I miss the pub. Do you miss the pub? Where is the pub? Why aren’t we in it? Oh yeh – global pandemic and all that.
If that’s how we feel as mere punters then imagine how promoters feel. The physical spaces we all crave are their livelihoods; given the slickness of online streaming and the laziness of our butts, and considering the ephemeral, intimate and zeitgeist nature of an unrepeatable comedy night, how can one replicate that kind of atmosphere in the cold dead air of the internet?
To their credit, this is a topic Just The Tonic are grappling with, like loinclothed gladiators up against market forces. This Saturday night entertainment is unapologetic – you’ve paid your fiver, we have some class acts, you’re paying supermarket prices for your booze, and the queues for the loos should be shorter than at your average comedy venue, given it’s your home. Quit your moaning.
We were warned there may be some technical problems, and there were. This might be due to your correspondent’s glacial broadband, but the sync between human mouth and human banter was not always perfect. There were the odd frozen smiles and accidentally listen-in-able interval chat between our promoter host and his comic charges.
But really none of the above mattered too much. The shambolic elements could easily have been explained away as art brut; they were playing with the medium, this brave new world of no audience laughter and heckling replaced with real time passive aggressive twitter snark.
We start with some gentle exercise with someone who may or may not be Joe Wickes. There is pelvic thrusting worthy of The Timewarp, and presumably various hernia incidents on Britain’s sofas.
Next up is a very glitchy approximation of the President of the United States, Mr Donald Trump. We learn he’s a big fan of English comedy, particularly intellectual, cerebral stuff like Mr Brown’s Boys, Mr Bean and the sexier Carry On films. And that Covid-19 was due to radioactive bat jizz.
So far, so confusing. Things settle down into “shooting the breeze”, a video conference call with Seann Walsh, Paul McCaffrey and Susie McCabe. This becomes The Banter Zone, as out host is ribbed for his “triple comeover” and Susie takes a back seat while the men do the competitive mockery thing. When she comes in, she’s funnier and more charming than the rest of them put together, but the format does not allow anyone to be at their best, as intimacy and timing are hard when you’re in a digital box and your mouth isn’t quite lining up with your words.
Much better is our headliner, Al Murray the pub landlord, who is sporting a magnificent beard and head of hair, though the trademark blazer remains intact.
“Turns out I’m not bald at all,” he explains from his lockdown pub cellar. “I’ve been shaving my head for twenty five years for no reason whatsoever”.
He’s a funny one, Al Murray, in both senses of the word. You have to wonder what the Bedford ‘n’ Oxford educated grandson of a diplomat makes, deep down, of still playing a Brexity blowhard who attracts fans who don’t always understand he’s a parody.
“I can’t believe they made us social distance in metric – i thought we’d left”. Too right!
Unlike those other noughties poshos playing working class characters, Little Britain, you never feel Al Murray is punching down. He’s a tragic, pathetic character, and lockdown seems to have given him something unexpected – wisdom.
But mainly he’s here to talk about how much we’re all missing pubs. “Good pubs, bad pubs, happy pubs, sad pubs”, the latter being where we go when we need to be alone. The joke hit rate is phenomenal, and he says the word “pub” so often it starts to lose all meaning, before becoming mystical and profound.
Murray reminds us of the pub rite of passage into adulthood – that first pint, “knew that what you held in your hand was the key to the kingdom”, and reassures us that when all this is over “every pub throughout the land is waiting.”
I’m not really sure that’s true. But Murray, with his hairy optimism, was exactly what the country needs to hear right now.
Because we really miss the pub. And, as Murray puts is, “What is the pub? The place where you and I are equal.”