Watch: Al Murray on being a 'workaholic' and tackling his work/life balance
Earlier this year, comedian Al Murray was involved in so many projects, he wondered if he suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
“The hip thing [at the] Edinburgh [Festival] this year for comedians was to say they had ADHD,” he told Kate Thornton on podcast White Wine Question Time.
Murray recognised some of the symptoms. “Lots of things you're interested in, not necessarily able to settle on one.” He wondered, “Is that me?”
It wasn’t. Instead, Murray realised that he had, “basically built a life for myself where I worked really hard at stand-up so I can [do] all the other things I want to do.”
It’s a long list. Alongside his comedy and TV career, his interests include writing books, drumming in a band, managing a drumkit company, and hosting a history podcast and festival.
Listen to the full episode to hear Al Murray talk about his 'special' family life, creating The Pub Landlord character and touring with Harry Hill
Yet, since lockdown, Murray said he has found a new work-life balance.
The comedian, who studied Modern History at Oxford University said he “got into stand-up” as “a way of continuing a kind of get-up-late-in-the-morning lifestyle I’d become accustomed to at uni”. He also found other comedians “really interesting” and “good fun”.
“Fame was not the spur, nor was money,” Murray said. “It was like, ‘Oh, this looks like a gas.’”
It was in 1994, in a bar with Harry Hill, discussing their Edinburgh comedy stage show, that Murray unexpectedly invented the character who would change his life.
“I said, ‘Why don't we say that the compere hasn't turned up and the barman has offered to fill in?’” Murray revealed. “And it got laughs.”
The following day he cut off his hair, and the character became part of the show for the next few weeks. “By the end of it, I had an act.”
The character was The Pub Landlord, an objectionable, xenophobic pub owner, who went on to become one of Britain’s best-loved comedy characters. “There are still an awful lot of people who ask me where my pub is,” jokes Murray.
It was Hill, a trained doctor, whom Murray credits with encouraging him to take his comedy career more seriously at that point. “He said, ‘You don't really apply yourself and I kind of don't understand it because… you could be really good.’
“I thought, you know what, he's right and I ought to get my finger out.”
Yet as Murray’s success grew on the comedy circuit and on TV so did his workload.
In the mid-nineties, the comedian revealed he was “applying myself to the point of almost… unhealthy obsession”. He worked “probably flat out for five years” with “no time off, sort of 10 gigs a week”, with “three or four on a Friday or Saturday night” building one of the most successful comedy careers in Britain.
When the pandemic arrived, however, Murray, like everyone else, found himself stuck at home.
“My working life came to a grinding halt,” he said. “It was suddenly... the longest I've ever been at home in a solid straight chunk.”
The change brought unexpected positives. “It maybe made me think a bit more about work/life balance and all that stuff,” said Murray, “because I think… I'm one of those people who will probably classed as a workaholic.”
Murray has three daughters, two of them adult. His younger daughter, he reported, “got what my elder two never got, which is basically me being around for a year and a half.”
The experience reminded him that “having kids is really special and important”, he told Thornton. “It’s lovely – I'm really enjoying it again.”
Murray also used the break to develop his podcast, We Have Ways Of Making You Talk, in which he and historian James explore the Second World War. “Like so many people, we found that that was a great outlet for us.”
The podcast and his interest in history has also led to more family time.
“My dad is deeply involved in research… so it’s been a really lovely thing to sort of connect with [him],” Murray said.
His elder daughters also share his interest in history.
“They both did A level History,” Murray said. “They'd be able to talk to me at great length about it, and sometimes… we were driving somewhere… I'd realise I'd been talking for an hour and a half,” he joked. “Maybe they were looking out the window, but that's all right – you know, that's part of being a dad!”