BROKEN Britain may feel like it is supping the dregs of a long-stale pint, but never fear. Al Murray, The Pub Landlord, is returning to refresh our glasses with a fizzing new show.
The showman is making three appearances in South Devon later this year.
He is at the Babbacombe Theatre, Torquay on Friday, May 10, Northcott Theatre, Exeter, on Saturday, May 11, and Plymouth Pavilions on Wednesday, June 19.
He will be serving up his five-star brew of ale-inspired acumen and bar-room buffoonery right across the country as part of his The Only Way Is Epic tour.
Watching the Landlord in action is a fantastic experience. Rarely in a theatre will you have the same electrifying feeling you get witnessing the saloon-bar sage at his coruscating best.
He sends a vital charge through his audience in a way few other comics can manage.
The critics say the Landlord has few rivals as a stand-up.
Al is chatting in the run-up to this spring's return journey around the nation.
A rare example of a comedian who is just as funny off stage as on it, he has a spring in his step. He just can't wait to hit the road once again.
He explains that on the tour, 'I went to places I'd never been before, and it was brilliant fun. The extent to which people really got it and allowed me to run with the joke as far as I wanted to run with it was enough to completely recharge my batteries'.
The comedian, whose mantelpiece must be seriously endangered with collapse by the number of awards he has won over the years, goes on to outline the astonishing rush he still elicits from stand-up comedy.
"What I love is it's different every night. I want the audience to feel that tonight's the night, and unlike any other show.
"They know they are getting a hundred per cent effort from me, rather than feeling it's just another routine evening.
"In a way I'm hugely envious of comedians who have the patience to do the same stuff every night, but God knows how they do it — I'd go crazy. It means much more to make every show unique. That's what an audience brings to it."
Al adds: "We were playing village halls in the Hebrides last summer, and what the audience were bringing to the show every night was something incredibly vibrant and different.
"The audience give every show an extra buzz. Every evening I find something new to latch on to, and that's amazingly exciting."
One of the reasons why the Landlord works so spectacularly well on stage is because Al knows the character inside out.
He reflects that 'I can feed anything into the character now. I know him so well that I know what he thinks about any subject'.
The key to the Landlord is that even though he thinks he is talking perfect sense, he is, of course, usually spouting complete nonsense.
"I have no issue with nonsense," laughs Al. "The Landlord has to defeat himself. He always manages to tie himself in knots with his arguments.
"Some people say the act is rabble-rousing and think audiences take it at face value, but he is a dribbling, self-contradictory idiot, so I don't mind if people take that at face value."
Al admits that even now the occasional audience member gets the wrong end of the stick and thinks the Landlord is the fount of all wisdom.
"There are still one or two who don't get it. You think, 'what on earth are they agreeing with — all those mental hallucinations and contradictions?' But if they want to agree with it, good luck to them."
So what themes will the Landlord be tackling in this new show? Broken Britain will, of course, feature very prominently.
Al observes: "The idea of Broken Britain chimes with the Landlord. The Broken Britain narrative is to say simultaneously that this is the greatest country in the world and that we're rubbish.
"The Landlord can hold that contradiction in his hand. I admire the backflip required to achieve that.
"It lets you approach things from any angle, and proves itself over and over again. You can contradict yourself in back-to-back sentences, and contradictions are always funny."
What's more, Al adds, 'the idea of us being rubbish doesn't seem to have gone away. Even the Olympics haven't managed to wipe out the idea that we're not very good at things'.
In The Only Way Is Epic, the irrepressible innkeeper will also be giving us the benefit of his expertise on the subject of parenting.
Al said: "The Landlord believes children are our future, which is why he is so terrified.
"He realises that kids these days don't know the meaning of hard work anymore. They look at work and think, 'Oh God, that looks difficult. I can't be bothered with that'.
"He will also tell us why being a dad is the hardest job in the world.
"He will reveal he is possibly joining a group of other fathers who are seeking justice. He will let them have a function room, in return for free membership. He'll also drive their van to Big Ben, but he won't wear those silly costumes."
In addition, the Landlord will be dealing with the subject of edginess in comedy.
Al explains: "I have been watching the debate about what you can and can't say in comedy with increasing astonishment.
"I find it absurd, peculiar, self-serving and nonsensical. There is such ridiculous machismo when comedians declare, 'I'm going to say something edgier than any of you would dare say'. Oh, shut up, you pompous jackass!"
"The problem with the idea of 'edge' is that if the audience expect you to be edgy, then you're not being edgy at all.
"The people who say the whole point of comedy is to push boundaries are wrong. The point is to make people laugh. As a response to this debate, the Landlord decides to say something that will really shock the audience…"
As a climax to the show, Al reveals: "The Landlord will attempt to save the country. The audience will end up completely liberated as a new people living in a new Britain.
"It's about rescuing Britain from itself. The Landlord thinks we can't go on blaming the government for everything. It's not like football, where you can always blame the manager."
The Landlord is revelling in his new role as a potential political leader.
Al says: "I've made him aware that he's addressing an audience. Now he's got a platform and thinks he can make the most of it. I think politicians are funny, and this is picking that apart.
"Our present generation of politicians may as well have worked in a bar as anywhere else, for all the life experiences they have.
"They have only ever been special advisers before becoming MPs. So someone who works in a pub is as likely to get it right as anyone else."
Finally, Al underscores how thrilled he is to be touring once again.
His passion for live comedy remains undimmed.
He concludes: "I never think, 'God, how can I fill the show?' That's never a problem.
"If I ever got stuck and had to resort to greatest hits, I would stop performing live, but that shows no sign of happening."
The Only Way is Epic is on an extended nationwide tour. For tickets: www.thepublandlord.com