Q&A: Al Murray
The Oxford-educated, history-loving comedian behind the hugely popular Pub Landlord tells New Humanist what it’s like living with the nation’s favourite guv’nor
Where did the Pub Landlord character come from?
It was all an accident. I was doing a show in Edinburgh with Harry Hill (who’s a friend and we used to muck about with stuff) and we had no way of linking all the elements together. So the night we opened I said, “How about we say the compere hasn’t turned up, and the barman has offered to fill in?” So on I went and the act just tumbled out. ... Divine intervention perhaps, ha ha! Then I set about working really hard at it, gigging as much as possible and that slow-burned into success.
Do all the Pub Landlord’s fans realise it’s a joke?
I’ve no idea! To be honest it’s not something I worry about too much. The truth is you can’t control what people make of you.
How do you decide the Pub Landlord’s views?
As long as they’re generally reactive, hallucinatory and have their own internal logic they tend to stand up. Something I really like is when he directly contradicts himself. And it had better be funny!
What are your religious beliefs?
I’m an atheist, though not a proselytising one. I think if anything it is proselytising that put me off in the first place. I went to a very C of E school, we were dipped in mild English Christianity and I remember the chaplain getting up and making a sermon in which he ran down Darwin, Freud and Einstein in one go – thanks to them we’re apes, who can blame our upbringing and blow our planet up, he said – and I thought, OK, that’s enough of this nonsense. I used to like the singing, but you won’t get me mistaking a nice singalong for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
What does the Pub Landlord think of your religious views?
Well, he doesn’t go to church but he believes firmly in God. Not only that, he believes that God is British (after all, the Bible’s in English). He’d think I was being clever for its own sake.
The Pub Landlord is very fond of proving the existence of God. What is his best argument?
His most cogent and coherent argument is based around the notion that jumbo jets can’t possibly fly as they are too heavy, so God must be doing it. It’s a classic argument from disbelief; he can’t be bothered to look into the proper explanation, so comes up with another one that makes him a lot happier.
You performed at Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People last year. Was it fun baiting atheists?
It was fun in the midst of all the atheism to say, Nope, you’re all wrong. Interesting to see who was annoyed by it too: personally I think you’re better off in life if you take everything said from a stage with a pinch of salt.
Why did you march to Protest the Pope in 2010?
Well, it shouldn’t have been a state visit for a start. And the moral authority he wields is such a blunt instrument, and he plays a lousy tune. The Pub Landlord would have marched on behalf of Henry VIII.
You recently did a gig in Dubai. How did that go?
Very well. The audiences were truly multinational and multicultural. I didn’t have to change a thing in terms of content; the one stricture was, we had to guarantee that the beer I was drinking was fake (though the audience were allowed to drink).
When not being the Pub Landlord, you have found time to present a documentary series about Germany – can we expect more of this kind of thing?
In a word, yes. We have quite a job picking them as I can’t fake being interested in stuff, and I’m offered projects pretty frequently. Because of my interest in history I find I get offered the history of beer every six months or so.
See Al Murray’s Pub Landlord Barrel of Fun tour until mid-December. For info and tickets, visit the Pub Landlord website