It’s hard not to like Al Murray.
But his reputation goes before him. Or more accurately, his character does. He begins our interview by saying: “People have an expectation of me, so when they meet me, I can be a bit different to it. As long as I’m not like The Pub Landlord, people are going to like me because he’s just so horrible.” In fact, throughout our conversation he’s well-spoken, polite and surprisingly modest, unlike his loud-mouthed alter ego, who he describes as “The man who knows everything.”
It’s two weeks before the award-winning stand-up, better known by his comic character The Pub Landlord, hits the stage at Dubai World Trade Centre with his successful ‘One Man, One Guvnor’ tour, on Friday October 2. He’s just come from lunch with a friend, which, he tells us, is another way he’s found to procrastinate. “I’ve stuff to write so I’m doing everything to avoid it,” he says, in between fits of laughter and the occasional expletive.
But aside from the swearing, Murray couldn’t be more different to the hops-swilling, belligerent character he plays. As it happens, he’s an Oxford graduate with a degree in history, a descendant of the 19th century novelist William Makepeace Thackeray and his grandfather was a diplomat who married into an aristocratic Austrian family. Born in Buckinghamshire, Murray boarded at the prestigious Bedford School at the age of nine, which he hated and maintains today was pretty hard going. “You didn’t get time to yourself. Everyone was on top of you the whole time.” Space issues aside, the funnyman says it helped him develop a thick skin – something very necessary in the stand-up comedy business. “You try not to get too bothered about things in a situation like that; like being too territorial. It helped me learn that some things aren’t worth getting bothered about.” Like critics, for instance. “If someone is being rude I think the best thing to do is to just say, ‘Well okay, lovely to meet you’. It makes the rudeness empty if you respond politely. They’re just trying to get a rise out of you,” he says, with a reflective tone.
So after 20 years of playing a character often described in the UK as a “national treasure”, what does Murray attribute his success to? “Familiarity,” he says with a sigh. “The longer you stick around, the better. You can get into people’s imaginations more. If you disappear or drop a character quickly, you might not have got to everybody.” And while Murray says he’d run a mile if he was ever to meet The Pub Landlord, he admits he enjoys the freedom that the character brings. “You can talk at sort of right angles about something. You can discuss things better than if you were as yourself, so it’s freeing, but not in a ‘I’m-shy-and-I-don’t-know-what-to-say kind of way’. It’s more that I can be incredibly outrageous if I want, which is something I’d never do myself.”
Murray took his “outrageous” behaviour to another level earlier this year when he ran in the UK General Election in the hope of becoming an MP, hysterically, not as himself, but as the fictional Pub Landlord. The stunt garnered national media attention. “I’m a terrible show-off. That’s what it boils down to,” Murray says, with a bellowing laugh. “I think being a comic is quite journalistic, you can sort of report on what’s going on.”
Despite losing out to Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay, Murray’s political and social agenda continues to be part of his show and has been praised by London’s The Telegraph as an “affectionate, double-edged satire”. And while everyone from the Irish to the Swiss and the French get a jab from the sharp-tongued Landlord, Murray says he doesn’t worry about offending his audience. “I’ve had people leave before and I’m always thinking on stage, am I getting this dead right? If a couple of thousand people laugh at something you say, it can make you feel pretty damn good.”
Currently in the middle of his UK tour, Murray says he’s excited to return to Dubai. “I’ve been coming since 2009. I really like travelling. We’re the new circus people,” he says. And while Murray and the Landlord seem to be complete opposites – he loves discovering other cultures while the Landlord rebels against anything ‘un-British’– they both share a love of laid-back bars. “I’ve had really great evenings at Barasti, where you just end up talking to people. It’s nice to be where everyone is so chilled out,” says Murray. “I very much like sitting in a pub, with your mates, hanging out; that’s the greatest thing.”
Who knows, maybe the next time you’re in Barasti it’ll have a new landlord.
Dhs300-500. Fri October 2. Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.donevents.com (04 439 0900).
The Landlord on…
“You can live in Dubai and not pay tax, or you can live in the UK, pay cash for everything and regularly fake your own death in a pub fire for the insurance. How anyone would choose between the two I don’t know. Maybe the weather is the deciding factor.”
“They’re a sidebar to our motorbike. They’re going nowhere without us.”
“I’m a fan of heat, and I’m also a fan of being plunged from heat into icy cold air-con. Win win. I reckon I must love it because I keep on coming back.”
”Who needs teachers when you’ve got Google? Google doesn’t take a third of the year off – or knock off at 3.15pm. I’d close all the schools and give all the kids laptops.”
“The last time I was in Dubai I ate all sorts of food, even this stuff called hummus. Amazing what you can discover when you go abroad.”
“Posh man’s sport, of course. Fifteen men on a team, because posh people can generally afford to have more friends.”
Last week’s cover star Gordon Ramsay