As his Pub Landlord alter ego, Al Murray’s face has become synonymous with xenophobic rants and right-wing, British nationalist rants. Extreme though the character may sound, he must be doing something right – when he last visited Dubai’s First Group Theatre in 2009, tickets for his stand-up performance sold like hot cakes, and this year’s three-day show, kicking off on September 7, has sold out completely.
In reality, the 43-year-old Oxford University graduate and father of two is nothing like his stage persona. When we last spoke to Murray, it was Pub Landlord through and through, but this time we decided to unearth his sensitive side – discovering why he loves parachuting, hates riots, and will never go on stage as himself.
What did you make of Dubai the last time you were here?
I had a really good time. It’s a fascinating place because it’s so new, or seems it. It was really interesting and the show was good fun – the crowd was really into it. I went to Barasti and the Burj Al Arab; we did the first-time-trip-to-Dubai stuff. I expect we may increase our range this time. We’re doing three or four shows, so we’ve got a bit more time.
Is there anything you’d like to do?
Maybe something a bit less touristy. We’re staying at the Madinat, which is lovely. That’s the weird thing about Dubai; you can have whatever [experience] you like. It’s peculiar.
We all know your Pub Landlord persona quite well, so we’d like to find out more about your sensitive side. When was the last time you cried?
Watching [UK TV charity appeal] Comic Relief last March. They had a film about a child who was about 13 and had to care for her younger siblings because their mum was very, very ill. I have a daughter who’s a similar age, and that really got to me.
What about a song you listen to when you’re feeling low?
When I’m feeling low I can’t listen to music! Honestly, it’s because I find music so affecting.
Are there any sights guaranteed to choke you up?
Oh, you know, the tear on an orphan’s face… [laughs]. I honestly don’t know. The truth is I very, very rarely cry. Without being an idiot, I’m from a very buttoned-up, English background and we don’t ‘do’ crying.
So you didn’t shed any tears over the recent riots in London?
No, that didn’t make me cry! That just made me think: ‘Oh no, here we go again’, and now yards and yards of drivel will be written about this stupidity. That’s what I thought.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Parachuting. That is scary, even though if the parachute works, you’ve got lots of reasons why it shouldn’t be scary. But standing at the door of a plane, getting ready to jump – that’s frightening, though I’ve done it a few times.
What keeps you going back?
I think precisely because it’s frightening. You think ‘Can I get a handle on that feeling? How do I process feeling like that?’ I think I’ve done it enough now to put aside the feelings. It’s a strange old thing, parachuting. The last time I did it, for a charity in Cambodia, I was just out of the door and I thought, ‘What on earth are you doing this for? This is ridiculous.’ I haven’t jumped since.
How do you want people to remember you?
I’d be amazed if I’m remembered at all. The thing about being in entertainment is that if you’re remembered, you’re very lucky. If you’re not, that’s par for the course. You can’t get hung up on all those things. If anything, I’d like to be remembered as a good dad.
Would you ever pursue stand-up, minus the Pub Landlord persona?
The advantage of the Pub Landlord is when you walk on stage, you’ve got the margins all figured out. I know where I can go and what I can do. With me, I honestly don’t know what any of that stuff is. I don’t know what I’d say as my opening line if I went on as me. I don’t really know my opinions on a lot of subjects. You’ve got to have a very clear voice [on stage], but I don’t think I really have one. The Pub Landlord is all opinion; he’s all about that stuff.
Have you ever told any jokes you wish you could take back?
Not at all. The thing about jokes is they are fleeting moments, and they really are meant as jokes. If someone says ‘I’m offended’, what they’re actually saying is ‘I don’t find it funny’. That’s the risk you run as a comedian, that people might not find you funny because not everyone has the same sense of humour. It took me a very long time to understand that they don’t all have to like you and the people who come to see you probably will, so chill out! [Laughs] Jimmy Carr talks about how, as soon as you realise the audience that comes to see you are there because they like you, it’s a lot easier.
Do you take heckling personally?
Sometimes there are situations you think might annoy you, but they don’t, and other times things get under your skin when really they oughtn’t to. Sometimes it’s just confusing. Every single circumstance is different; every situation is hard to call. That’s because comedy is entirely about context. To draw a silly parallel, I think that’s why a lot of [Duke of Edinburgh] Prince Philip’s quotes look terrible in print, but in the moment he’s probably being self-deprecating or doing it deliberately to ease a situation. The one time I ran into him, he said something really funny. And that’s the truth about comedy. It’s all about context.
Tickets to Al Murray Live in Dubai on September 7-9 are now sold out. Al Murray: The Pub Landlord Barrel of Fun Live Tour is available on DVD for Dhs33 at www.amazon.co.uk.
What kind of man are you?
Dirty Harry or Titanic? Dirty Harry
AC/DC or Abba? AC/DC
Night out or night in? Night out (no washing up)
Premier League or Coronation Street? Neither!
Bulldog or terrier? Terrier
Steak or sushi? Steak
Sweet or savoury? Savoury
Shower or bath? Shower
Mini or monster truck? Mini