Frankie Boyle: The Most Misunderstood Man in Britain Today

Posted: January 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you”

–       Oscar Wilde

Frankie Boyle is arguably the most misunderstood comedian in the world.

My Shit Life So Far and his recent book Work!Consume!Die! are arguably only two of the funniest and cleverest books I have had the pleasure of reading in quite some time. Like Frankie Boyle, I am also voracious reader who doesn’t watch TV (much) and I was pleasantly surprised that a mere stand-up comedian has managed to outshine most of what is published today.

His most recent work in particular, Work!Consume!Die! is a hugely relevant, scathing critique of our vapid, debased culture that is both morally and financially bankrupt. Utterly hilarious and ferociously intelligent, Boyle is a ranting prophet who, fuelled by an insatiable desire for justice, wants to make sense of an insane world. He has launched a one man jihad against indifference and apathy.

I do think most people don’t understand Frankie Boyle. If he is “shocking” , a charge frequently levied against him, it is precisely because he is trying to jolt people out of their deluded and catatonic state due to being hypnotised by that flickering box of light in their living rooms as war, poverty & injustice are increasingly tolerated.

If you are conceited enough to snort with derision that your tv consumption habits are more discerning than those of the rabble, then Boyle has this to say:

“Don’t go away thinking that you’re not part of the herd because you don’t watch The X Factor. There’s distraction for all, it’s just got different reading ages. Did watching Ther Wire really help you understand inner-city life? More than having a conversation with someone who lives in your own inner-city?…..You’re watching a Swedish detective series instead of The X Factor and you’re throwing judgement around?”

The theatre of the narcissistic and the absurd, celebrity culture, is fair game for Boyle’s often vicious barbs because as he is it pains to point out, it is manifestly not real. It is a mass hallucination that serves to distract people from what is real and meaningful – “the flickering of shadows on the wall of the cave” as Plato wrote, where people mistake illusion for reality.

The peerless American intellectual Chris Hedges, who wrote a superb book called “The Empire of Illusion”, which was damning indictment of our obsession with vapid celebrity culture and blind consumerism, interestingly makes similar arguments that Frankie Boyle does in “Work.Consume.Die” as does Don DeLillo in the novel White Noise. The only difference is that Hedges and DeLillo use their weapon of choice, which is eloquent prose and Boyle relies on what Mark Twain called “the human race’s most effective weapon”, humour. The underlying point is the same. The only difference is that Hedges uses his weapon which is eloquent prose and Boyle  relies on what Mark Twain once called “the human race’s most effective weapon”, humour. The underlying point is the same.

Boyle has obviously read the Italian novelist , philosopher and  semiotician Umberto Eco when he asserts with customary dark humour, dark hunour being  a paritcualr  lietmotif of his:

 “The best comics are really trying to wake you up from the symbolic world; they’re desentimenalisers, pointing out that those First World War soldiers who had a truce to play football at Christmas probably killed each other the next day before muttering ‘that was never offside you cunt’.

It is evident that Boyle is remarkably well read too, citing great writers and thinkers like Thomas Pynchon, Slavoj Zizek and like George Carlin and Bill Hicks before him, he has been profoundly influenced by Noam Chomsky and with these books he can justifiably claim to be a true heir to them arguably more so than any other comedian alive today with the possible exception of Louis C.K. and Doug Stanhope.

Indeed there is a book to be written on the influence of Noam Chomsky on stand-up comedy as George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Doug Stanhope, Russell Brand, Alexi Sayle, Mark Thomas and of course Frankie Boyle have all cited the influence of the world’s greatest public intellectual alive today.

The influence of Chomsky looms over the pages as with both of Boyle’s books a strong unstinting morality reverberates through the pages that stick to your fingers like glue as they are incredibly engaging.  If anything, they are a plea for more humanity in an increasingly inhumane world.

You will read about something you didn’t know before, you will look at something very differently that you did know before. you will admire the prose, sentence construction and the pages are drenched in Boyle’s uniquely acerbic wit as he deservedly excoriates the usual suspects: venal politicians, vacuous celebrities, organised religion, the reactionary right, racists and bigots, complacent and smug middle class liberals, the craven, ineffectual and down right corrupt media and the double-standards and nauseating hypocrisy that wafts through though our dysfunctional society like a fetid fart.

Boyle is not shy of breaking taboos and puncturing the cosy consensus of deference to a superstitious and medieval institution which other European countries dispensed with after the Enlightenment, that is the obscenely wealthy British monarchy.  Boyle targets the hilarious double-standards of the British press with their fawning coverage of them, which is more often servile propaganda that would make the editors of Pravda blush.

“Prince Charles gets praise in the Daily Mail for the way he’s brought up William and Harry since the death of Diana. Eh? For years as a single parent living mainly on state handouts? Has the Mail gone nuts?”

To all the people that feign offence and horror at Boyle’s innocuous words that, unlike taxpayer funded weapons manufacturer BAE, have never physically harmed anyone, where is your faux outrage over the violence, suffering and social misery that *is* being caused by Western governments by waging illegal wars with impunity.
Where are the furious and indignant letters a to the BBC over the brutal austerity measures that are being mercilessly unleashed on the most vulnerable members of society?

Indeed Boyle deserves to be singled out for praise in being a principled dissenting voice when he was reprimanded by the BBC for making a joke that highlighted the illegal and brutal occupation of Palestine by Israel:

A few years ago I watched a documentary about life in Palestine. There’s a section where a UN dignitary of some kind comes to do a photo opportunity outside a new hospital. The staff know that it communicates nothing of the real desperation of their position, so they trick her into a side ward on her way out. She ends up in a room with a child who the doctors explain is in a critical condition because they don’t have the supplies to keep treating him. She flounders, awkwardly caught in the bleak reality of the room, mouthing platitudes over a dying boy.

The filmmaker asks one of the doctors what they think the stunt will have achieved. He is suddenly angry, perhaps having just felt at first hand something he knew in the abstract. The indifference of the world.

‘She will do nothing,’ he says to the filmmaker. Then he looks into the camera and says, ‘Neither will you’. “

Most coke addled celebrities enthusiastically feign interest in charity to boost their profile but that is the typically the limit of what they are willing to do about challenging injustice. Boyle bravely pricked people’s conscience about the unconscionable events that are happening in the world and he hopes to elicit more than slightly bored sighs from an increasingly passive populace that is desensitized to killing and injustice.

Ireland doesn’t escape Boyle’s ire either. His view was undoubtedly formed from they many wet, grey and suffocatingly dull summers he spent with his relations in Donegal as a child in the 1980s

“Ireland has always had a vibrant lieterary and musical culture, but it’s a fairly horrible, priest-ridden , fucked up society…..
“I feel that as somebody who is 100% genetically Irish I can say this. I fucking hate Ireland. The cunts never stop talking and they bullshit. I can only magine what the talks with the IMF were like”.

Like all much of all great comedy, it is funny because it is true.

Much has being made of the increasingly public spat between another excellent comedian, Stewart Lee and Frankie Boyle.

As if liking one precluded appreciating the other. This is not so unusual as masters of their area typically lock horns. Great minds who are the very best at what they of often have such spats and public feuds in exchanging barbed comments with each other : Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Maria Vargas Llosa, Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens. Stewart Lee and Frankie Boyle are no different.

Perhaps Boyle is at his most iconoclastic when he tackles Britain’s ingrained class system, which is more akin to a caste system and he is not shy about contextualising the UK riots.

“Crime is inevitable in an unequal society. John Maynard Keynes said “Nothing corrupts a society more than to disconnect effort and reward

Frankie Boyle is that nagging voice in your conscience telling you to turn off that TV, stop imbibing celebrity culture and wake up from your soma induced coma and pay attention to what is happening in the real world and not the soothing artificial one that you find comfort and solace in, the proverbial flickering of shadows on the cave wall.

Crucially, Boyle, a drinking man’s Michael McIntyre, has somehow crammed in more laugh out loud funny gags on the average page than most bland, boring, soi-disant comedians manage in their entire hacky sets.

Will Lynch

Will is a stand-up comedian, writer and the Irish radio correspondent for the acclaimed American news show This is Hell

  1. Joseph MacMunn says:

    superb article – this individual has woken up – Work Consume Die clearly a must read

  2. Joseph MacMunn says:

    superb article – this individual has woken up – Work Consume Die clearly a must read

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