Al Murray's first gig – introducing Harry Hill in 1994
To mark Al Murray's big London show next week at Hammersmith Apollo, his new book out and a DVD, the real Al Murray spoke to London is Funny about his Pub Landlord character's debut outing (never confused).
It was back in 1994, Harry Hill was involved, and it gets a little gruesome.
"It was 1994 at the Pleasance Cabaret bar [in Edinburgh] in what turned out to be a Perrier-nominated show called Pub Internationale. It was Harry Hill with Matt Bradstock-Smith who played his adopted son Alan, and me.
"Trouble was we'd got to Edinburgh without having worked out what to do. I'd tried another character out but it hadn't worked so at the last minute I suggested to Harry I try being a pub landlord, he said yeah whatever and I gave it a go. It was completely spontaneous. It fitted with the theme of the show – we had Pub Band at the end, there was a little film of When Will There Be A Harvester For the World, it made sense to do it. That's why Pub Landlord never had a name; my name's got tangled up with it over the years as a slow-motion cock-up.
"I'd pretend that the MC hadn't turned up so I'd do a bit instead – I wasn't comfortable with it, but I'd do it. I did it with hair then – it was about two nights in that I shaved the hair off and it became much funnier – and I'd wear a different suit to now and a roll-neck top. The standard had to be high as I was with Harry who was red-hot at the time.
"I don't remember loads about what I said but it was all about setting up the show; I'd say the show was a menu of pub entertainment, so the first bit was a bit like prawn cocktail as it was a bit disappointing, and I had an algebraic explanation for Australians and cockneys and fighting. It went really well – after Edinburgh we took the show on tour and did it with an interval so I did more compering, and by the end of the tour I had an act!
"Harry did 40 minutes stand-up in that Edinburgh show, which was a big breakthrough then. That was the unscalable mountain, only very special people got to do that long. The grand climax was us playing as Pub Band with me on drums, Matt on keyboards and Harry sang as Tony O'Pub.
"We did a version of Yesterday which we'd play really calmly, then at one point we'd go absolutely ape shit! We'd be smashing chairs and I smashed a sugar bottle over Harry's head, which the audience thought it was real as he'd been drinking out of a similar bottle in the show.
"The disgusting thing was that, for that bit, Harry wore a rubber Elvis quiff, and earlier in the show he'd had this gag about how Elvis got fat by having a burger under his hat onstage and sneakily take bites out of it. So when it came to the climax, Harry would reference that by putting a pork pie under his quiff – but this bit would go on for 15-20 minutes. So under the lights and the heat, all the fat from the pork pie would melt and start running down his face. Every night he did that it was absolutely disgusting. It gave him a terrible eye infection and he ended up going to the doctor about it, and the doctor said: 'Have you been doing anything unusual lately?'
"At that point in my career I'd got into stand-up to sustain a student lifestyle – which is pretty much why most people go into it I think! I had no clear picture of what I was going to do, I had a machine-gun sound-effect act btu that didn't go anywhere – that's what was so liberating about Pub Landlord: when I stumbled across it, it felt like a bottomless pit, like I could write forever.
"He's basically trying to be as stupid as possible, with warped logic. I was working with Harry so the emphasis was on being daft. [Pub Landlord] picks easy targets but gets it completely wrong. He's become known as 'the bloke who hates the French' but that doesn't come up in the new show, or the one before last. He's stupid about everything.
"I remember in my 1999 show a woman heckling me because I said 'Germans can't love each other as when you listen to how they say I love ...' and I'd say it horribly. She said it was xenophobic but ten minutes after I said wouldn't it be great if Kosovo went into a world war so we could make it a hattrick for the century and she clapped that! So it interests me what people pick out as what they think is xenophobia, but you can't control what people say about it.
"I would have been amazed that I'd go on to do such big shows. My ambition was to do hour-long shows as good character comedy can suffer at short length, as you get squeezed into saying 'loadsamoney' a lot. It's great that on Shooting Stars Angelos is allowed to be him throughout and it's allowed to work.
Al Murray's Barrel of Fun is at Hammersmith Apollo on October 10, visit www.thepublandlord.co.uk for full UK tour dates if you're not in London. His third book, The Pub Landlord’s Great British Pub Quiz Book is available now, while a brand new live DVD, Barrel of Fun is released on November 22.