If nothing else, Frankie Boyle has been a good reminder of how controversial comedy can be. Having been subject to criticism and censure for jokes made on the BBC and recently winning a court action stemming from a Sun article that had labelled him a ‘racist comedian’, he’s also one of the few people who’s been able to put Katie Price in a position to take the moral high ground after she criticised jokes he made about her disabled son, Harvey.
Boyle could still have come out of all this as the bigger man if what he was saying was sharp social commentary, piercing the bubble of modern society and making a bigger point. However the more I see of him, the more I’m coming to the conclusion that his stage act is not particularly smart, mean-spirited offensiveness, with an occasional larger point chucked in just to make it seem like he’s not simply being nasty. Sadly though, even his ideas are a bit reactionary and not particularly well thought out, and indeed sometimes seem to purely to be self-justification for what he does.
Even that would all be just about excusable if he was genuinely hilarious, but he’s not. I know what’s funny is down to personal taste, but I loved Boyle on Mock The Week, but on stage he seems less like he’s actually saying something than being so rude to the audience that it verges on bullying (although admittedly they sign up for it) and simply jumping from one offensive thing to the next in search of shock laughs. Indeed, after a while it’s difficult not to notice that some of his jokes don’t actually make a huge amount of sense, but he elicits laughs purely by making them about subjects that are so near the knuckle the audience is cheering the chutzpah and the fact they don’t actually know what else to do with what he’s said.
Sometimes he hits on something very funny, but much of the time it comes across as a copious diatribe of unpleasantness with its only goal being to see how far he can take things. A lot of people obviously love it, but it left a far nastier taste in my mouth than I’d expected. I can’t even agree with those who see him as ‘telling it like it is’ or being our version of the likes of Lenny Bruce or Bill Hicks. Bruce and Hicks were smart about their invective, so that when they were potentially offensive there was always a rhetorical reason for it, whereas Boyle seems to think offense is a decent aim in and of itself. Likewise he’s not ‘telling it like it is’ – sure he’s saying things nobody else would, but that doesn’t mean they’re true or have any point to them. In fact I’d say he has far more in common with Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown than he does with either Lenny Bruce or Bill Hicks.
Within the gig there are attempts at justification at what he does, from claims it’s wrong to try and ban words or ideas to the fact it’s only comedy, via a protest against banality and that, essentially, what he’s talking about is fair game. What never gets mentioned is any sense of responsibility, or any inkling of the idea that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Indeed he spends an impressive amount of time justifying himself and deflecting liability. In the end you have to conclude that as he suggests at one point, he doesn’t care. He’s said this will be his last live DVD and last tour, so there’s also the sense that he’s just pretty much gone ‘fuck it’.
To be fair, as I have said, comedy is down to personal taste, so it could just be that while to my tastes The Last Days Of is unpleasant, needlessly nasty and pointlessly seeking offensiveness, if you like that kind of thing, more power to you. Maybe I’m also missing the point, and there is a reason for it all. To me most of the points he tries to make seem ill-thought out, self-serving or merely knee-jerk cynicism wilfully ignoring any other viewpoint. But perhaps I’m wrong, and indeed there are hints at a far, far smarter philosophy on life that occasionally peaks through and which may just be getting lost in translation.
It’s a shame, as when I first saw him on TV I thought he was one of the smartest, most exciting comics Britain had produced in a very long time, but if this really is his final tour and DVD, I can’t help but feel he’s squandered what he could have been, instead just ending up seeming rather unpleasant. If he does leave a legacy it’ll be more from the controversy he caused, rather than actually because he was funny or indeed made an important point.
Ultimately, I think my main question I’d ask about a gig like this is ‘Why?’, to which I suspect Boyle’s response would be ‘Why not?’ Perhaps that’s enough of a reason, but I’m certainly not convinced.
Overall Verdict: I have no doubt a lot of people will love this latest aggressive, no-taboo-left-untouched series of rather unpleasant diatribes from Boyle, but personally even though I rather like being offended for a reason, the whole show left a bad taste in my mouth. And worse than that, I didn’t think it was that funny.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac