What’s so wrong with Fra-Bo?

What a strange time it must be to be Frankie Boyle. Maybe there’s not much news to report beyond travel disaster across the country, but for the Daily Mirror to decide that its lead story should be its own outrage at Boyle’s use of an racist term during his new TV show suggests that there was precious little else that was newsworthy that day. The Daily Mail has of course waded in, and has proclaimed itself to be just as outraged as the Mirror, if not more so. I suspect Frankie is pretty surprised at all the anger being sent his way. It really wasn’t so long ago that he was very much the comedic flavour of the month. He’s gone from one of the nation’s favourite comics to being a national pariah in a few short weeks. Rarely do comedians stay fresh and popular for an extended period, but this must be one of the swiftest falls from grace ever. So what happened such that we all turned against Frankie (incidentally, myself included)?

My extensive research has involved a few seconds of thought, a quick read of Wikipedia and a ten minute viewing of Tramadol Nights on 4oD. I guess this means that I’m giving no more than my tuppence worth, but Jeremy Kyle has been doing that for years, and he seems to get recomissioned. Anyway, it seems that Frankie Boyle rose to fame first on Mock the Week, and was widely regarded as being one of the funniest people on the show. His style of humour was always designed to be shocking; he was one of those people who was genuinely amusing, though more often than not it felt a little wrong to snigger. Nothing was off-limits for Boyle, and his stock gags involved all sorts of taboo subjects. Nevertheless, people loved him, and there was much gnashing of teeth when he left the show.

He has since appeared on TV doing his one-man stand-up (his stock in trade), and has published an autobiography (whose title of ‘My Shit Life so Far’ is almost as bad as Russell Brand’s ‘Booky Wook’). Quite who cares to read this book is unclear, bearing in mind how little time he’s spent in the nation’s conscious. He’s now got his own series, ‘Tramadol Nights’, and it’s the material involved here that has got him into so much hot water. But wait a minute, isn’t this exactly the sort of material for which he was so lauded on ‘Mock the Week’? Of course it is; so what changed?

A few things actually: ‘Mock the Week’ involved 7 comedians each week, and so no-one monopolised the air-time and was hence over-exposed. The range of comedic styles ensured that there was something for everyone (there’s only so much of Michael McIntyre’s smug grinning face that anyone can take). The comedians managed to end up being raisins in a bowl of raisin bran: a real treat when they pop up. Frankie Boyle was the main beneficiary of the show’s format, and his were the gags you tended to remember. Being shocking works so much better in tiny bite-sized chunks. In his new show, he’s exposed for pretty much the whole time, and it’s very clear that he’s a one-trick pony. We’ve heard all the jokes before, or at least variations on them, and when one gets bored of these jokes, all you’re left with is the offensive stuff, and that’s what people have focussed on. We used to have a comedian who was funny and offensive, and people were willing to forgive the material, so long as the comedy was in there. He has now committed the cardinal sin for any comedian: he simply isn’t very funny any more. The reason I was only able to watch ten minutes of ‘Tramadol Nights’ was because it was rubbish, not because it was shocking or offensive. The sketches were particularly bad, and whereas many of them had the kernel of a funny idea, they didn’t have any wit or skill in the writing to back them up. Frankie Boyle also comes across as less than likeable, and here’s another reason that the public and press have turned on him.

So bad luck Frankie – you haven’t really done anything different. You’ve just proved the old maxim: one jelly baby from someone else’s packet tastes great, but after a whole packet to yourself, you just feel sick. Mind you, Frankie would probably refuse to eat the black ones.

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