Interview: Frankie Boyle
Scottish comedian on taboos, comedians, sectarianism and cancer
Funny or vile? Intelligent or inhuman? The public and press will have another chance to debate the success of Frankie Boyle when he returns to Scotland with his new tour in August. In an exclusive Scottish interview he sounds off on taboos, sectarianism and the tabloids.
The following are Frankie Boyle's own views in his own words. If you don’t like swearing, controversial comedy, or have been offended by him previously, read no further…
Why are you back on the road – is it a money, fame or love of comedy thing?
Fuck knows. I’ve been writing jokes my whole life and I’ve found it hard to stop thinking of them. I was just going to do a few gigs and record them, and maybe stick it out as an audio album. Then I thought it seemed like the best stuff I’d done, so why not go shout it at people in a variety of dying towns?
Have you ever told a joke that, in retrospect, you’ve thought ‘that was a bit too far’?
There is no ‘too far’. You ever hear George Carlin’s thing about, ‘My job is to find out where the line is and step over it?’ Remember, taboos are just a map of what a society feels it’s acceptable to be neurotic about. Taboos aren’t rational. At the minute, it’s kind of acceptable to do a joke about cancer but not one involving disability. Certain types of cancer are a lot more serious and debilitating than a lot of disabilities. So it’s not rational. We’re in this kind of decadent society where we imagine ourselves to be progressive and enlightened and we’re just barbarians. Everybody says they have no hang-ups about sex but we watch porn all the time. Everybody says they have no taboos but they’re offended all the time. It’s like that Kafka thing, ‘There is an infinity of subversion but not for us’.
I got a bit of stick years ago for using the word ‘mongoloid’ on stage, but I only used it to describe Vernon Kay. To be clear, Vernon Kay looks like a learning disabled adult who has been taken to one of those people that draw your portrait in a tourist place, the ones that always do a really upbeat version of people? That’s Vernon Kay to me, an upbeat caricature of a learning disabled adult.
Have you been following the Leveson Inquiry into press standards? Does it please you to see the red tops getting a kicking (even considering your Sun column)?
Yeah, I saw the McCanns on there and really wanted them to go, ‘Could you round it up in the next five minutes mate? We’ve left the kids over in Starbucks.’ Just to show they can still have a bit of a laugh.
I think the tabloids do deserve what they’re getting, yes. I feel a bit uncomfortable, though, because there’s this idea of the public interest versus what the public is interested in. The overall consensus in the broadsheets seems to be that someone else needs to tell the public what they should be interested in, which is basically patrician. The broadsheets are a lot less relevant if you don’t have money, they’re all about consumption – city breaks, holiday homes, boxsets. Maybe if you’ve just got 30p all you want is a paper that will tell you who Rio Ferdinand is pumping. At the same time, the tabloids present a tortured, warped reality. It’s a picture of humanity that would only be recognised by an enraged sex criminal. Let’s be honest, they’re like some bleak telescope focussed on a schizoid apocalypse. But you do get the odd funny headline.
Does it make your heart glow when you see the success of Daniel Sloss and Kevin Bridges, two comics that you’ve helped along the way, or are they now just two more rivals for the public’s affections and cash?
It makes my heart glow! Daniel was my work experience boy. I gave him £50 a week and dragged him round Edinburgh like I was some comedy Fagin. When I retire I’m glad one of those young pricks will get the heart attack, CIA mind-controlled assassination, or simply the HIV-loaded pussy juice that was meant for me. Or that’ll be old news by then and it’ll be sexually transmitted facial megacancer or some shit.
What do you think of the Scottish Government’s anti-bigot bill to help curb sectarian aggression?
I love the fact that we’re teaching the police these songs! Just think, somewhere right now there is a classroom packed with policemen going on this course. And they have to sit there in a cramped fucking room, on tiny plastic seats and pretend that they don’t know the words to ‘The Sash’.
It’s basically an attack on freedom of speech. It’s the ruling classes telling the working classes what to say and think. Will middle class rugby fans be arrested for singing anti-English songs? The idea is laughable. This is what I think the heart of the misunderstanding is. Supporting Rangers, being in an Orange Lodge, that whole life – that’s a valid culture. Supporting Celtic, waving a tricolour because your parents are Irish – that’s a valid culture. You can’t come in and say that the opinions those people hold, the songs they sing, the language they use is inferior and invalid. An anthropologist studying an aboriginal society would be really careful about making those judgements, but here we have a ruling class that has internalised colonial attitudes and says ‘ban songs, ban words’. Because that’s exactly what a colonial power would do. That’s exactly what happened in Scotland too and we have internalised it and are repeating its failings.
Of course, some of the songs and words contravene laws on racial hatred, and maybe even on inciting violence. But that’s a debate that needs to be had. Why aren’t we having that? Because it would be really fucking awkward. Sectarianism is a real problem, but it should be addressed by people engaging with each other – reconciliation. If we were really serious about this the first step is to end religious segregation in schools. It’s a Scottish reaction to think we can get rid of all this with a piece of paper, just so we don’t have to make eye contact, talk to each other, agree. Anyway, why am I discoursing? I feel like Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World when he gives that mad speech about the history of Milwaukee. In my time in Glasgow I’ve known a lot of Catholics and a lot of Protestants and you know what? Scratch the surface and we’re all the same. Total cunts.
Which comedians do you rate highly?
Doug Stanhope is great – I saw his Burning the Bridge to Nowhere show and it was inspiring. He’s like an anti-shaman, taking the sting out of a bunch of things we’ve chosen to give a symbolic power to. I’ve made it sound noble and worthy there, it’s not, it’s really funny. Maria Bamford I really like, Bill Burr, David Kay in Scotland was always brilliant. Every time I’m on a bill trying stuff out there’s something that really makes me laugh, although admittedly sometimes I’m laughing because it’s incredibly bad.
Define bad comedy.
Why bother? I’ve always hated that thing where people come up to you after a gig and go, ‘You were good, not like that cunt …’
It’s a hard job, I try not to bash other performers, unless I really feel like it, because I’m in a bit of a mood or something. I have no real enemies in comedy, but there are a couple of people who I’d laugh about if I heard that their legs had fallen off. And maybe even something less cartoonish than that. Maybe I’d kind of laugh if they got cancer. Yeah, now I think about it I would. Possibly even if it was a secondary cancer after they’d bravely beaten it the first time. Maybe even if they were trying to renew their wedding vows before they died, and started choking during the ceremony, doubled over wheezing, trying to remember where they were, maybe I’d kind of laugh about it. Maybe as they attempted to read the simple vows they’d written, their own handwriting looking suddenly alien as they took a deep calming breath then exploded over their wife’s wedding gown in a fountain of blood and shit … No, actually that seems a bit horrible. Maybe just the legs falling off. No, I’ve spoiled it now. Leave the legs on.
Will there be a second series of Tramadol Nights?
Eh, no. I was really happy with it, but you can see why they didn’t want to re-commission something that was getting them doorstepped over Christmas and front-page hatred. And I was a bit relieved. A six-week panel show takes six weeks to make. Because I was involved from storyboard to editing, Tramadol took over six months, and loads of that was late nights and six-day weeks.
I put a couple of quite long sketch ideas for the second series into my new book. I wrote them up in a couple of days and went back and tweaked them every time I thought of something funny. It was a lot more fun than filming the fucking things and getting them past lawyers.
Is there another book in you?
According to my contract there is, yes!
Who made the breakfast in the photo on our cover, and did you actually eat it?
I hate having my photo taken, so I ordered a large meal and ate it while they photographed me, like some captive animal. We were all trying to have a laugh about it, but it was pretty painful. I lay down and pretended to be dead for quite a bit of the shoot.
Frankie Boyle appears at the Edinburgh Playhouse, Wed 1 & Thu 2 Aug; King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 16–Sat 18 Aug. His book Work! Consume! Die! is out now.