Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

Frankie Boyle: The only taboo must be crap comedy

In Comedy on December 20, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I already expressed my disappointment in Frankie Boyle’s approach to comedy. As I explained, his jokes have more of the school bully about them than the self-destructive genius of Jerry Sadowitz. However, the debate over Tramadol Nights has gone, in my view, horribly wrong with people suggesting he shouldn’t be allowed to joke about cancer or disability. Comedians should make jokes about any painful subject. That’s what jokes are for. The real question is handling it with skill.

Boyle’s joke about breast cancer (telling his friend “you shouldn’t be walking the Great Wall of China! You should be in bed playing with your tits before they drop off”) caused outrage. This is one of the only lines in Tramadol Nights I didn’t have a problem with.

Firstly, it was constructed with a patently ludicrous image of breasts dropping off like papier-mâché in the rain. It’s clearly nonsense. Secondly, the delivery was totally different to his usual aggressive stance. He seemed to be showing genuine concern for his friend’s well-being, albeit amusingly misguided and with a very poor grasp of anatomy. The jokes that followed were the kind people do exchange with their friends in times of great worry. It’s what jokes are for, to alleviate tension and allow us to broach painful subjects.

I was in the ambulance during my Mum’s third heart attack in two years and told her: “Really Mother, you’re just being repetitive now. Can you not do a bit of variation?” She replied with a muffled “sorry, I’ll remember next time” through the oxygen mask.

Jimmy Carr’s infamous joke (“Say what you like about these servicemen amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’re going to have a fucking good Paralympic team in 2012”) was fantastic. If anyone’s going to find that especially funny, it’s people in the military or their doctors, those who need gallows humour to get through life. As is often the case, outrage was co-opted by well-meaning outsiders who always seem to get offended on behalf of others. Even worse is when those who defend free speech suddenly forget the principle when their own pet taboo is touched upon.

There is also something extremely important that gets ignored in the age of so-called offensive comedy. If it’s taken as given that you are on stage with a comic persona and therefore don’t mean anything you say, then no subject can be off limits. “I won’t say anything I think can be taken the wrong way, as racist, or homophobic,” Boyle told the Sunday Herald in November 2008. This is where he and many people get it woefully wrong. If the foundation of the act is ironic, then that goes for everything, or is he suggesting that the sexist, ageist, disablist material can happily be ‘taken the wrong way’? Or that his audience is so thick that they do take some of his jokes seriously?

Sadowitz explained it perfectly when he noted: “Every joke is a target. I take it to its logical conclusion so everything is a target. That automatically negates any idea I’m a bigot or genuinely anti-this, it just makes it outrageous.”

As an aside, judging by the sketches in Tramadol Nights, Frankie seems to have abandoned that stance on non-racist and homophobic jokes. Sadly, he included them in his ‘offensive first, funny is optional’ scattergun approach. It takes skill to make dark comedy work and in this case Boyle blundered into a minefield wearing extra-wide skis. The cowboy and AIDS sketches seem to consider homosexuality amusing in and of itself, while I have yet to see a black man in the entire series who isn’t fucking someone/something.

This brings me to the Harvey Price issue. Mentioning the disabled child was not the problem. People say the joke was aimed at his mother and her media persona, but I fail to see what point it was supposed to make. It seemed more like the old school bully mentality that a rather large child with learning difficulties must automatically be some kind of super-strong out-of-control freak that ‘normal’ people should be protected from. It was misjudged and futile, like so many of his brutal put-downs of minor celebrities, but this is a totally separate issue from the cancer jokes.

So I will defend Boyle’s right to joke about painful subjects and I will continue to call him out when he does it badly. If that’s too nuanced a view for your stance on this issue, then tough drop-offable titties.

P.S. Don’t forget Jerry Sadowitz ison tour! Go see if you want to find out how it’s meant to be done!  Book here NOW!






The trouble with Tramadol Nights

In Comedy on December 2, 2010 at 1:04 am

The sad thing is, I used to be a fan of Frankie Boyle. Him piping up with something completely inappropriate was what made Mock the Week worth watching. He delighted in telling anyone who’d listen that the BBC were holding him back, preventing him from discussing topics like war and real political bombshells, to be like his hero Bill Hicks. He is now popular and famous enough to get away with just about anything. This is why I am so bitterly disappointed in the direction his career has taken.

There is a gaping chasm between what Boyle thinks he’s doing and what he is actually putting out there. What is edgy or telling truth to power about calling some random – usually female – celebrity ugly/a slapper/stupid? Chris Morris’ Brass-Eye skewered the media’s almost porn-like obsession with paedophilia, but Boyle just thinks ‘paedophile’ is a punchline that is inherently shocking and therefore funny. It’s now just dull and repetitive, like a Little Britain catchphrase.

There was a moment in his book which explained why Boyle’s dark humour is less tearing down sacred cows and more reaffirming the status quo. He recounts a story about a game where they’d knock kids in the head with their bags as they walked through the school corridor. His friend would get really good hits, often sending them to the floor, and revealed it was because he had a spanner in the front pocket.

He was a bully. He still is, whether he realises it or not. The Comedy of Hate going back to Sam Kinison, Jerry Sadowitz, Dennis Leary and of course Hicks was fuelled by frustration at a stupid world, screaming out the anger and turning it into hilarity. It was the old ‘if you don’t laugh, you cry’ maxim. Boyle is the comedy of complacency, of finding the weak and knocking them to the ground, inviting the audience to stand in that corridor and laugh at their flailing bodies. It’s not tearing down sacred cows. It’s kicking people who are already on the floor. It’s easy. Not offensive, just futile.

People sometimes say that Boyle stole Sadowitz’s act, but that is immensely insulting to Sadowitz. Stewart Lee summed it up perfectly when he said Jerry is “one of society’s eternal outsiders, thus given comic licence to denigrate everyone, from the bottom up.” Sadowitz is merciless to everybody including genuine sacred cows that might make you gasp, but he always reserves the most vicious jabs at himself. When have you ever heard Boyle do a joke that makes him look really bad? Nope, his tactic is to belittle the target and take the audience with him, punching down and down and down, never making you think about anything of import. Going to see Jerry live is an experience. Frankie live is literally watching any of his tame, repetitive television appearances in an uncomfortable and expensive seat. Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?

I am most disheartened because I think Frankie could be a really great comedian. He has the guts and the way with words, but he is the laziest comic out there – way more than even Michael ‘Have you ever noticed an incredibly obvious thing’ McIntyre. How dare he take money from Channel 4 and the live audiences and the people who buy his DVD with exactly the same material? The jokes that weren’t in the DVD were from MtW or You Have Been Watching. His book had entire chunks recycled from his appearances on Argumental – or the other way round, it’s difficult to tell who got the sloppy seconds.

Really, Frankie? You complain that you’re not allowed to discuss truly controversial topics, then carry on with exactly the same Kerry Katona/Jade Goody/Susan Boyle/Katie Price jokes that made up 90 per cent of your MtW output. You moaned in several interviews that the BBC ‘forced’ you to talk about such boring things as the Olympics, so in your first show on Channel 4 do material on the Winter Olympics, rugby and tennis. By the looks of the audience, most of them are too young to remember Knight Rider or The Green Mile. I’ll be lenient on the appallingly awful sketches, as even Stewart Lee suffered from the sketch that went on for ever and a day, though with him it was mainly to wind up the audience.

So please, don’t even try to tell me Boyle speaks truth to power, or says the unsayable. He won’t go near half the subjects Sadowitz covered 20 years ago and still does with astounding relish today. As Stewart Lee says, “he mocks the weak” and that includes those gullible enough to pay for the same dull crap in different packaging. It’s not offensive, just the comedy of complacency.

P.S. Don’t forget Jerry Sadowitz is on tour!! Go see if you want to find out how it’s meant to be done! You won’t find him on DVD or YouTube, because Sadowitz is an experience… Book now!