Frankie Boyle Live Review: "The Stand-Up Equivalent Of An American Bombing Raid"

His milk turned sour when he started dissing disabled kids, but how does he fare when he's off Twitter and back on stage?
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 Preston Guild Hall 4th August 2012

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

Matthew 21:12

Frankie Boyle has always aroused a sense of ambivalence in me.  Mock The Week was a strained format with out-of-their-depth comedians thrown into it.  Frankie Boyle was the best thing on it but it’s difficult to word that phrase like it’s a compliment.

I can see the appeal;  he’s perceptive and can find a joke in the most unlikely of scenarios or find something leftfield in the most tired of subjects. He’s a skilful stand up - able to bomb through weaker material and find laughs elsewhere and control the most belligerent of crowds with ease.

I can also see the position of his detractors: his material is scattergun, he lacks any kind of position from which targets can be skewered, making it difficult for anyone to view him as having the moral high ground when he does have righteousness on his side.

The tastelessness of some of the material is a subjective point – some of the most critically acclaimed comedians have material that could similarly be described as tasteless – Stewart Lee with his lengthy descriptions of vomiting into various orifices on the body of Christ ; Richard Herring wanking off paedophiles with his child-like hands.

his material is scattergun, he lacks any kind of position from which targets can be skewered

The difference is that for tastelessness to work, the comedian has to position himself.  The humour in Jim Jeffries’ “You’ve just made this rape really awkward” line comes from a position of finding himself socially outraged by the presumptousness of his companion; Lee’s 90’s Comedian routine is explained as a response to the ludicrous moral outrage that accompanied Jerry Springer The Opera.  Much of Doug Stanhope and Brendon Burns’ best material finds humour by looking for the morality in the most outrageous of scenarios.

Boyle appears to have none of these morality defences given that he takes the position of the bully, mocking weakness – fine when it is targeted at exposing hypocrisies, less fine when you’re mocking something that there can be no controlling.  If anything, Boyle’s raison d’etre appears more to be trying to find the point where his audience stop laughing, as if it was an art project.  Like Damien Hirst, if Damien Hirst told jokes about disabled kids.

I’d defend to the hilt the rights of filmmakers or musicians to be shocking for its own sake despite there being no moral or artistic defence. So, if I’m going to be consistent then I have to defend Frankie Boyle’s right to say whatever the fuck he likes and for his audience to laugh at it.  My defence is my ability to say “you’re wrong”.

The self-hate that he attempts to position as a defence doesn’t wash. He is far too arrogant and self assured for anyone to buy that - Frankie is Frankie’s biggest fan and he would suck his own dick if he could.

So, how come I’m reviewing his show?

Well, the above is where I was before I read his last book (Work! Consume! Die! ).  Within this, there was a focus to his ire and rather than just an ill-defined, feedline/punchline crucifixion of various sacred cows.

the stream of consciousness interludes had some moments of pathos and revealed a more human side to what had previously been perceived as an offensive joke automaton

Boyle appeared to be genuinely angry and was concentrating his undoubted perceptiveness and comic talent at some genuine evils – war, the economy… with a breadth of scope and exploration of the subjects that allowed the material to breathe and find humour in truths.  In addition, the stream of consciousness interludes had some moments of pathos and revealed a more human side to what had previously been perceived as an offensive joke automaton, like Robocop if Robocop told jokes about disabled kids.

This felt like something new. It felt like maybe there had been a masterplan to get to a point where he was financially secure enough to start taking chances and focus the bile and horror of his material on some of the real problems that afflict the world and maybe start getting his audiences to think a little bit about what they could do to influence some change of their own.

The title of the show “The Last Days Of Sodom” also suggested something different, as did the fact that Boyle had very publicly announced that his previous tour would be his last.  So he obviously had something new to say about the decadence that our society finds itself living with in the early part of the 21st Century.  Something, perhaps, springing off from the areas he had explored in the book. Whisper it but if he could pull this off then Frankie Boyle could be as close as we might get to a Bill Hicks.

I was WAY off.   There is no throughline to this show, it has a similar wildly varying tone to previous shows and slightly less audience interaction than shown on the DVDs with similar targets to many of the jokes.

Some of Boyle’s targets are skewed righteously – John Terry, Ricky Gervais, Boris Johnson, Ed Milliband, he even comes up with a reasonable justification for his continued attacks on Jordan.

But, a lot of the material feels tired – Shannon Matthews? Really? Is it 2008 again, already? Many of the jokes feel like the same punchline with a slightly different feedline.  The whole thing has a cynical air of lazily going through the motions, one more time, for the cash and nothing more.

The highlight/nadir of the Michael Jackson Children's Hospital routine summed up the problems with the show; it felt familiar,  similar to the “Sucking Satans Cock” routine from Bill Hicks Revelations show.  Boyle, however, does not have the Hicks’ moral compass and the end result is foggy – who’s the butt of this joke? Jackson? The “Paedophile Demon That Lived Inside Him”? The victims?

Boyle is the stand-up comedian equivalent of an American bombing raid – he’ll hit his targets but there will be a fuck of a lot of collateral damage as well

I have no problem with this from a morality standpoint, humour can be found in anything and I’m under no obligation to laugh. At the end of the day, they’re just words and I genuinely don’t believe that Frankie Boyle believes even half of what he says (like Frank Skinner once said “you don’t think I’d say half of these things if I thought about it first”).  I’d like to say that I believe the same for some of his audience but I have my doubts.

The problem I had with it is that there is no cohesion to the material, no connection, no wider point  – Boyle is the stand-up equivalent of an American bombing raid – he’ll hit his targets but there will be a fuck of a lot of collateral damage as well.

Doubtless, Boyle would argue that his job is to make people laugh by any means necessary. Like Malcolm X, if Malcolm X told jokes about disabled kids.

And I’d agree, except he’s already done it – he clearly has a view and, deep down, his position is on the side of the righteous.  He has a view, he can make that view palatable by making it amusing and he has a platform to articulate his views and an audience ready to hear them.

“The Last Days Of Sodom”?  A better title for the tour would be “Come See Frankie Boyle Wilfully Misplace A Wonderful Opportunity” or maybe just “Another Cynical Cash Grab”.  Another cynical cash grab, like George Osborne, if George Osborne told jokes about disabled kids.

If you’re a fan, then essentially its more of the same but that’s probably exactly what you want and you’re probably going to have a great time – it’s the equivalent of buying your favourite bands’ greatest hits albums, digitally remastered and remixed.  It’s slightly different but still essentially the same.

If you’re just curious then there is nothing to see here.  Boyle did make me laugh but it wasn’t £25 worth of laughs. I’d have got just as many laughs from the 3 comics who were on at the Frog & Bucket across the road that night, for half the price and felt better about myself afterwards.

I was expecting more and I came away sorely disappointed and feeling more than a little cheated.

As with the butt of many of Boyle’s jokes - I blame myself.  I blame myself for believing that people can change and that there is more to life than the accumulation of wealth.  Like Jesus, if Jesus sat in a snooker hall listening to jokes about disabled kids being raped by paedophile clowns.

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