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Weekly shockers

Did you hear the one about Jordan’s disabled son? Unlikely, since you probably don’t watch Tramadol Nights (Channel 4), nor read the Mirror (‘Katie Price furious after Frankie Boyle joke about her disabled son’), nor the Guardian (‘Frankie Boyle’s Katie Price joke sparks Ofcom investigation’).

1 January 2011

12:00 AM

1 January 2011

12:00 AM

Did you hear the one about Jordan’s disabled son? Unlikely, since you probably don’t watch Tramadol Nights (Channel 4), nor read the Mirror (‘Katie Price furious after Frankie Boyle joke about her disabled son’), nor the Guardian (‘Frankie Boyle’s Katie Price joke sparks Ofcom investigation’).

Did you hear the one about Jordan’s disabled son? Unlikely, since you probably don’t watch Tramadol Nights (Channel 4), nor read the Mirror (‘Katie Price furious after Frankie Boyle joke about her disabled son’), nor the Guardian (‘Frankie Boyle’s Katie Price joke sparks Ofcom investigation’).

Don’t worry, I’m not going to repeat it here. What kind of sicko do you think I am: Rod Liddle? It’s an issue, nonetheless, on which my sympathies are more torn than common decency tells me they ought to be. Sure, it’s absolutely disgraceful that a nasty Scottish comedian should make light of the suffering of an eight-year-old boy with septo-optic dysplasia and autism. On the other hand, any joke that provokes the collective handwringing of the entire libtard media, the world’s dullest celebrity (Price), the world’s most stupid celebrity (her ex Peter Andre), Amanda Holden, Mencap and Ofcom must, almost by definition, be one we should cherish and Re-Tweet as often as we possibly can.

And what on earth were these people expecting of Frankie Boyle anyway? It’s not as though he’s the new Ronnie Corbett, tickling us gently with his relaxed armchair monologues. Frankie Boyle uses comedy like a broken bottle in a rough pub. He’s genuinely scary and hard and unpredictable. That’s why people go to see shows and even to sit in the front row and be hideously abused by him. They want to see just how low Boyle is prepared to go. And the answer, hence his career, is lower than anyone else.


An expert on violence once told me that similar rules apply in street fighting and gangland warfare. It’s not how good you are at martial arts that counts, or even how big you are. The one who wins is the one who turns more brutal, more quickly than the opposition. It’s the theme of the Bob Hoskins classic The Long Good Friday. It’s the theme of real-life gangs in cities around the world: whichever has the heaviest- duty weaponry and most merciless footsoldiers is the one that gets to control the trade.

Not, you understand, that I’m brandishing Boyle as a small-willied man does his Ferrari or his pit bull. Though I admire his fearlessness — such as the way the week after the Jordan furore, he moved on to telling jokes about cancer victims — I don’t find him nearly as funny as I do, say, Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, or Armstrong and Miller, or Mitchell and Webb. I never go, ‘Oh good. Mock the Week’s on!’ Still less do I have any urge to watch again his latest sick-fest Tramadol Nights.

To give you a taste — if you’re of a squeamish disposition look away now — here are a few examples of his stand-up routine from episode three. ‘Don’t knock shagging your granny. Often she’ll stick £5 in your pocket afterwards and say, “Don’t tell your mum.”’ ‘I wasn’t surprised that Wayne Rooney would have to pay someone to have sex with him. I just assumed it would be his wife.’ ‘What is it about people with cancer thinking they’re suddenly going to run a marathon?’ ‘I spend a lot of time helping teenagers who’ve been sexually abused…find their way out of my house.’

Some work well, some work less well, some fall horribly flat and you wish he hadn’t said them. But I’m still really glad that someone is doing it, out there, pushing the boundaries because disability is real and cancer is real and the reason we have taboos about them is that they make us feel scared and uncomfortable. The job of comedy is to test these boundaries; the stronger the taboo the more it needs testing, for that’s how we naturally deal with our fear and unease — through the catharsis of laughter.

The danger, inevitably, with a comedian ever keen to go five fathoms lower than his opposition is that instead of making you laugh he’ll just make you cringe. This problem is very noticeable in most of the filmed interludes between Boyle’s stand-up sections. They start out quite promisingly, but they soon have you going, ‘Stop! Stop! That joke’s not funny any more.’

For example, in the first episode, there was initially rather a good send-up of the E. Nesbit Five Children and It adaptation which was on TV last Christmas. The premise of the joke was: imagine if, instead of behaving like charming, nicely spoken, wonder-filled 1930s-style children, the kids who met the fluffy, lovable, magical, Jim-Henson-style ‘It’ creature acted like modern Glaswegian louts. For the first minute or so, you thought, ‘Yes!’ But then it just got nastier and nastier, sicker and sicker, as the kids (dressed in shorts and caps) urinated on the It creature, then squashed it with a stone. Exactly the same happened with the sketch about the quadriplegic stuntman: an initially daring idea killed by its inability to appreciate the point at which it had outstayed its welcome.

So though I’m glad Channel 4 had the courage to commission the series I’m also glad of the public’s response: as the series has gone on its ratings have plummeted. This is exactly as it should be. It is not for the censors to decide what is and isn’t funny. It’s a matter that should be decided by the punters.


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