The Pub landlord- Can satire lose its critical stance?


Gavin Schaffer in his article, “Fighting Thatcher with comedy: What to do When there is no alternative” demonstrates the efforts by left-leaning comedians to take a political stance against conservative values through their comedy. While this did initiate a wave of liberal sentiment in the alternative comedy that emerged, its impact may not have been as politically groundbreaking as hoped. Direct attacks on Thatcher proved often to have the opposite effect by increasing her popularity as a strong and resilient leader. Comedians were ‘not confident that their jokes could achieve anything’ and often these comedians depicted left characters as hypocritical and ridiculous.

Furthermore, progressive attitudes may not have been achieved as ‘racist and sexist jokes crept back into the scene, revived as acceptable although comedians were saying they were being ironic.’ This prompts the question of whether racist and sexist jokes can be used in comedic circumstances of satire or whether the existence of these jokes in comedy at all, is counterintuitive. Comedian Al Murray portrays a xenophobic, pub landlord character in his stand up routines. Murray claims to make fun of bigots and narrowminded people by making his character the arrogant British nationalist that we can laugh at for his ridiculous opinions. Much of his stand-up material focusses on his naive perception of Britain’s relationship with other nations and its superior position. This works comedically as we recognise these opinions as the real beliefs of certain individuals in Britain. Murray’s recurring quote, “pint for the fella… white wine for the lady” hints at British gender stereotypes, again humorous, because we know these attitudes do exist. However, it could be problematic to assume that everyone would enjoy Murray’s satire and translate the offensive jokes as in fact being an attack on ridiculous British attitudes. It also makes me wonder whether some individuals might engage with the comedy because they see elements of truth within the offensive statements. From watching clips of Al’s stand-up, it often seems that the more controversial the joke, the bigger the cheer/laugh. This is where satire can not excuse the presence of disrespectful jokes and I feel Al Murray’s style may have seen its day.


Schaffer, Gavin. “Fighting with Comedy: What to do When there is no alternative.” In Journal of British Studies, Volume 55 Issue 2 (2016) page 374-397

One comment

  1. I imagine that the comedy of such comic personas is enabled though the audiences recognising the ironic stance of comedians, rather than the recognition that these attitudes really exist. I think that this recognition just makes me upset, and if I were to experience comedy in an ironically misogynistic joke, the comedy would be located somewhere else. I think that when comedians are understood as liberal, their popularity and relative absence of backlash testifies to the fact that their audiences actually seem to think that the irony does excuse ‘disrespectful’ jokes – I think they do not interpret these jokes as disrespectful. Additionally, I think audiences enjoy the counter-mainstream status, the alternative quality, of such comic performances – the fact that not many comedians get away with making disrespectful jokes. Being able to joke like this is in a way an indication of own status as a popular liberal comedian, so I guess this could make it seem appealing.

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