“People very often get confused between ends and means in comedy, and the end is to make people laugh” – Al Murray on controversy in comedy, the Pub Landlord, and ‘The (British) Empire Strikes Back’
Perfect for anyone who enjoys a Pint – or a wine for the Ladies – the Pub Landlord is back in town. I sat down with Al Murray to talk about his most famed creation.
Despite a classical education [Oxford], you’re best known as the Pub Landlord, and on TV as the Voice of the Silent Majority on Mock the Week; how did that come about?
[The Voice of the Silent Majority] is a slice of the Pub Landlord, ’cause what happens when you go on programs like Mock the Week they go, “Do this bit of your act, please.” So you end up having to sacrifice chunks of your act to the program…But the Pub Landlord, he’s an every-man sort of character; he’s an archetype more than anything else.
Do audiences respond very differently between Australia and the UK?
Well that’s a really good question; I was last here in October, in Brisbane and Perth and here in Melbourne, and I thought I was going to have to trim the sails a bit, but actually it all seemed to be pretty usual…I didn’t have to do too much to change it. You’ve got to acknowledge where you are, but I think because he’s an archetype – a know-all who knows nothing – I don’t think that’s an exclusively British Quality.
So how did the Pub Landlord come about?
By accident! I was doing a show in Edinburgh in ’94, with Harry Hill, and I was playing clubs, I was in a band, and we had bits and pieces of a show, but no way of linking it all together, and we were performing the show in a bar, in a cabaret bar, and I said, “well how about I say that the compère has not turned up, and the Barman has offered to fill in,” and that’s what we did. Just like that. By accident.
And you’re still doing it all these years later!
Yeah, yeah! Basically after that I had to write more stuff, flesh it all out, and by the end of the tour I had the thing completely worked out.
Why is it that slightly-out-of-time characters like the Pub Landlord retain a place in our hearts? You could hardly call him the most PC of people…
That might be a reason why people like him; he isn’t necessarily PC, although that isn’t really what I’m trying to do…when people talk about “PC” and sex-being-edgy, the more edges there are to push against, the better it is for comics, really. It’s the opposite of what people think, actually; the more things there are you can’t say, the more opportunity comics have for causing a commotion. I think I’ve made the character slightly timeless because I write loads of stuff every year to keep it fresh.
Would you say then there’s a place for controversy in comedy?
Of course there is! But…it’s just a means to an end, not the end in itself. People very often get confused between ends and means in comedy, and the end is to make people laugh. You could be edgy, you could be personal, you can tell tall tales, you can do puns, you can be political; these aren’t the end in itself, but a means to an end.
If you could get use to VB, do you think the Pub Landlord’d ever consider running for office here? As a nation, we practically run on beer, so we’re more than ready for a bloke waving a pint around offering common sense solutions….
[LAUGHTER] Absolutely! I could probably persuade as many people to vote for me as I did in the UK.
What can you tell us about your show The (British) Empire Strikes Back at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival?
If you’ve seen the Landlord before, it’ll be that kind of thing, with some new things, some slightly specific things for here that I’ve been working on. And if you’re not familiar with what I do…don’t sit at the front!
The (British) Empire Strikes Back is on from March 23rd until April 3rd at the Forum Theatre Downstairs. Tickets range from $33 to $39.50 and are available via the MICF website.