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Going through the motions
on 25 January 2010
Parody is a hard thing to sustain but Al Murray has managed it admirably over the years. When I first saw him in '98 I was one of the unfortunates in the front row of Jongleurs Battersea, hauled onto the stage to be ritually humiliated.
The Pub Landlord was fresh, clever comedy - the bigoted, xenophobic publican had us laughing happily at ourselves and well crafted digs at non-Brits of all kinds were designed as much to ridicule the British and our long held prejudices as they were to poke fun at Johnny Foreigner.
At that time Murray was only 30 years old, much younger than his titular character and consequently it was much more apparent that he was role-playing, both in appearance and in subject matter.
In the decade that has passed since then Murray has, like the rest of us, grown older; the paunch has grown, the jowls have dropped and now the burgundy blazered comic is much closer in appearance to the middle aged publican that he plays.
The only thing that hasnt matured is the comedy.
The thing is that Murray has become (as it says on the DVD case) a "national treasure", a massively popular TV star with an appeal that now reaches into the millions. With this, Murray has become a wealthy man and with this latest offering its hard to ignore the fact that he continues to chase that popularity by playing to the lowest common denominator.
With crisp firing bazookas that belong on a Freddie Starr Blackpool run and accented digs at Indian call centres that are cheered by a flag waving crowd the once clever parody has become what it originally sought to mock. The trap has been laid bare for years and in chasing the cash Murray has fallen square into it.
As a nation we've loved our ridiculous bigots; Basil Fawlty, Alf Garnet and yes the Pub Landlord. We've sniggered at their rants but the biggest laugh has always been on them and their ill-conceived (but often hilarious) opinions. As soon though as we stop laughing at the protagonist and instead at his subjects then it becomes Jim Davidson and who, outside a small disillusioned minority, wants that?
In some ways what makes this more dissappointing is that its clearly a conscious choice that Murray has made. His talent is beyond doubt; Perrier Comedy gongs and Laurence Olivier awards are not handed out on a whim. There is presence, intelligence and dynamism to a Pub Landlord stage performance that can genuinely delight any audience but its becoming lost in a Union Jack themed pantomime that is increasingly aimed at the white-van-man crowd and the comedy is changing to accomodate it.
There's no suggestion that this is genuinely racist or spiteful, Murray is too bright, too opened minded and , still, far too good a comic for that. It is though hackneyed, unoriginal and at points, needlessly profane. When having called out a banker in the crowd Murray calls him, repetitavely and at full volume, a "f**king wanker" to the whoops of a baying crowd.
Murray's, "Giving It Both Barrels" was only 2 years before this and we got to see him in top form- treading the tight-rope between humour and offensiveness with the talent and success that we expected. This "Beautiful British" offering by contrast was tired, boorish and at points, poor to the point of being cringeworthy.
It's time for this talented comic to get back to what he does best or just give up completely, book a decade of Blackpool summer seasons and chase the cash with this nonsense.