Frankie Boyle: why he’s Scotland's most outrageous comedian ahead of his Edinburgh Playhouse gig this September

“Nothing matters. We're essentially all highly evolved monkeys clinging to a rock that's falling through space, and the rock itself is dying.”

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 12:45 pm
Full Power will see Frankie Boyle touring Scotland properly for the first time in over a decade. Picture: Robert Perry

Frankie Boyle's approach to his craft has rarely been so effectively summed up as in that line.

But whether you love him or loathe him, the Glasgow-born comic’s popularity is undeniable, with two of his shows already sold out ahead of his tour around Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee in September and October.

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Frankie Boyle to tour Scotland for first time in over ten years

Having become one of the most prominent comedic voices on British television, largely thanks to his starring role on political panel show Mock the Week, Boyle has built his brand on pitch-black humour that actively seeks to disturb, offend and upset.

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Nothing matters, therefore everything is fair game.

This no-holds barred approach has made him a firm favourite amongst contrarian teens and proponents of the idea that “you can't joke about anything anymore” but, unsurprisingly, Boyle's sledgehammer approach to satire has also got him into trouble on more than a few occasions.

In August 2008, with a joke that now seems almost gentle in comparison to some of Boyle's back-catalogue, he received serious blowback after describing Olympic swimmer Rebecca Addlington as “like someone who's looking at themselves in the back of a spoon.”

Just a few months later, he followed that up with a lewd line about the Queen, provoking further complaints, a BBC investigation and ultimately led to Boyle leaving Mock the Week altogether the following year.

He later accused the show of being afraid to take on truly controversial news stories.

While the gags in question were undeniably crude, superficial and arguably sexist, both jokes were aimed at people in privileged positions – elite athletes and royal family members - who the media were inclined to fawn over, skewering the idea that anyone should be off-limits simply because of their status.

Boyle would defend himself in similar terms two years later after coming in for criticism for a series of jokes about Katie Price's disabled son Harvey.

In his view, the jokes were not about the child, but about the way Price exploited him.

Safe to say, this explanation was not universally accepted, and this line of defence became harder to hold on to during the other controversy which arose that year when a member of his audience became visibly uncomfortable with a Boyle riff about people with Down's syndrome.

After several lines mocking their appearance and mannerisms, a woman in the front row explained to the comic that her daughter had Down's syndrome and that she didn't think his jokes were funny or accurate.

Boyle described the incident as “the most excruciating moment of his career”.

While many would contend that even Boyle's most contentious punchlines are “just jokes” the comic himself has shown a clear appreciation for the political power of comedy by using his platform to speak out on a number of issues.

For almost a decade, Boyle has been denouncing Israel's treatment of Palestine in the most definitive (and sometimes debatably anti-semitic) terms, lambasting the BBC Trust for its failure to support him on the matter.

In 2013, Boyle took part in a hunger strike designed to call attention to Shaker Aamer, the UK resident being held in Guantanamo Bay.

He tweeted that “Day two of hunger strike feels a bit like being drunk. Feel pretty good, but no doubt I'll wake up to find myself in bathroom eating soap.”

In typically acerbic terms, he also threw his support behind Scottish Independence, arguing “What have we got to lose? A Tory government?”

All in all, Frankie Boyle has established himself as the most outrageous voice in Scottish comedy.

Whether you view his comedic style as a bold expression of free speech or a cynical desire to provoke controversy is a matter of continuous debate.

Last month's Edinburgh Fringe, the mecca of stand-up comedy, was largely defined by acts and editorials debating the case each way, half deriding “PC culture” as an attempt to rob comedy of its power, and the other half calling them to account for the privilege that permeates that belief.

Similarly, famously unfiltered comedians like Ricky Gervais and, most recently, Dave Chappelle have come under fire for who they have decided to target in the name of “edgy” comedy.

An evening with Frankie Boyle is unlikely to settle that debate. But it will, almost without question, give you plenty of fresh material for the conversation on the journey home.

Frankie Boyle's “Full Power” tour begins 12 September, with shows in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, and tickets available here.