Al Murray is a British man. A man most famed for his character The Pub Landlord who personifies the stereotype of the privileged, xenophobic Brit.
This isn’t the American stereotype of a monacled, sweet-talking dapper type exclaiming “by-jove” periodically. No, this is the alcohol fuelled, opinionated, outspoken, crude sort who demands a full English fry-up whether they’re in Greenford or Greenland.
In the UK, Al Murray is a household name, frequently appearing on television and playing on the ability to speak the unspeakable that only a character can get away with. When asked whether or not it’s a problem getting this character to translate to international audiences Al hasn't found any issues so far. “It’s not a problem at all, which is the weird thing.
“It tends to be that people go 'yeah, that’s what the Brits are like'. It’s not an obstacle in the slightest. When I first took the act abroad, which was to Melbourne in 1998, I thought 'this is going to be tricky' and it wasn’t. It was really peculiar.”
Al hasn’t visited Australia since the start of the millennium. A lot has happened since then. When the delicate subject of the Ashes was brought up, I asked if Al had heard how it went. “Well you know, it's been brought to my attention. What a... Thing! It's pretty good, I was at Cardiff and watching Australia come unstuck was pretty exciting to be honest. They looked tired.” Perhaps one of the kinder ways to describe the recent test.
It’s been a long time since Al first created The Pub Landlord persona, first gaining notoriety playing fellow comedian and inspiration Harry Hill’s older brother in Harry’s own TV show. “My ambition when I started doing him was to get off doing 20 minutes in clubs, and do an hour and do it in Edinburgh. I think stand-up in general works better in the long form than it does in short, especially doing a character because you can lay out more ideas with it, make it more involved and take it further. You just can’t do that in 20 minutes. My ambition was to get to do an hour-long set and see how that worked.”
Relatively recently, Al took a political turn with his character, running for parliament in the UK parliamentary constituency of South Thanet. This was also the constituency of the infamous right wing United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. Imagine someone who shared The Pub Landlord’s views, but was sincere about them. Someone who makes Donald Trump look down to earth.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Al only managed a few hundred votes, but his impact was unquestionable. He effortlessly highlighted the hypocrisy and extremities of the views of his opponent through exaggerated parallels.
When asked if we can expect anything more from The Pub Landlord’s political career, Al explains: “No, I think we kind of made our point at the time, it was the most extraordinary thing to get involved with because so many angry people were going 'you can’t get involved with politics'. Everyone’s involved in politics, it’s an election.
“Then other people were going 'you’re going to fool people into voting for you', but people can vote for whoever they want, that’s how it works. It was a completely fascinating thing to get involved with, worth every second and also totally annoying; it completely took over my life.”
You have to wonder how much of Al’s audience take his act on the sincere level and how many are in on the joke. It’s easy to assume that everyone understands the distinction between Al Murray the Oxford University graduate and The Pub Landlord, but by the sheer scale of his popularity in the UK, it’s clear there are many who worryingly see him as a genuine spokesman.
When asked about the balance of those who understood and those who didn’t, Al says: “I have no idea because I haven’t asked them and I don’t care. You can’t figure out why people are laughing at something, they’re laughing and that’s as far as we can go with it really. You can’t control what people make of something. You can issue edicts and hand-out notes, but it’s not like a painting in an art gallery where it has a little plaque next to it explaining what it’s meant to be."
Fri 16 Oct - The Forum (Melbourne) Mon 19 - Wed 21 October - Just For Laughs (Sydney Opera House) Fri 23 Oct - The Tivoli (Brisbane) Mon 26 Oct - Astor Theatre (Perth)