The British comedian is eagerly anticipating serving up his inimitable brand of spoof stand-up to a whole new audience.
Time gentlemen, please: Al Murray comes to Dubai
As his onstage persona, the belligerent, xenophobic Pub Landlord, there are no holds barred for the British comedian Al Murray. From celebrities to members of his audience, few escape his tongue lashing and savaging of anything deemed to be too "un-British". He slings insults at everyone from the French and Germans to Simon Cowell's haircut ("it looks like a split tin loaf"), the Spice Girls ("did you ever have any technical problems on stage, such as microphones switching on?") and gastropubs ("gastro belongs with enteritis and not with pubs"). So the mind boggles at how he plans to adapt his routine for more conservative audiences in the Middle East when he brings his tour to the region for the first time.
Even Murray admits he is still unsure of local cultural sensibilities for his Dubai show on Saturday. But one thing is sure: he certainly won't hold back on his reliably outrageous and invariably hilarious rants. Murray has been playing the Pub Landlord for 15 years, a character invented as a link between acts in a stage show at the Edinburgh fringe festival in 1994. For the uninitiated, The Guv (governor, slang for a landlord or boss) is a spoof on a reactionary, working-class British nationalist. He challenges his audience to name any country in the world before producing an often far-fetched reason for why the British are better.
His preposterous rants as the Pub Landlord have earned Murray, 41, numerous accolades, including the Perrier and British Comedy awards. The character has been a surprise hit with the chattering classes, among whom Murray is more comfortable than his stand-up routine might lead you to believe. Born in Buckinghamshire in the UK, his father, Ingram, was a lieutenant colonel in the army, his late grandfather Sir Ralph Murray a key diplomat to the Middle East, while his mother, Juliet, connects him to his great-great-great-grandfather, the author William Makepeace Thackeray. Murray went to Bedford boarding school before studying history at Oxford University. He first cut his teeth on the stage with the Oxford Revue, a troupe of students that has produced the likes of Michael Palin, Dudley Moore and Rowan Atkinson.
The Pub Landlord was born by accident when Murray was supporting his fellow British comedian Harry Hill at the Edinburgh festival and needed to provide a link between sketches. "I went on stage and did it almost off the top of my head," he recalls. Little did he imagine he would still be playing the character 15 years later, one of the longest-living incarnations in the notoriously fickle world of entertainment.
The Pub Landlord was the star of a theatre show My Gaff, My Rules, which was shortlisted for a Laurence Olivier award in 2002, appeared in the television series Time Gentleman Please and led to the award-winning chat show Al Murray's Happy Hour in 2007. Murray has just finished his sell-out Beautiful British tour in the UK and taken his comedy persona to audiences as far afield as Australia and Canada. The Pub Landlord has won over audiences abroad because they are in on the joke, according to the comedian.
"Everything he says is totally bonkers," Murray says. "I have taken the act all over the world and it works because it's what people think the British are like: cocky, arrogant and fairly ignorant. A lot of the things he says and insinuates fall into the category of reactions to things and if you look at a lot of the right-wing things people say and do, they also tend to be reactionary. I have to adapt my stuff to audiences. A lot of material I had about the 2012 Olympics did not work in Canada so I dropped it. I improvise a lot and like to leave things open to the moment."
One thing Murray and his skinheaded, thuggish-looking character did not bank on was the political landscape of Britain changing so drastically in the last few years. The BNP, or British National Party - a far-right group whose policies include repatriation of immigrants - won more than five per cent of the vote in last year's London mayoral elections and secured one of the London Assembly's 25 seats. Its leader, Nick Griffin, was invited onto the BBC's current affairs show Question Time in October, sparking protests by an angry mob of more than 1,000 who gathered outside the studio. Does Murray not worry that the Pub Landlord's benign tirades might be seized upon by those with a political agenda?
"Personally as a comic you have to accept that people may or may not understand it," he admits. "That goes with creating anything. Generally though, the people misunderstanding it are also the ones that don't find it funny. I had one bloke come up to me after a show and say, 'You're dead right about the French.' But when I pushed him and said, 'But what did I actually say about the French?' it was nothing more than me saying they obviously didn't have a sense of humour if they could name a place Brest and not find it funny. The ones that leap on those kinds of comments are the ones that don't get it."
Indeed, it is not just the Pub Landlord's diatribes that have made him such a hit. It is his total conviction in his barmy theories on life. In his bestselling book, The Pub Landlord's Book of British Common Sense, he lists 12 examples of bad thinking, which include everything from hummus to "the idea that you need to drive your kids to school so they won't be run over by the people driving their kids to school".
The combination of common sense cloaked in ludicrous reaction has become so synonymous with Murray, the two are now inseparable. So where does one end and the other begin? "Obviously I don't share his opinion on most things but they say the more children you have, the more right-wing you become," Murray says. "I have two daughters and it's funny how when you have children, you start saying things like,"They should bring back hanging', because it's not just about you any more. As I get older, I get more reactionary."
Perhaps to stop being confused with his comedic alter ego, Murray struck out on a different path last year with a TV series called Al Murray's Personality Disorder, introducing a new set of outrageous characters. They include, Gary Parsley, a flamboyantly dressed rock star from the 1970s, and Peter Taylor, a cardigan-wearing country bumpkin. He say that he embarked on the new series because he "wanted to do something different".