October 2, 8pm. Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road.
In a landscape where most of the UK’s popular comedians peddle the most mundane jokes (“No-one likes to clean the toaster out, do they!?” etc, etc.) it’s testament to Al Murray that his seemingly one-dimensional Pub Landlord character is still going strong.
After all, this is a man whose political views and Little Englander outlook seem like the starting point for Nigel Farage’s foreign policies. However, those with a keener eye will notice that this character – the perennial pub bore, a one-man wave of self-righteousness – is a thinly veiled attack on the kind of right-wing know-it-all who loves to tell everyone just what’s wrong with the world and how they would personally go about fixing it.
The Pub Landlord is now 21 years old, but is still as relevant today as he was back in 1994. Probably more so. With a rise in far-right political parties and extremism in the UK, this is the ideal time for someone to poke fun at the hypocrisies of some of the more outlandish views in Great Britain at the moment. And in a room full of British expats, living in tax-free exile, he had the perfect crowd to play with.
As he stomped out onto the stage at Dubai World Trade Centre, pint glass in hand, he immediately started to interact with the audience, and we doubt there are many who could do it better than Murray – an expert at quick-thinking and off-the-cuff comedy.
No doubt he always picks on the same people from the front few rows in each show – the guy from a young couple, an older guy (referred to warmly as “pops” throughout), the person who comes in late, the person who leaves for the bathroom and so on, but the speed of his wit and jostling – almost all done affectionately – was astonishing. Almost the full first half of the show was taken up by conversations with the crowd, and a special mention must go to John Peel (“I’m famous,” he said, to which Murray replied, “Except you’re not that one, are you? You don’t look like him and you’re not dead”). A tired and emotional Mr Peel, who seemed ready to spar with Murray, didn’t re-appear for the second half of the show.
Of course, this section was designed to get the crowd warmed up and on side, as were the references to Dubai sprinkled throughout the first hour. But while Murray managed to do much more than that, this was the highlight of the show for many.
The room was set up nicely, so it felt like you were close and involved wherever you sat. Murray never seemed far away, and the screens at either side of the stage showed the reactions of his front-row victims brilliantly.
No-one was safe from the firing line – a very clever and pretty near-the-knuckle dissection of UK regional accents was a winner, despite our own Geordie accent being likened to whale song. And that is one of the character’s successes – he says the things that you know shouldn’t be said, and you could never get away with, but delivered from the perspective of the buffoonish Pub Landlord, you’re able to laugh at the gag and the outrageousness of someone actually saying it out loud.
The second half took things to another level of duplicity. We had a man mocking the global finance system (“No-one actually knows what FTSE is”) and ripping it apart in intricate detail, all done in a series of funny accents. Again, it was so far from being politically correct, and was absolutely hilarious. That it was also a spot-on explanation of how it all works was even more amazing: we were treated to a masterclass in stand-up.
The bottom line
Al Murray delivered laugh after laugh with a serious anti-capitalist message. Remarkable.