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!







  1. Chica,

    Excellent piece. Hope to write a larger response later. Two points for now. Sadowitz himself says Boyle stole his act although the truth is clearly dissimilar to that statement and probably beyond explaining halfway through a gig. Secondly excellent point about joking at one’s own expense. When I saw Sadowitz in Warrington a moment of sheer genius was the sight of him holding what he said were his cue cards to help him remember his act. He must have faced the audience for a good five minutes holding a large card which had “cunt” written on it. Perfect.

  2. Good piece. I too found Tramadol Nights wanting. I did find some parts funny but halfway the sour taste in my mouth became too distracting.

    For one thing, I was surprised to find it so dated. The Nightrider sketch, if overlong, at least offered something on a show with some cult status. Going with The Green Mile sketch and George Michael stuff is frankly (Frankily?) odd. Is this some sort or reaction to working on a topical show for so long?

    I agree entirely about Frankie’s promise. I had hoped that a certain level of success would give him the opportunity to discuss what he actually cared about and I came away wondering if he cared about anything. He is clearly a talented stand up and his material IS funny but lacks passion somehow. Or purpose perhaps. It’s a bit like watching someone bashing out the Neighbours theme on a Stradivarius or shooting tim cans with a rocket launcher.

    Overall the production values seemed off. Apart from the editing choices the whole piece just seems a little ugly and out of tune. I’d like to think that this was intentional and intended to unsettle the audience, but I suspect that Frankie’s golden boy status gave him too much control and he’s not an experienced director/editor/producer.

    Did anyone else find it bizarre to complain about the depths TV will sink to but then drop it in a shallow canal? Any sense of irony seemed diluted or absent. The cartoon money shots, and repeated child abuse and rape gags aren’t offensive, just overemphasised til their futility becomes depressing rather than daring. It’s no wonder he only got 10 complaints about offense.

    I think you’re right about needing to send himself up too. Charlie Brooker has always had that balance between slating television but also tucking into himself so there was never any danger of hypocrisy.

    Furthermore I think the best angry comedians take you with them. Hicks was like an angry Jesus in the temple of thieves. We need more of that. Frankie has the potential to be invigorating and even inspiring. His vigour could offer a call to arms to his audience but he leaves us behind, uncomfortably numb.

  3. That’s a darn good assessment, capturing the dual areas of disappointment concerning Boyle: the casual cruelty that has no point except cruelty itself, and the dismaying channelling of a talent that seems to be heading into a cul-de-sac of pointlessness. If Boyle was given the above article to read, I’d dare say he’d look upon it as a badge of courage (whether he’d deal with the criticisms seriously in private is another matter).

    But he burned a bridge or two by accepting a columnist’s job with the Sun, anyway.

  4. You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s the comedy of the bully

  5. Boyle is not a comedian. He is an ex-teacher from Sussex University who saw a chance to make some big money through a related public platform. Not having an act or any kind of world view of his own, he borrowed one from a comic that was obscure enough to plarigise from, without incurring the jeers of a nationwide audience. Armed with a regular television “showcase”, anyone can then go on the road and hit massive venues, as comedy is now the biggest draw of disposable income since the pop world of the sixties. The reason why real comedy fans have a vague feeling of dislike towards him is because he does not think about the comedy he delivers. He copies it. And without the passion induced by original thought, you are left feeling conned and insulted. It’s like listening to Tony Blair or Lembit Opek talking about politics. They have only ambition and no real interest…and because the subject is a serious, one feels angry and insulted to hear it treated with such frivolity. He is not worth comment from any serious comedy fan.

  6. Great post. I too was a fan of Frankie on Mock The Week. I thought it he was amusing and when tickets to his tour were offered to me I gladly took them. I went along expecting to be shocked and offended because after all that is his “thing” but I at the very least expected a laugh. How wrong was I? I just found him boring to be honest. His constant going on about rape and pedophilia was just cringe worthy and as you say the rehash of Jade Goody/Susan Boyle etc was the epitome of boring.

  7. Spot on- think you’ve nailed the problem with Mr Boyle. I went to see him a few weeks ago:

  8. You state the obvious about Frankie Boyle and recycle old newspaper articles about Sadowitz et al. I thought bloggers were supposed to have their own opinions? You can write but you have nothing to say.

  9. Totally agree with you.. his comments are worse than anything has Katie Price has ever done..

    He shows a lack of imagination choosing such easy target.. surprised he didn’t mention the David Beckham and Hugh Grant’s blow job..

  10. This is a very well noted set of points, but I must point out that Dennis Leary stole half his act from Louis CK, including the Asshole song

  11. Bullshit from start to finish. But at least you got all that hot air out of your thick skull.

  12. Excellent work.

    “Internet Hero”. Good God.

    • Thank you so much! Glad you liked it. I was getting worried at the lack of negative replies, so it’s pleasing they’ve turned up at last. It’s not an effective blog without someone calling you a twat.

  13. “Internet Hero” is Frankie Boyle, and I Claim My Five Pounds.

  14. comming from vaudville parents,grewup in showbiz enviourment,true creative talent wasnt necessairly recognized or rewarded in proportion to greatness ! The practice of stealing material from other acts, then using it as their own, was predominently a JEWISH trait that most show people knew, they were preditors of others talented creations,and today have acheived dominance over all aspects of showbiz , UNDESERVED !RETIREMENT TO ISRAEL !

  15. His outrageous jokes left me saying is he allowed to say that?, he did make me chuckle a few times, but I agree that the sketches and jokes about perverts ect are cringing and I don’t find them funny, it’s more embarrassing too watch!.
    Its no wonder the show was axed!, Boyle went a bit too far!!!…..


  16. Yep. Frankie Boyle has been a complete disappointment. A skilled and witty comedian, as you say, wasting his ‘shock’ comedy on already done-down targets, and pissing away what comedy credibility he had. He’s a hack, and has been revealed as such. Stewart Lee is a far better comedian. Though I have to mention that Stewart’s erstwhile colleague Richard Herring is just as big a hack as Boyle.

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