Al Murray on Brexit: 'Why are people voting for this stuff that has got us into this crazy position?'
The Pub Landlord comedian on politics, the death of satire and his new band Fat Cops
We may as well get straight to it: Brexit. Oh come on, it’s what The Pub Landlord would want to talk about. British comedian Al Murray has been performing as The Pub Landlord, a brash, “all-bought-and-paid-for” type, who is proud of Britain and suspicious of the French, for nearly two decades. But in some ways, it feels as if he is a creation made for Brexit Britain.
Of the Swiss, The Pub Landlord once said: “They’re like a flat that will never sell because the Austrians, Germans, French and Italians are neighbours.” It’s fair to say that he doesn’t deal in facts and would no doubt be very pleased to find himself reunited with a blue passport.
“On reflection, all this feels inevitable,” says Murray, ahead of his show at Dubai Opera on April 11. “I was pretty much certain that this way of looking at the world had not gone away. It had been pushed to one side by other points of view and yet it was always there, always lurking. It turns out I was right and that’s been quite interesting to watch.”
But as a comedian, Murray can’t just watch. He has to respond, too, which is both a blessing and a curse. The turbulent political times ensure he is never short of new material, but equally, that material can quite literally date overnight. In 2016, for example, ahead of the EU referendum in Britain, Murray wrote an entire show based on the premise that “Remain” would triumph. “I had to completely re-write the show in July because I was going out on tour in August,” he says. “The whole thing had changed into a completely different situation.”
Since Brexit and the election of Trump, some people have questioned whether satire is even possible anymore. With actual events having become so far-fetched, it would be forgiveable for a comedian to think, ‘You know what? I’m not sure I can top that.’ But Murray doesn’t agree. “To me, that seems like a challenge to keep up with,” he says. “The thing that’s really interesting is [understanding] how this happened. Why are people voting for this stuff that has got us into this crazy position? That’s what’s interesting, more than the crazy position [itself].”
The Pub Landlord is a very British creation and it is surprising how well the comedy translates to other cultures. He has performed in Dubai many times and is hugely popular in Australia. Murray explains that when he is performing abroad, however, the audience reactions tend to be different to those he in the UK. “When you take The Pub Landlord abroad people think that’s what the British are like,” says Murray. “In the UK, it’s like, ‘Is he referring to me?’”
While Murray, 50, concedes that Brexit has brought to the surface extreme feelings on both sides of the debate, his experiences performing around the country suggest that most people actually just find the situation laughable. Much of the animosity, he believes, has been artificially generated. “The strange thing is, if you read the newspapers, you think, ‘Gosh, we’re at some extraordinary point of tension and everyone’s on edge,’” says Murray. “I played a gig at a comedy club last night and there was absolutely no hint of that at all. What you’ve got is the extremes making a lot of noise and claiming that there’s tension, but when you stand in front of people, they’re all finding this as ridiculous as anyone else might.”
Anyone who has spent the past few years making jokes about Brexit will understandably need to let off some steam from time to time. For Murray, that release comes when he gets to play drums with his new band, Fat Cops, which he formed earlier this year with two journalists, a doctor (who also happens to be the husband of Harry Potter author J K Rowling), an IT manager and Bobby Bluebell, former frontman of The Bluebells, who had a number one hit in 1993 with Young at Heart. “We have one person in the band who knows what they’re doing, which is incredibly important,” says Murray.
The music is part dad-rock, part ’90s psychedelia (the band describes it as “hip-shakin’, garage-groovin’, punk-glam chaos’) and I have to say it’s pretty damn good. The story of how the band formed raises a smile, too. The five of them were having a spat on Twitter about the Scottish independence debate and decided to settle things over a drink in Edinburgh. “We decided that hanging out and playing music was better than arguing about stuff,” says Murray. “We started sending tunes to each other and we ended up writing a load of music and making an album.
“We’re not all 19,” he continues. “We’re not all thinking we’ll have a number one record and give our lives to this. We’re doing it purely for fun and to see if people like our music.”
And if it doesn’t work out with Fat Cops, well, it looks as if Brexit is going to rumble on for a little while yet, so Murray isn’t going to be short of things to keep himself busy.
Al Murray: The Pub Landlord is at Dubai Opera on April 11. For more information, visit: www.dubaiopera.com
Updated: April 10, 2019 04:26 PM