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Thursday, December 23, 2010 

Frankie Boyle and Channel 4 are trolling you.

Like pretty much everyone else, I enjoyed Frankie Boyle on Mock the Week. He made what would otherwise just be another comedy panel show into something that could still surprise you. And now, much like everyone else, it's obvious that the confines of Mock the Week, with him playing off the other people and seeing their reactions to his forays into the outrageous, as well as the editors playing more than their part, were what kept him from crossing the invisible line between being humorous and offensive and just being criminally unfunny.

It's therefore ironic that one of the very few parts of his Tramadol Nights' shows which was both amusing and rising above either going for the easy targets or recycling old material has nowbeen picked out as being beyond the pale. Anyone watching or even reading what he said can see that it was intended as a satire on the news media's attitudes to our involvement in Afghanistan, where "our" dead always come in front of "their" dead, as was his riff on the Ministry of Defence formerly being known as the Ministry of War when racist attitudes most certainly were much in evidence, including from such now sainted figures as Churchill. Some will argue that any use of racial epithets regardless of context helps to normalise them, enabling them to be more easily thrown in streets and playgrounds, and while on occasion they can have something resembling a point, I don't think that's the case in this instance.

Whether Boyle is deliberately trying to get a rise out of the modern media through his act is more questionable. The other gag complained about on the first of Tuesday's TN episodes has been shorn completely of its context, its introduction being Boyle in the guise of a documentary presenter first quoting Oscar Wilde, then asking what "really" is right and what is wrong. Only then do we get someone dressed as Super Mario dancing suggestively while an hand masturbates a mushroom until it ejaculates gold coins, with Mario then saying "hello to Pakis everywhere!", before returning to the head who decides that was wrong. That, far more than the more complained about above references seems more likely to be quoted or used out of context. Notably, the canned laughter (or laughter recorded from the audience) is fairly timid in response.

Indeed the really offensive thing about TN is that Channel 4, apparently having seen what Boyle had produced, decided that it was good enough to show and defend so robustly. Not because it's so beyond the pale in content that it's unacceptable, as comedy should never be considered, but as it just smacks of complete and utter laziness and Boyle not even bothering to try. How could they have watched it and not said to him that it was unbroadcastable in its current form as it was simply terrible?

There are whole sketches where he and the production staff seem to have forgotten to put any jokes in, such as the reimagining of the A Team if they really had been Vietnam veterans,
the Thomas the Tank Engine parody, where the manager (not the Fat Controller, in case lawyers got involved) forces the trains to fellate him (if that sounds like an almost amusing idea, as it does written down, you need to see the sketch to be disabused of such a notion) or the almost unfathomable one where Boyle shoots one person after another before walking off and leading a "normal" life.

Other funny if obvious ideas are stretched out to absurd lengths, like the Wonder Woman gag where when she lassos someone with her "truth rope", forcing them to tell her what they know finishing after an interminable couple of minutes with her jerking off Superman. It's almost as if they've had to do so not because they genuinely think the humour can last the duration, but to instead make up for the pilfering of material from Boyle's stage shows which mainly makes up the short stand-up portions. That the audience, presumably given free tickets doesn't seemed obliged to laugh as much as when they probably first heard the material isn't a surprise.


Here's what most likely happened. Channel 4 saw the programmes, knew for a fact despite the awfulness of much of the content that it would receive complaints, meaning free publicity, and stuck them on waiting for the inevitable to happen. They've got their wish. As for Tramadol Nights being "cutting edge" as described by Channel 4 in defensive of the programme, it could be considered cutting edge perhaps if you're 14 and haven't seen Sesame Street or Muppets characters being offensive before; not when you know that Frankie Boyle could do so much better if he was motivated enough by his producers to do so. Insulting your audience usually only works when you do it for the first couple of minutes; stretching it out to 24 minutes times six is much more risky.

(P.S. As noted by Private Eye this week, try and find any mention of the controversy over Tramadol Nights in the Sun, either this latest outbreak of phony apoplexy or the Katie Price gag in an earlier show. Strangely, you won't. This is entirely unconnected with Boyle writing a column for the paper.)

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