Character Comedians | FESTIVAL COMEDY

The Pub Landlord


When it comes to character comedy, it’s often hard to know what’s actually real and what’s totally made-up. Kirstyn Smith speaks to some practitioners of the craft at this year’s Fringe and measures them on a sliding scale of truth

I f there’s a comedy character whose success and relevance taps ever-increasingly into Britain’s apparent insularity, it’s The Pub Landlord. A boisterous Little Englander, he’s been around for more than 20 years, hosting TV and radio shows, authoring four books, and even standing against Nigel Farage for South Thanet in the 2015 general election (where he accrued 318 votes). He’s a character whose fans can go either way: most grasping his xenophobia with the irony it deserves; a few skipping this altogether to read a real truth into what The Pub Landlord is touting. Yet, Al Murray, the man behind the satire, has some issues with any notion of ‘truth telling’ in comedy. In an interview with The List earlier this year, he pointed out the apparent decrease in character comedians over the last decade or so, and a move towards truth-telling in comedy: ‘there was very much this idea about being truthful and that turned into having to talk about yourself. It was comedy as the confessional where you reveal something about you.’

Despite this feeling that recent comedians rely more on looking inward to tell their stories, the appeal of people taking on one particular mantle and wearing that for the entirety of a show is more popular than ever (at least, according to this year’s Fringe programme). As well as Murray, there’s Colin Hoult’s Anna Mann (who managed to rid the world of depression at last year’s Fringe and is turning her wrath upon the fascists this time), not to mention the enduring popularity of Simon Brodkin’s Lee Nelson and his FIFA-bothering Jason Bent. Among the throng of character comedians in Edinburgh this August is Sarah Thom, whose Gillian Beak leads earnest acting workshops and masterclasses. ‘What I’m interested in is the truth / i ction blur,’ she says of Beak Speaks. Thom admits that although the ‘truth is stranger than i ction’ thing is a bit of a cliché, when it comes to working on a character the concept rings more true than usual. ‘There are elements of truth in my show, but Gillian is dei nitely a character. I quite like it when people are thinking, “is this real or not?”’ 3–10 Aug 2017 THE LIST FESTIVAL 43