'They don't want anything interesting or edgy' | Frankie Boyle blasts TV execs

'They don't want anything interesting or edgy'

Frankie Boyle blasts TV execs

Frankie Boyle has launched a typically forthright attack on risk-averse TV commissioners, toothless middle-class satire and the lack of women on panel shows.

At the Edinburgh International Television Festival, the comic also defended his own reputation – saying much more thought went into his jokes than simply trying to create knee-jerk offence.

Boyle said that British TV executives ‘are generally scared of content,’ adding: ‘Their main motive is to avoid  controversy. They don't take any risks. One of their priorities is not to take risks. I think the word “risky” is misleading though, I just want them to do something interesting. Look at the ITV schedules, it's like a cruise ship’s entertainment.’

He also contested that ‘mainstream and alternative are ideological  labels’ – saying he wasn’t allowed to play Joanna Newsom on Radio 2 as she was considered ‘too alternative’ – even though he had just seen her fill the Royal Albert Hall.

Boyle argued that television had gone backwards in terms of intelligent content. ‘When we started on Mock The Week we were allowed to cover the Gulf War,’ he said. ‘Last time I watched the first item was the Ryder Cup – and it had been rained off.’

And he said the panelists looked as if they were trying too hard: ‘It looked as if they let the energy flag for a moment someone would have tasered them and replaced them.’

Boyle added that even when comedy commissioners wanted to make an interesting or edgy show they were kiboshed by more senior management. ‘They have to take it upstairs – and that's like taking it to a maiden aunt,’ he said. ‘If you have a comedy commissioner you should let hem commission comedy. Jane Berthoud or Shane Allen [head of BBC radio and TV comedy respectively] are wonderful people - let them commission.’

The comedian also revealed that he once pitched a comedy show set in a theatre – and received a note back from an executive asking: ‘Do theatres exist any more?’

Boyle also said that moving BBC Three online was ‘the worst fucking decision the BBC ever made,’ as it would help drive the next generation of viewers away from TV.

He also accepted he would probably never go back on Channel 4, home of his contentious Tramadol Nights show, accusing the broadcaster of abandoning its public service remit and taking its agenda from trashy magazines like Chat or Take A Break, saying: ‘They are trying to appeal to the worst in people.’

‘I don't think I'd ever get anything on there. They don't want anything with any interest or edge on it. It's creatively dead.’

Of his own reputation for offensive, Boyle said: ‘I think people sometimes think you are saying he most awful thing. But I put a lot of thought into jokes, deciding If I said this would it make the thing I'm saying a lot more funny.

‘I hate banter. I'm the opposite if banter. It's all written beforehand. Comedy gets conflated with thinks like banter and internet trolling, and it’s not the same.’

And he again defended his joke about Katie Price’s disabled son Harvey which aired on Tramadol Nights, saying it should be heard in the context of other jokes that led up to it, mocking her media circus. ‘It's right there on  the far line, but it's not unacceptable,’ he said.

He also thought his background made him more of a target. ‘If you are white and Oxbridge educated you are judged to be playing around with content or form. But I never get any credit for this.’

Boyle also attacked the media for subjecting comedians to so much scrutiny - citing the trouble Jason Manford recently got into for mentioning Israel (like he’s the new ‘Bill Hicks’). Boyle asked why he was still being questioned over a five-year-old gag while David Cameron in not grilled over the devastating impact on the ATOS tests on sick people claiming benefits.

He also said that satire was effectively dead, as it tended to be people from the Establishment gently mocking the system they are part of. ‘Satire is an RP voice saying ridiculous things,’ he asserted. ‘Even Chris Morris is that. People praise Brass Eye – and it was a good show – but a lot if that was taking the piss out of Paul Daniels.

‘Satire’s trapped a lot in journalism. It's all based on newspapers that run on a Westminster cycle. You need to come outside if that.’

Boyle said he would like to see a UK equivalent of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart , but added: ‘We would never get it; it’s not allowed.’

Of the ongoing debate about women on panel shows, Boyle said he backed the idea of producers having to stick to a quota of female guests, even though some have feared that would lead to tokenism.

‘I like quotas because it puts the onus on to the broadcasters, who have lots of money, and not on the comedians,’ he said, citing examples of prejudice that female acts encountered – including one unnamed panel show on which women comics were referred to as ‘Cunty McNojokes’.

He said he encountered a lot of resistance trying to get Sarah Millican or another female comic on to an episode of Never Mind The Buzzcocks he guest hosted – to no avail. ‘I ended up with Richard Herring,’ he said, adding: ‘No I asked for someone who *had* a cunt.’

Herring was not the only target of Boyle’s tongue. He called Jeremy Clarkson ‘a cultural tumour [only] tolerated because he's recognised by people in power’.

However he insisted his harshness was an act. ‘I'm not really so judgmental in real life,’ he said. ‘I don't watch Derek and think “this is terrible” - I watch it and think “Stephen Merchant is really funny”. And I do see that  Clarkson is like that for a certain reason – he’s been brought up not to empathise.’

‘But comedy is a way to imagine yourself into some sort of morality.’

Published: 23 Aug 2014

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