All Hail to the Ale: Beer and Good Cheer from the comic Guv'nor himself.
Mountainous applause each week greets The Pub Landlord - invention of Britain's cleverest stand-up comic, Al Murray, the King of Cheer, as he walks on stage and greets his rapturous audience. Posing as an ignorant loudmouthed xenophobe but rather soft hearted London pub landlord, Murray's character shares his thoughts on a dazzling range of subjects -of which he appears to know very little and confesses some of his deepest feelings.
Murray won the Perrier Comedy award in 1999 and developed a devoted fan base through his series of one man stage shows.
With his head permanently in 1940 - Britain's Finest Hour - the patriotic Pub Landlord is contemptuous of modern day youth, and those unwilling to fight for their country. Had he been able to find someone trustworthy to look after the bar in his absence, nothing could have stopped him entering the Falklands fray himself apart from his small medical problem. An emotional man, his patriotism has a softer side - mention of The Queen brings tears to his eyes, necessitating application of the enormous Union Jack handkerchief he keeps ready for just such patriotic emergencies. Fans know that his unspeakable hatred of the French had its origin in the loss of his wife to a Frenchman. That his wife took their only child, a son, only added to his anguish. He must face the future alone with all his dynastic plans for his beloved boy come to nothing. He can only count the years (now around 7) since he last saw his son - and had relations with his wife - or any woman at all for that matter. All this an understandable source of bitterness and frustration whose target has become The French Nation and everything and anything French. On the positive side he considers himself reasonably well educated in the finer things of life - food especially, pub food in particular. Always knowing exactly what kind of drink (Lager, white wine or "fruit based drink" - "grey or orange") goes with what kind of bar snack. Inordinately proud of Britain, the Pub Landlord celebrates "British Thinking" - that genius that once combined glass, weaving, potatoes and chicken into something far greater than the sum of its parts: Chicken-in-a-Basket. He has some compassion for other countries who are forced to speak in unnatural languages. A stickler for old fashioned values The Pub Landlord strongly disapproves of females drinking beer (unless proved to contain lime). In the Pub Landlord's universe women can only be either stay-at-home mothers or, if working, nurses or secretaries. Political Correctness we suppose has not been allowed to enter the smoky interior of the Pub Landlord's "gaff". It is, as he says, "My Gaff, My Rules!" Underneath the bone head persona and skin head is Britain's smartest comic talent.
In real life the product of public school and Oxford, in real life fairly pc, Al Murray's cleverness can be seen in the brilliance of his set piece routines, often topical and in the speed and sharpness of his ad lib exchanges with first time audience members who have chosen the front row: "What's your name pal? Lovely British name. What do you do for a living?" IT workers receive his scorn, Firemen his tearful admiration for doing "a real job"; Students: "You obviously didn't hear the question". One woman said that she didn't know whether to answer yes or no to his question. "Dont worry Love, I've got a reply ready for either" he responded. The amazing thing about Murray is that he always has a funny reply - for anything. An immense repertoire to suit any occasion - instantly accessed.
The Pub Landlord enquires if there are any overseas visitors in the audience. Visitors receive an off-colour welcome and an unwelcome detailed reminder of their most recent sporting disaster. "Are there any "Septics" in the house? he asks - "From which city?" Visitor impressively names a major city. "I've never been there. Do you want to know why?". "Because it's not an important place". Modern day feminism is just one of the things that the Pub Landlord believes is threatening the "Great" in Great Britain. Confirmation that Murray largely lives in the present day is his complete absence of racism - his joke-xenophobia is reserved solely for those big enough to take it.
Murray did not so much induce roars of laughter at his earlier stage shows, more often the wit and the unexpectedness of his material had the audience silently and painfully convulsed for nearly two hours. Happy Hour takes his stage show and seamlessly grafts onto it a celebrity guest spot - and subjects them to his ignorant-innocent devastating questions. Murray takes care to research their backgrounds, their highs and their lows, and things they'd rather not talk about - and talks about them. Just a little padding is evident as with the later stage shows.
Murray is also a brilliant physical comedian, capable of extraordinary transformations both visual - and oral. In a moment a really chilling, supercilious SS Komandant capable of setting Anglo-German relations back 60 years; in another moment an elegant stag bounding across the stage; in another moment again, a newly born dinosaur. Two comedians could have had successful careers with Murray's talent.
Like a glass of finest lager the shows are best appreciated when drunk - accompanied by crisps and nuts. It's a world class comic talent behind the bar of a grubby traditional British pub. It captures the national mood of self-mockery mixed with nostalgic pride. Like traditional British beer, the locals love it - others may perhaps find it a bit bitter and a bit flat. Like British beers - it's an acquired taste - and a kind of initiation test.
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