My Shit Life So Far, by Frankie Boyle

Reviewed by Steve Bennett

Torn between buying one of the many showbusiness memoirs cramming the biography shelves of Waterstone’s this Christmas, or a joke-packed TV tie-in from the humour section? Well Frankie Boyle’s memoirs give you both: a brisk saunter down memory lane – which in his case is a seedy back-alley littered with empty cans of Special Brew, used condoms and drugs paraphernalia – combined with typically abrasive quips about anything newsworthy that catches his eye, from Scottish football to Jacqui Smith’s husband watching porn.

He grew up in Pollokshaws, one of the less salubrious areas of Glasgow, which he describes as ‘an empty cement void, a slap in the face to childhood’, the tedium of which was only interrupted with occasional trips to grandparents in rural Ireland, which he found even more boring. He found some escape in comic books, primitive ZX Spectrum computer games and – when he was old enough – booze.

Most of his pre-fame years seem to pass in a fug of drunkenness and dope smoking. He regularly hung out with homeless guys while a student in Sussex, as they were the only ones who could keep up with his phenomenal alcohol uptake, but also because he says he is drawn to people on the fringes of society.

Perhaps it’s little wonder that he found himself, at the age of 23, drawn to comedy, performing his first gig at the Edinburgh Stand, and he soon quit his nascent teaching career. On the circuit, his addiction wasn’t be noticed. ‘I was drinking more and more and my behaviour was becoming more extreme,’ he writes. ‘Living in the part of the Venn diagram where Scottish People meets Comedians, no one noticed.’

Boyle says he’s ‘never really felt any sense of kinship with other comedians, they’ve all seemed too needy’ – whereas, as anyone who’s aware of his work will know, he’s never felt the need to have audiences love him. Nonetheless, he found a couple of drinking buddies on the Scottish circuit, and enjoyed a few reckless, if empty, years on the road, moving from dodgy club to stag party to ill-advised corporate booking.

Boyle is very matter-of-face about his alcoholism and his ‘shit life’, exploiting them for their anecdote value, rather than anything too melodramatic. It makes for an good read, although the style sits better with the comedy years than in the first half of the book, when it looks like he will join the dispossessed himself – although even then his mordant humour is never far away. Boyle’s empathy with the marginalised also politicises him, though it’s never emphasised in his book, just as it’s never been a significant part of his stand-up.

By the end of the book he’s sobered up and unexpectedly well-known thanks to the ‘inexplicably popular’ Mock The Week. His decision to quit both the show and live touring, demonstrates he is as detached from the conventional desire to climb the comedy tree as he has been from mainstream society throughout his life.

Nonetheless, his tales from the road, are as good an indication as any of what life for a jobbing comedian with no ambition beyond the next drinking session is like, and provides plenty of vicarious entertainment for those whose lives are a little more stable. Vicious comments about some of the people and situations he encountered adds plenty of acidic zest, while his habit of letting his writing wander into Mock The Week-style gags also ups the book’s funny quotient – though this does come at the expense of autobiographical narrative.

But then, what else would you expect? As he says in a typically blunt preface: ‘What kind of person buys the autobiography of a panel show contestant? Wake up you cunt.’rn

  • My Shit Life So Far by Frankie Boyle is published by HarperCollins, priced £18.99. Click here to order from Amazon at £8.98.

Published: 2 Nov 2009

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