The Pub Landlord (or TPL as I’ll call him for the rest of this post) is a difficult character to unpick. He’s been around so long now that the original point of the joke is becoming shrouded in more and more layers of reflexive irony. This has made the character controversial, with even comedians like Richard Herring (who helped write the Sky sitcom “Time Gentlemen Please“, starring TPL) expressing concern about the particular life he has taken on, and the audience reaction to him. It’s a thorny nexus indeed, and one which could be simplistically reduced to talking about him being taken utterly at face value. But, as the Pub Landlord himself might say, “its much more complicated than that.”
The first question to ask, as it is for any comedian, is: is he funny? Well, yes. Yes he is. He’s very funny indeed. My friend James and I managed to bag pretty much the first two tickets on sale at the venue, so we had seats A1 and A2. Thankfully, we weren’t in the middle aisle seats, as the front row get mercilessly and very skillfully mined for material in the first half of the show. TPL does get to us, picking on the fact that James and I are for one thing, not small and second, both with beards. He ends up deciding we met using gay online dating, but is then distracted by a woman from the centre of the front row deciding she has to go to the loo right now. Oddly, quite a lot of people do that during the night. Maybe it’s the cold because it was bloody freezing outside. There’s material which is clearly prepped for general situations, in the hope of getting a few hits, as well as material designed to press local buttons. Tonight, for Scarborough it’s mainly Savile-related, though there are a couple of good lines about Whitby and Grimsby along the way..
The highlights of the first half are a critique of the current government as the worst one ever, by the end of which he has provided a brief (and accurate) commentary on every post-war UK government, and a brief summary of the Euro-zone crisis, just to help out the banker-free audience, and an accountant, who’d shown up this evening.
The second half is targetted more at “the ladies”, with some nice undercutting of gender politics, sound advice for parents and the potential for the end of human civilisation that the horror of the vajazzle threatens.
In common with others I’ve seen recently, the false modesty of the encore has thankfully been dispensed with, so that when he leaves the stage it really is the end and the house lights come up.
Whatever your opinions of TPL as a character, it can’t be denied that Al Murray has honed him into a thing of wonder indeed: the technical prowess on show is really some thing to admire. So complete is the suspension of disbelief during the show that it’s difficult to remember that this monstrous grotesque isn’t a real person, or that it might just be the voice inside the comedian’s head telling us what he really thinks (or what he’d like us to believe he really thinks). Or perhaps something else entirely. Who knows? And in the end, given how funny he remains, is it really that important?