he rants about subjects dear to his heart, such as: The Silent Majority, What Is Love? From Drama To Soap In A Generation: How It Used To Feel To Be British, The Old Gods, What Can We Learn From History? Cowboy Builders and Why It's Time To Bring Back Shame.

Surprisingly, however, one topic that will not feature very much this year is the Landlord's bete noire, the French. 'They only get one line this time round,' Murray reveals. 'All the French gags have already been done to death this year, so I'd only be repeating them. "

Murray has won the Perrier Award and twice been nominated for an Olivier. The Landlord makes for an acute satire of the worst kind of peering-over-the-privet-hedge-looking-enviously-at-your-neighbours Little Englanderism. Rather than celebrating bigotry, prejudice and narrow-mindedness, the Landlord is in fact spectacularly sending them up.

As always, there is a highly amusing gap between the amount of sense the Landlord talks and the unequivocal confidence with which he declares it. For instance, he explains the situation in the former Yugoslavia thus: 'it's very complicated, so we flattened it to make it easier to understand.'

Done up in his 'civvies' of a blue shirt and trousers, Murray reflects that 'there is this supreme irony that all the Landlord does is pour drinks and he is always telling other people they're wasting their lives. If there's one person who is completely ill qualified to sort out the world, it's the Landlord. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. We all think we know it all, but in fact we know precious little.'

Murray and I are sitting outside a Paddington pub called The Mad Bishop and Bear, a very Landlord-esque name. He has a full English breakfast's worth of stuff on his plate right now. Otherwise, however, the comedian could not be further removed from his outrageous alter ego. In place of the boorish pub bore, Murray is a sensitive, intelligent Oxford history graduate with a most un-Landlordly interest in learning and literature. Unlike his rabidly right-wing creation, the comic says he could never bring himself to vote Tory. There is, i'm very glad to report, a huge gulf between performer and performance. Murray is quick to underline that 'there is a strict gap between me and the Landlord. It's not even a fine line - it's a Grand Canyon!'

The Landlord is, however, a very useful vehicle for telling comic points. According to Murray, 'what's great about the Landlord is that through him you can approach a subject with a degree of irresponsibility. As me, I'd find it gauche to say 'we don't believe in anything - where's it got us?' That's a boring David Hare play rather than a stand-up routine. But when the Landlord says it, he succeeds in fashioning something quite daft out of it.'

As well as the tour, he is promoting a new video and DVD of a previous West End show, 'My Gaff, My Rules.'. 'It was fantastic playing at the West End,' Murray recounts, 'even if I sometimes had a look in my eye which said, 'I can't believe we're getting away with this!' With the video and DVD, I hope people will still be applauding the Landlord's jokes about the French in 40 years' time.'

With all this activity, does Murray ever foresee a time when he will want to send the Landlord to the great saloon bar in the sky? Not likely. Murray reckons that 'even though I've now been doing him for nearly ten years, it's not like there's an imminent shortage of things for him to talk about. I've still got loads to say as the Landlord.'

Al Murray is at Just The Tonic at Cabaret on Sunday 8th February

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