C'mon Frankie, let's see your blood Boyle

Matt Taylor yearns for some proper satire

It's incredible to think that, within days of the BBC broadcasting a TV programme that dominated the papers and almost caused a riot in Shepherds Bush, Auntie has also been accused of being run by ‘dull people who want dull TV’.

The aggrieved party in this case is Frankie Boyle a man who, like Nick Griffin, likes to utter controversial things and now appears to be worried that the Beeb is essentially ganging up on him and gagging him from ever getting his point across.

I’m not equating Boyle on any meaningful level with Britain's premier fascist.  In fact, as a comedian, Frankie Boyle’s timing is a joy, his laconic delivery is masterful and his stage presence is peerless. He is also a crushing disappointment.

His recently fell foul of the BBC Trust for saying that Olympic gold medal winning swimmer and all-round good egg Rebecca Adlington looked like someone ‘looking at themselves in the back of a spoon’. The comments came on Mock The Week, which the BBC calls ‘a satirical comedy show’, from which you might assume the show lampoons hypocrisy and corruption in the establishment and skewers the self-important and slippery. But it actually appears to define ‘satirical’ as ‘pointing out that someone with the temerity to excel at a sport has a big nose’.

Now Boyle's comments are, to some extent, all fairly harmless and I suppose he’s right to complain when they were called ‘humiliating’ and ‘offensive’ but his censuring in no way hints at, as he claims, ‘a question of how boring people want TV to be from now on’.

After all, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen plenty of exciting, edgy television in the past which hasn't been centred on jibes about the facial appendages of swimmers from Mansfield.  What the response to Boyle does offer us, however, is a glimpse at a much bigger problem with comedy at the moment of which Mock The Week is an obvious symptom and which, terrifyingly, those stupid new BBC guidelines that it's comedy shows can't be ‘unduly intimidatory, humiliating, intrusive, aggressive or derogatory’ may well be the only appropriate cure.

When Boyle states about his Adlington jokes that they ‘weren't that risqué anyway. There was no malice in them’ he’s unwittingly hitting the nail on the head.  If comedy is going to go on the offensive it has to have a reason why, a point.  The comic has to believe that who or what he is after deserves it.  They have to care.  They have to want to kill.

Otherwise they might as well just preface every comment with ‘Yo’ mama...’ and play gigs at youth clubs.  And that's the difference between properly brilliant attack comics- like George Carlin, Chris Morris, Sam Kinison- and desperate careerists like Boyle and his dead-eyed chums on the Mock The Week panel.  It's why you could never imagine Bill Hicks imitating Dara O Briain's horrible and unconvincing vocal flourish when he says ‘the points for that round go to Frankie, Hugh and Andy!!!’ like he’s supposed to actually give a shit about what anyone’s said and as though one half of the panel has somehow out-satired the other half.

No comic on Mock The Week ever seems to actually care who they attack or why and Boyle is the worst offender. Provided they can think of a lazy, cheap shot about something like their target's appearance and get a Pavlovian guffaw from the crowd they seem satisfied.

To his credit, Boyle has recently quit the show and, as a parting shot, complained that the producers give the panel ‘light, frothy stuff’ to discuss instead of real world issues.  ‘When you consider we’re fighting two wars, there's fucking swine flu and the global economy is going down the toilet’ he goes on to say, ‘People expect you to tal about this - and what do the production team send us? A picture of Rebecca Adlington. I mean what are you going to write about... The tracksuits they're wearing? The shutter speed the photographers were using?’

Clearly Boyle’s chosen form of protest to this situation was to go along with it, crack gags about Adlington’s looks (obviously a basis for much better material than tracksuits and shutter speeds) and then quit the show with his career suitably boosted from seven series ofrn‘light, frothy stuff’ and his autobiography sitting on the shelves at Waterstones.

And that's the real frustration with the show and Boyle in particular - genuinely talented observational comedians who seem to have nothing to actually say being awkwardly squeezed into a show with pretentions of satire but no belief in the cause.

I sincerely hope Boyle now applies his obvious talents to raging against the dying of the the light rather than petty name-calling and cheap jibes - like I said, his comedic talents are frustratingly obvious and who wouldn’t love to see him off the TV and playing live with real fire in his belly about the world around him.

If he doesn’t though, I just hope he remembers that a comedian doesn’t necessarily need to have some great point to make about the world or a succession of targets he or she desperately wants to take down: Peter Kay doesn’t, Victoria Wood didn’t, Demetri Martin doesn't- but they can’t pretend they have if they’re really just thinking about the next book deal and that Christmas’s stand-up DVD.

It just leads to the sort of scattergun playground name-calling which, left unchecked, leads to organisations like the BBC getting complained about and into trouble.  Which, in turn, leads to them getting worried.  Which leads to the creation of those new guidelines on what comedy can actually do.  Which means that, in the same week the BBC was actually rolling out the red carpet for the BNP, inviting them to spew bile on Question Time and unwittingly unleashing one of the funniest TV shows of the year, professional comics were being told they are not to be ‘unduly intimidatory, humiliating, intrusive, aggressive or derogatory’.

But that’s what happens when comics stop actually having something to say – that job gets taken by Nick Griffin.  And comedy on TV gets boring.rn

Published: 29 Oct 2009

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