I’m sitting by the phone waiting for Al Murray to call. The only problem is that I don’t know which Al Murray I’m going to talk to. Al Murray the Oxford-educated historian with aristocratic blood, the great-great-great grandson of Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray? Or ‘The Pub Landlord’, the loud-mouthed, salt-of-the-earth, xenophobic alter ego that has brought the real Murray comic riches and acclaim over nearly two decades?
‘I would challenge that description,’ says the 44-year-old comedian in measured, civilised tones that instantly identify (to my relief) that I have the real Al on the line. ‘He’s not a racist xenophobe – he’s a world-phobe. He’s frightened of everything: gravity, science, religion, common sense, gardening…’
Semantics aside, a riddle greater than any of The Pub Landlord’s quizzes is why such an obnoxious character continues to draw the crowds, more than a decade after Murray’s act hit the UK mainstream with 2002’s ‘My Gaff, My Rules’ show. Even more puzzling is how a character so based on British stereotypes can travel to far-flung locations such as Dubai, and sell out instantly. ‘The Pub Landlord travels remarkably well,’ explains Murray. ‘It’s not a British thing to say “my country is the best in the world but now it’s gone to [pot]”. Those people are everywhere.’
I ask him if he’s ever met a dead-ringer for his boisterous comic creation. ‘There’s a publican in London’s Hammersmith who is convinced I’ve sat and observed him at close quarters for hours, but I’ve never actually
been to his pub.’
Since inventing the character of the Pub Landlord to host an Edinburgh Fringe show in 1994, Murray has done precious little other comedy work of note. Doesn’t he ever pine to do something more, well, highbrow?‘Not at all. The business of creating a character, investigating his views, and using him as an ironic foil – I think that’s pretty highbrow.’
Perhaps he’d be keen to do a more personal act, then? Does he have any plans to do something out of character for a change? ‘I don’t think so. Stand-up requires you to be observational. For my money, The Pub Landlord is observational, and then you extend that and see where it takes us. If I had to start talking about, say, having “a difficult flight” – who’d care what I said about baggage handlers?’
Like him or loathe him, The Pub Landlord is here to stay. Stopping off in Dubai on his ‘The Only Way Is Epic’ tour, Murray promises an entirely new show that will solve ‘the greatest riddle of all time’ and offer a ‘root and branch take on Western civilisation’. Expect some light entertainment, then.
Dhs250. 8pm, September 11-14. First Group Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah, www.timeouttickets.com.