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Al Murray, Brighton Dome | reviews, news & interviews

Al Murray, Brighton Dome

Al Murray, Brighton Dome

Pub Landlord, once a creation of comic genius, is now just numbskull humour

When Al Murray started doing his Pub Landlord character in the mid-1990s, many (including me) thought it was an invention of comic genius. The sad, deluded Essex Man, railing against the modern world and cuckolded by a Frenchman, was a ridiculous xenophobe and someone for whom a teary-eyed version of dear old Blighty existed in a kind of mental sepia. It was a masterclass in subtlety, suggestion and irony.

The comedy was clever, layered and deep in pathos, but such knowing material was never going to succeed when Sky TV came calling and the character was given his own sitcom. The delicious irony gave way to more obvious, joke-based, "aren't foreigners funny?" humour, and Murray’s core audience gradually shifted from those who delighted in being able to laugh at such a numbskull to those who really don’t see he's an utter buffoon. But maybe that’s just me having a sense-of-humour failure; Murray’s latest offering on ITV was called Multiple Personality Disorder and I didn’t find that title funny either.

And here Murray is, a decade and a half on, still doing the character in The Pub Landlord's Beautiful British Tour, but now it has been distilled to the point that all the subtlety and comedic nuances have been removed. Despite the odd clever line, this character has become predictable to the point where I can write the material: God is British, we are told, as were most of his disciples. “St Paul’s got ’is caffedral in London, which proves it, right? St Peter’s got ’is in Rome, St John...” - wait, let me guess, Al, did he get, yes! - “...a fucking ambulance.” He even does a "comedy" Indian call-centre accent to provide the punchline of one joke. Oh dear, oh dear.

I saw the show at Brighton Dome during the Brighton Comedy Festival and much of the first half was spent baiting the audience with foul-mouthed insults, and very funny a lot of it was too - “Where do I start? With the guy in the Metallica T-shirt in the front row? Jesus-fucking-Christ...” But some interactions verged on bullying for my taste: when one chap (who admittedly appeared to be rather refreshed) suggested that some of Murray's ranting delivery about why the 2012 Olympics will be rubbish reminded him of Hitler, the comic, clearly irked, encouraged the audience to show their irritation and said, "He's identified himself to the group for a kicking." The man was ejected from the building during the interval.

Murray always does his Pub Landlord "my rules" shtick - tasting women's drinks to make sure they are either white wine or fruit-based, taking drinks off men who are slugging beer from bottles (“You wouldn’t drink milk straight from the cow’s udder, would you?”), and inviting the audience to shout 'Shame!" at bankers and estate agents - but surely there are new avenues to take him down? Apparently not, as the scraping of the barrel could be heard in an overlong riff on vomiting after a night on the booze.

Where once there was some narrative and emotional undertow to Murray’s shows - about the tragedy of "my boy" Carl (short for Carlsberg) going to live in France (France!) with his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, for example, he now simply does two hours of knucklehead humour. And while I cannot believe that Murray - Oxford-educated, son of a Lieutenant-Colonel, a fluent French speaker - shares any of the Pub Landlord’s views, he is performing for audiences whom I suspect largely do. The evening ends with the Pub Landlord’s rallying cry: ”Where would we be wivout rules?” - “France!” shout the audience eagerly. “Where would we be wiv too many rules?” - “Germany!” Dare I mention the BNP at this point?

Murray is promoting the DVD of this show (released on 16 November) and his new book Think Yourself British, and each mention of the latter’s availability elicits a ker-ching! over the PA. At least he has the good grace not even to try to be subtle or ironic about that.

Al Murray is touring until 29 November. Book here. Brighton Comedy Festival continues until 24 October. Information

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