COMEDIANS had been strangely reluctant to discuss Brexit, seemingly for fear of alienating half an audience. Three years in, however, and no nearer to finding a fixit, they are joining the rest of a divided nation in frustration at Mission Implausible.
If one comedian were guaranteed to lose his rag over Brexit Britain, it would be the garrulous Guvnor, bellicose pub landlord Al Murray.
His July show at Pocklington’s Platform Festival had been billed as the “last hurrah” for his Landlord Of Hope And Glory tour, but Brexit is the wanted/unwanted gift that keeps giving.
So, here we all are, post-October 31 impasse, rain sodden and shivering as we go to the polls in darkest December, Boris and Jezza fighting to be the next Guvnor, and Murray’s bilious bulldog still barking his take on Brexit on his autumn travels that stop off at the Grand Opera House, York on November 18.
A comedian seeks to be side-splittingly funny; now Murray is having to deal with split sides. “That’s the interesting thing: they really are split, and you can’t predict how people will be on each night,” says Al, who conducts his interviews as the real Al Murray, satirical comedian, TV presenter, author and military history documentary maker.
” What you have to do is burrow down into ‘Who are we?’; ‘What does this say about us?’, and that’s the thing you then mine for comedy,” says Al Murray, defining the comic craft.
“There are people who still care about it, with everything that’s going on in parliament, but the rest are fed up. Who could imagine people being frustrated with politicians promising things that couldn’t be delivered?!”
Given the Little Englander persona of Murray’s larger and louder-than-life caricature, you might expect him to line up with Boris/Farage/No Deal/Brexit Means Brexit, but Murray thinks as much as the Guvnor drinks, and so Landlord Of Hope And Glory does not take the path of least resistance.
“You write the kernel of a show a couple of months before going out on the road, so that was back in March and April, when it looked like we might go No Deal, and you just think, ‘Come on, make a decision’.
“But whatever way you voted, you have no say in what’s been happening, and as a comic, you’re thinking, ‘How can I find a fresh angle on this?’.
“You don’t want to sound like anyone else, so the conclusion to the show came to me pretty early on, but for the show to merge together perfectly, it took 20 gigs to get to that point.”
Social and political satire requires exaggeration to lampoon its targets, and yet the Westminster and Brussels playgrounds keep surpassing such comic imagination.
“People talk about that a lot: that there’s this problem for comics being outflanked by the behaviour of our politicians, so what you have to do is burrow down into ‘Who are we?’; ‘What does this say about us?’, and that’s the thing you then mine for comedy,” says Al.
“Get Brexit Done/Not Done” may exasperate many, but Murray is revelling in picking at its bones. “The idea that this thing was going to go on forever didn’t have bite in April, but it does now. It routs us – and I’m rather pleased about that.
“Brexit is now being paraded full bore at the centre of our national debate, yet people were telling me a decade ago that the Pub Landlord’s anti-European stance was outdated!”
Murray is not predicting an end to Brexit deliberations any time soon. “I think we’re going to go back out with this show next spring, when it still won’t be over.
“The reality is, you will never find anything to satisfy everyone, so you just have to balance it,” he suggests. “Is there a way out of this mess? The Pub Landlord thinks so: the whole of Europe goes on the pound and the EU changes its name to Great Britain!”
Is Brexit a step backwards or forwards for Britain, Mr Murray? “The thing is, I haven’t heard yet how it’s a step forward. I’m open to whatever ‘Brexit’ is, but you get the feeling a lot of people don’t know what it is, or that people won’t like it, whatever it is.”
Al Murray: Landlord Of Hope And Glory, Grand Opera House, York, Monday, November 18, 7.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/York
By Charles Hutchinson
Copyright of The Press, York