Al Murray: Comedy’s role is to lampoon politics, not to champion it

  • @iburrell

Al Murray, the comic behind the stand-up creation The Pub Landlord, has criticised as “ridiculous” other comedians who embrace political views.

In the wake of comments by a BBC commissioning editor that there was a dearth of right-wing comics in broadcasting, Murray spoke of his annoyance at being branded a “lefty”. “I have never run my colours up any particular mast and I wouldn’t,” he said.

In an interview with The Independent, Murray said that comedy’s role was to lampoon politics, not to champion it. “Comics have got to find it all ridiculous and send all of it up,” he said. “The minute you take sides you are not doing that. You put one lead boot on and you will no longer be able to prick everybody. We are supposed to be mischievous and think they are all ghastly.”

Murray was speaking out ahead of the move of his BBC radio show, 7 Day Sunday, to the Saturday schedule on Radio 5 Live. Although the show is news-based, he will ban guests from expressing political opinions. “We are trying to be daft about the week’s news. People who expect answers and political solutions from comics are looking in the wrong place,” he said. “If someone expresses a point of view ‘I say no opinions allowed on this show’.”

Such a neutral stance won’t necessarily be easy for Murray to maintain given the continuing popularity of his reactionary Pub Landlord character, which is currently on tour. Although Murray uses the persona to ridicule the views of a Little Englander, he sometimes finds audience members who share the landlord’s outlook, which is lately based on the view that Ukip are of the left and that a European Union needs to be enforced by British invasion.

“He can be incredibly hare-brained and you still have people saying ‘Yeah, I like what you’re saying there mate,” says Murray. “I get flak for it and people saying ‘Aren’t you worried some people don’t understand it’s a turn?’ No! I’m laughing at these people! In their face!”

Nonetheless, he admits to sharing the Pub Landlord’s obsession with The Second World War. Murray said he had “long discussions” with his radio idol Danny Baker – who will occupy the preceding slot in the 5 Live schedule – “about how many books about Hitler we have got in the house”.

This “fascination with World War Two” is a common theme among “an entire stripe of the British male population”, he said, and one he is attempting to wrestle with in a book he is writing, called Watching War Films with My Dad.

“The childhood [for boys] of the Seventies was Action Man, Airfix and A Bridge Too Far on the telly. The book talks about growing up with all that stuff but trying to put it all aside. When you are a boy you are into it because it’s explosions and machine guns, and a big adventure but when you grow up you realise it’s utterly horrendous.”

He has peppered the book with amusing and interesting facts – including an “amazing incident” in which Montgomery of Alamein's career was“nearly completely derailed by a pig”. But he admits to have thought hard about reconciling his views on WWII with the conflicts that Britain is currently involved in. “That’s all tangled up in the book. It’s ‘difficult’, in one word.”

Having remarked that funeral processions at Wootton Bassett had turned into “public expressions of dissatisfaction” over Government policy, Murray checked himself. “I’m in danger of holding an opinion.”

After establishing himself on ITV, Murray, 45, is becoming a prominent radio presenter with another show on commercial network Planet Rock. He has risked being accused of “heresy” by describing the Sex Pistols as a “straight up rock band” and, as an accomplished drummer, he discusses the contentious subject of rock drumming every week. “It’s a colossal can of worms,” he said. “People don’t really care about politics but they really care about music.”