Let's prick this Boyle...

Dave Cohen on why it's right to complain about Frankie

I have an opinion about Frankie Boyle, for what it’s worth. I’ve generally admired his performing and brilliant writing over the years. He’s always pushed at boundaries, not just of taste but also of what is politically acceptable. But I think he overstepped the mark with his jokes about Katie Price and her blind autistic son.

Another great writer/performer who I feel has long since crossed that line is Boyle’s fellow Channel 4 and management stablemate Jimmy Carr. Again, this is my personal opinion.

Last year Carr was attacked by the tabloids for telling a joke about the troops in Afghanistan, in that classic tabloid way of being shocked on our behalf, then titillating us with the sneakiest glimpse of the offending material. Carr made a very public apology - although it was interesting that, while many people focused on the robustness of his apology and the support he received from members of the Armed Forces, no one pointed out that he has never felt the need to apologise to the collective army of his more frequent and familiar targets – travellers and raped women, for example. This is not at all surprising – these groups have no champions among the newspapers and journalists who are working hard to create the fuss.

But my opinion about Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr isn’t really relevant. I’m one person, and like most of those who liked Frankie more when there seemed to be some point to his material, I’ll probably stop watching him and leave him to hang out with those who still find him funny.

Personally I believe what Carr and Boyle choose to write about is their own business, and if you like them you’ll carry on watching them. Having worked as a stand-up and comedy writer for a fair while, I’m in no position to pass judgment on people who include sick jokes in their repertoire.

What exasperates me, though, whenever anyone dares to criticise these comedians for their bad taste gags, is the chorus of indignation that immediately follows from people who are outraged that anyone might complain about these jokes.

Can I please ask you, just this once, all of you who complain that you can’t make jokes about Pakis and yids and spastics and rape and cancer and paedophiles and it’s all political correctness gone mad, will you finally shut up and leave the rest of us alone, to enjoy comedy that we happen to like, which just happens not to be focused purely on these particular obsessional (self) hatreds?

I see debates in The Guardian, I see it online, I see apologists for Channel 4 defending Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr, and Channel 4’s own Press Office actually defending the gags, as though it’s important and some kind of public service for TV companies to be presenting such ‘out-there’ comics.

People who whinge about ‘political correctness gone mad’ – and believe me, they have been whingeing since the first comic got up and told the first political joke on the Comedy Store stage in 1979, and probably earlier than that – talk about the likes of Carr and Boyle (and Sadowitz, Manning and Davidson before them) like they are a bunch of excluded renegade outsiders forced to peddle their comedy in dingy back rooms like illegal smugglers of true comedy.

Get real, you babies. These people are never off our tellies, except when they deliberately say things to get themselves sacked. Manning was on TV loads until he stopped performing jokes and instead made political speeches that actually broke several laws. Sure Manning was a great joke-teller and always opened his act with crowd-pleasing material, but once he had the audience on his side he would drop the comedy and go straight for the Paki-bashing speeches. ‘Yes indeed ladies and gentlemen’ could just as easily have been Manning’s catchphrase as Ben Elton’s. If you never saw Manning trust me, there’s plenty of video evidence out there. Sadowitz was constantly put forward for telly shows and he dutifully turned up for each one (even being given a number of series on Channel 5, as I recall), until he simply said words that were, by law, not allowed on TV at the time.

People get into all sorts of a tizz and flap about what you can and can’t make jokes about, and what or who it’s okay to laugh at. But I can’t see what the problem is. It’s really really simple – there are comedians who choose to make jokes against the powerful, and comedians who choose to make jokes against the powerless. And many many variations in between. If you find yourself laughing involuntarily at a joke that offends your own moral sense, that doesn’t make you a hypocrite, any more than it makes you a bad person. All it proves is that the person who told it is so skilled at what they do that they can even make you laugh at things you don’t normally find funny.

Boyle, Carr and the rest will continue making their jokes. I probably won’t like them, but I can’t stop them being made, and I can’t stop people who aren’t me from finding them funny. But to those of you who enjoy that type of comedy: please stop your hearts from bleeding on behalf of these over-exposed millionaires who have made it their solemn duty to urge people to laugh at the weak, the poor, the disabled and the dispossessed. These comics are not angry and bitter because they’re speaking some unpalatable truth that no one else is listening to, they’re just the type of people who are more likely to be angry and bitter because they don’t like being in the vicinity of people who are not like them.

Their views are not hidden or taboo or quashed by the comedy police and political correctness czars, you can hear these views on any night in any pub, or in the front of a black cab, or in popular newspapers read by people in their millions.

Personally I have never found jokes against the powerless particularly funny – call me a stick-in-the-mud, or a wishy-washy namby-pamby Guardian-reading pinko lefty, I’m cool with that, it’s what I am. But if I call you a whingeing right-wing bullying hate-peddler don’t turn all thin-skinned, because that is what you are. You’re not ‘not racist but...’, you are racist and – you’re sexist, homophobic, disablist and your views are everywhere. Now sod off and go moan to your mates about the lefty Jew with the sense of humour by-pass.

Published: 14 Dec 2010

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