Comedian Al Murray: 'I have an irrational, pathological loathing of emptying dishwashers'

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Fluke: Al Murray’s big break was coming up with his Pub Landlord character by accident - Heathcliff O'Malley
Fluke: Al Murray’s big break was coming up with his Pub Landlord character by accident - Heathcliff O'Malley

Al Murray is the comedian behind the Pub Landlord, an opinionated, beer-swilling publican who has been on British screens and stages since 1994. The son of a lieutenant colonel, Murray studied history at Oxford before pursuing a career in comedy.

He is a keen drummer and is the co-presenter, with the historian James Holland, of the Second World War history podcast We Have Ways of Making You Talk. Murray, who competed against Nigel Farage for the constituency of South Thanet in the 2015 general election, lives in London.

Best thing that’s happened this week?

I play in a band called the Fat Cops, and we’re doing remixes of a couple of our songs. I did a remix on my own, without telling the others I was going to do it, and they liked it. Given what it’s like to be in a band – the endless, ceaseless, grinding politics of it – to actually do something they like is amazing. On the other hand, it makes me feel like a whipped dog. They say “Good boy”, something like that, and I feel absolutely fantastic.

The best thing about school?

I boarded, and the best thing about boarding was breakfast. You got an enormous breakfast and you could go round again. We all learned pretty quickly that the thing to do was eat a really enormous breakfast, because the food the rest of the day was entirely variable. Even producers of industrial-level canteen food can’t screw up fried bread, which I now realise is a suicide pill and eat once a year, but back then I’d fill up with it every morning. To this day, if anyone goes out for lunch with me they notice that I eat really fast, and that’s because of boarding school breakfast where you think, “If I wolf this, I can go around again for seconds.”

The least bad thing about lockdown?

There’s a club called ABC Comedy in Oval, run by a guy called James Gill, and he figured out how to make Zoom gigs work. You have an equivalent of a front row of people whose laughter you can hear, so you can pitch the material properly. We did a quiz every Monday night for the whole of the long lockdown this year, and that was brilliant because it was like a little club or community.

Best career break?

It was that evening at the Edinburgh Fringe where I, by accident, came up with the character of the Pub Landlord. Without that I don’t know what I’d be doing now. I’d written something else, and it didn’t work, so we said that the compère hadn’t turned up and that the barman had offered to fill in. Harry Hill, who was the main act that night, was like, “Yeah, whatever.” And so I worked out a couple of threads I could talk about when I came on, and kaboom! It worked. I had a thing that I could work into shape over the next year or so of gigging. It was luck; it was fluke.

The most important thing I learnt from my parents?

They had a really light touch, especially when the moment came and I’d finished university and it was quite clear I wasn’t going to do anything serious with my mind. I was going to go into showing off, which is how parents tend to see offspring who want to do stand-up comedy. It was like telling them: “Mum and Dad, I want to go into being an attention-seeker,” but they had a really light touch with us, and that’s the thing I’ve learnt from them as a parent myself. Having said that, I’m sure my kids will read this and go, “Bulls---!”

The worst thing about being a parent?

Parenting insights: Murray can relate to DJ John Peel’s observation that being a parent involves repeating yourself – a lot - Terry O'Neill
Parenting insights: Murray can relate to DJ John Peel’s observation that being a parent involves repeating yourself – a lot - Terry O'Neill

The legendary DJ John Peel once said that the thing no one tells you about being a parent is how much you’re going to repeat yourself. And it’s true. It’s like the trope of a comedian banging a microphone and going, “Is this thing on?” Sometimes being a parent is like that. How many times have I got to tell you to put your shoes on? At what point is it reasonable for me to get angry? A dozen times, 200 times? In this day and age you should never show anger to your child, but what if they’re being really, really annoying? That’s the worst bit about being a parent: the ceaseless repetition.

The worst thing I have to do every day?

I have an irrational, pathological loathing of emptying dishwashers. I will put it off for days. And then when you do it, you think, “If it’s going to wash the stuff up, it should put it away too.” It’s a design flaw of dishwashers that they can’t finish the job. A friend of mine has two dishwashers and no shelves, and everything’s either in a dishwasher and clean or in a dishwasher and in need of cleaning.

The worst thing about being a comedian?

When you’re on tour, there’s always this feeling that wherever you’re staying, at some point the tour manager is going to knock and tell you it’s time to set off. The timing is different every day – it could be breakfast radio or a gig or anything else. You’re constantly thinking you’re about to have to drop whatever you’re doing, and the result is that you never get your teeth into anything. It feels futile to start a movie when you’re going to have to pause it, or to play the drums when you know you’re going to need all day to work on something. Being on the move the whole time puts you in a permanently disrupted state, and even though it’s your name on the tour you’re thinking, “Hang on a minute, am I at all in charge of my own destiny?”

The weirdest thing about being famous?

It’s happened to me and I’ve done it to others. It’s when people see someone well-known, even someone at my gamma level of fame, and because they’re vaguely familiar with your appearance they think they were at school with you. I’ve had a waitress say: “It’s been really bugging me since you came in and sat down. We were at school together, weren’t we?” And I told her: “I can promise you we weren’t, because I went to a boys’ school.”

The absolute worst…

It’s very basic. I live in Hounslow, and for some reason people do not pick up their dog s--- around here. It’s 40 years since we all agreed we ought to pick up dog shit, and I don’t understand why people have stopped. Do they do it out of laziness? Do they do it so they can hit back at the nanny state in some way? Do they do it in the name of being a non-conformist? I’m going out later to a screening, and when I walk out the door I’ll see dog turds everywhere. It’ll make me angry, and the interesting thing about it is that it makes me angry in the same fresh way every time.

Al Murray presents Why Do The Brits Win Every War?, on Sky History on Wednesdays, 9pm

Do you have any irrational or unusual fears? Tell us in the comments section below

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