Mock The Weak: Why Frankie Boyle Isn’t Funny Anymore

Frankie Boyle likes making jokes about the physical appearance of others

Frankie Boyle thinks chavs are poor. Frankie Boyle thinks that pre-cancer Jade Goody was fat. Frankie Boyle thinks Susan Boyle (no relation) is unattractive. These are just some of the oh-so-conventional opinions we can glean from the first two episodes of Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights, brought to you by Channel 4 and a comedian who has forgotten he’s meant to be funny, not ‘shocking’.

Boyle’s latest vehicle is his first TV outing since leaving satirical panel show Mock The Week, where he fell foul of BBC bosses by claiming Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington resembled “someone who’s looking at themselves in the back of a spoon”. He’d also courted controversy by saying Queen Elizabeth was “now so old” that her “pussy is haunted”. Both of these jokes were shocking because they targeted people who are national icons, and mocked their physicality. But were they funny? Maybe not, though plenty of others definitely were.

Tramadol Nights is a twenty-five minute show, containing two minutes of introductory insulting of audience members, several minutes of standup, and about fifteen minutes of bizarre sketches. Last night’s episode had a group of Glasgow children torturing a furry character from a kids’ TV programme, and a young girl with the face of an old man walking in on her parents using her massive dildo. What was supposed to be funny – rather than disturbing – about all this is far from clear. If you didn’t see the first week, it would be difficult to believe week two was actually an improvement on a seemingly eternal ‘Knight Rider is mentally ill’ reimagining, and a horrible Green Mile ‘spoof’, where the condemned black man cured illness by “fucking” the afflicted. 

What makes Tramadol Nights such a disappointment is the fact that Boyle is actually very politically savvy. Because Mock The Week had a topical quiz element, he could occasionally show his more thoughtful side. Though the humour was still blacker than black, he demonstrated that he was an intelligent man who engaged with the week’s news, and often derided the pretensions of the rich and powerful. When Tony Blair was worried about his ‘legacy’ as Prime Minister, Boyle was in no doubt that Blair “will be remembered as a mass murdering bastard. In one hundred years, he’ll be a fairytale Iraqi parents will tell to scare their kids.” He was extremely concerned about the state of the environment spinning out of control (“we’re just slightly evolved monkeys clinging to a dying piece of rock hurtling through space waiting for our eventual death”). He was also angered when the BBC apologised for a joke about the Israeli occupation of Palestine (“a cake” that is “being punched to pieces by an angry Jew”). 

In an Independent interview, Boyle called BNP leader Nick Griffin a “stress ball” for “a racist government with a racist immigration policy”. “I don’t think I’m angry,” he added. “I’m horrified – powered by horror. I think we’ve really got to change.”

Questions have to be asked. Is he “horrified” by the very sight of Adlington and Susan Boyle? Is he “horrified” by some people being slightly overweight? Is he “horrified” by black sexuality? Or is he – for all his ‘edginess’ – playing things very safe, by attacking those who are often marginalised? Why isn’t he sticking it to Israel now he apparently has the chance? Is Tramadol Nights just nihilistic vulgarity for the sake of a payday?

Jimmy Carr has said that analysing comedy is a bit like dissecting a frog, because “Few people are interested and the frog dies in the process.” However, it can be done if you’re that way inclined. It’s one thing to attack “political correctness” – the ‘moral’ norms of the establishment – but comedians have to go beyond this if they are going to make most of us laugh. Especially in these times of great economic crisis and naked political corruption, people increasingly want to see those at the top – rather than those scraping along the bottom – cut down to size. In Tramadol Nights, Frankie Boyle is tickling the debased funnybones of a shrinking audience.

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2 thoughts on “Mock The Weak: Why Frankie Boyle Isn’t Funny Anymore

  1. Emma Pooka

    See, what's wrong with Frankie Boyle, as I see it, is not that he's suddenly not being political anymore, it's that he's only ever seen the political as a vehicle for shock humour. He uses it to create a sense of discomfort, because he can deride one group and get the liberals laughing with him and then use exactly the same joke on another group and make them feel guilty for laughing, then play the old “Get me, giving the finger to political correctness, I'm so *daring* and *controversial*” routine while laughing all the way to the bank.

    I don't think the joke about the queen is shocking because she's a national icon, or because he's mocking her physicality. Having a vagina isn't anything to do with the Queen's particular, personal physicality. All he's saying with that joke is “Old women are inherently funny because they have vaginas. Imagine that – old vaginas!” Likewise, I don't see how referring to Palestine as being “a cake that is being punched to pieces by an angry Jew” does anything in particular to critique Israel. It's funny because the idea of an angry Jew punching a cake is, supposedly, a funny image. It's not like there aren't genuine political points you can make if you want to mock the queen or Israel, but instead he goes for the cheap appeal to prejudice, along with the bullying tactic that if you don't laugh, you must be on *their side*.

    These jokes aren't wrong because they're “politically incorrect” and “people are offended”, they're wrong because they are sexist and racist. Frankie Boyle isn't flying the flag for freedom of speech any more than the BNP are, even if he did describe Nick Griffin as looking like “a plucked owl who's just been promoted into middle management at Gregg's” – which I've got to admit I found hilarious, but it isn't any kind of critique of the BNP, especially not when he's producing exactly the kind of material that fuels their existence.

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  2. Flea

    Stewart Lee did a fantastic critique of FB on a recent tour – I'll see if I can find the routine on youtube or something and post the link.

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