<em>Three Frankie Boyle shows are now available to stream on Netflix UK: Live, If I Could Reach Out Through Your TV And Strangle You, I Would, The Last Days of Sodom</em>
Sometimes, if you say something offensive, shocking and outrageous, you can provoke a laugh. If it’s grossly offensive, shocking and outrageous, you can provoke a lawsuit. Frankie Boyle, famous for panel show Mock The Week, believes in both. The trouble is that if you keep saying offensive, shocking, outrageous things they become less offensive, less shocking and less outrageous.
Between his books and Twitter account, Frankie comes across as a vicious, intelligent champion of the anti-establishment. Sharp-witted and thoughtful, he thinks beyond his comedy to make a statement about celebrity and modern culture. He really does push boundaries. In fact, he does all the things that reviews of his stand-up say he does. But his stand-up does not.
Often bland, almost always predictable and full of material where Boyle’s natural wit would suffice, all three of his live shows – now on Netflix UK – are jam-packed with jokes that might make you laugh. A clever turn of phrase might force a chuckle, or an abstract target (Frankie deals in targets rather than topics) might provoke interest, but both are rare enough to count your favourites and between the well-crafted humour there’s nought but torrents of abuse aimed at easy targets. Coaxing laughs out of the same audiences he regularly silences on Twitter for spelling mistakes, if Boyle could focus his vocabulary and bold, aggressive nature at a reasonable target, aiming to educate and intrigue rather than attack the obviously ridiculous, he’d be far more worth watching.
Without adding this curious, righteous element to his words, Boyle can never truly be compared to the comics he’s so often namechecked alongside; Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, Stewart Lee, Charlie Brooker. The names of those who use the anger and indignation hitched to a juggernaut of actually doing something worthwhile, indicating quietly ignored wrongs as opposed to popular celebrities whose mistakes are announced grandly on millions of front pages every day. As he is, Boyle lands somewhere between truly great comedy and Heat magazine.
Frankie’s chief problem lies in predictability. The standard pre-show interviews with the audience that produce the phrase ‘You never know what he’s going to do next!’ are also present before performances by Doug Stanhope, Chris Rock, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison and others, but with Boyle it’s difficult to believe. Often, you do know exactly what he’s going to do next.
A few moments into The Last Days of Sodom, he mentions Jade Goody’s widower Jack Tweed in a set-up line, to which a laugh erupts and Boyle quips: “I haven’t even said it, yet!” The audience think they know what’s coming: a tasteless, yet gleefully smug, quote in which Boyle somehow berates Goody. They are correct.
If Boyle begins a joke by mentioning Islam, Glasgow, homosexuality, necrophilia, Michael Jackson, Gary Glitter, bestiality or one of the other topics extensively covered by “Sickipedia” then the punchline becomes null and void; it’ll be an aimless attack unsubtly making a comment about political correctness. But occasionally, he nails it. A few crafted, clever similes here and there, coupled with his social awareness (far more prominent on his Twitter), show what Boyle could be if he chose.
Having retired from comedy to concentrate on writing and having a family, some people may feel that comedy has lost an honest, abrasive voice. Others may feel that a mouthy, ignorant idiot has finally shut up (apart from on Twitter). The truth may be that although Boyle’s potential was strong, his lack of engaging it left us with a loose-cannon comic without the focus to do any good. Being as subversive, as lambasted by the media and conservative audiences, as loud, and as popular as Bruce, Kinison, Hicks or Lee does not make you as talented an artist, as much a revolutionary, or as funny a person.
Frankie Boyle: Live
Frankie Boyle: If I Could Reach Out Through Your TV And Strangle You, I Would
Frankie Boyle: The Last Days of Sodom