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.

A Word of Advice for David Mitchell

Fame’s a fickle thing. Many people manage to stay famous their entire working life; some by re-inventing themselves (Bowie), others merely by the fact that we can’t really forget about them, no matter how hard we try (Princess Diana, and yes, I know she’s dead, though I also suspect that most Mail readers think about her many times daily).

Fame comes late for some people; what did Richard Wilson or Thora Hird do before they were 60? Others find that fame comes to them early, and then leaves them just as quick; note the cautionary tale of Macauley Culkin, or Corey Haim (or was it Feldman?). There seems to be a real problem with over-exposure, and never was this more true than in the 1980s. The 80s spawned the Hollywood brat-pack, who churned out film after film in the latter part of the decade; then the decade ended, and the curtain came down on the career of Ringwald, McCarthy, Nelson and the twin Coreys. Incidentally, lest you think that this happened only in America, and only to glamorous people, the very same fate befel the ‘never-sure-why-you-were’ popular Tony Slattery. His brylcreemed side-parting and lavicious grin were rarely far from our screens, and then…nothing: he’d been whisked away as we heralded in a new decade.

Of course much of this instant fame followed by an similarly instant fall from grace is more about our inability to stick with something and our low boredom threshold than it’s to do with any lack of talent on the part of the performer. We also don’t like to see people at the top for too long (Kevin Costner), and we get bored of the same old face beaming out at us for too long. Some folk do have an uncrushable longevity about them (Forsythe – unfathomable, or Monkhouse – a legend), but most people come and go as we build them up just to sweep them back under the carpet.

And this is what I see immimently about to happen to David Mitchell. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but he does seem to be everywhere. What started out as a comedy actor playing a lead role in a funny original sit-com has now become: flogging said sit-com long since it went over the hill, writing an Observer Column, appearing on almost any panel show going and hosting a raft of 10pm-ish moderately watchable nothingish comedy gameshows that seem perfect for the ‘it’s not time to go to bed but I have nothing else to do’ slot. He was undoubtedly funny in peep show (series 1-5), but that was largely because he was playing himself, and we identified with him; his vulnerability and insecurities were there for us all to see, and they were funny whilst at the same time making us feel better about ourselves. Now though he’s gained confidence, and he’s starting to take the piss out of other people. Surely this shouldn’t be allowed; and we’re giving him just the platform from which to do it, with his column, new-found presenting skills and occasional one-liners on mock the week.

Can it last? History is against DM, and my advice is not to over-expose. Get back to playing yourself in sit-coms, written by other people, and we promise to laugh, and mostly with you. Otherwise, you’ll end up like Slattery. I wiki’d Tony S just now, to see what he’s been up to in the last 5 years. Here’s the sum total:

In January 2010, he appeared with Phyllida Law on Ready Steady Cook.

The future’s not bright.