Saturday, April 10, 2010

Frankie Boyle: Comedy Hero or Villain?

For the third time in recent months, Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle has provoked a storm of protest. His comments in a stage show, to a mother of a child with Downs syndrome, have been widely condemned as "going too far".

But how far is "too far" in comedy? We already have laws that ban racist and (to some extent) religious jokes. Jokes against women, or mothers-in-law, have become unpopular, unfashionable and unliked.

Back in 1978, stand-up comedian George Carlin (one of my all-time comedy heroes) performed a monologue called "The seven words you can't say on TV". I won't repeat them here, obviously. You can google them if you wish. For my money, it remains an act of sheer genius, even though it offended many, and led to arrest and a court appearance for George. The Supreme Court eventually cleared him, citing the "right to free speech".

Recently, Jimmy Carr and Billy Connolly have both suffered protests and public anger about gags in their acts. The late Bill Hicks (another hero of mine) often had police in his audience making notes, after public complaints about his material.

In my opinion, the point of comedy is to rattle the cage, occasionally shock and question the status quo. Sometimes people will be offended. However, unlike the racist or the bigot, the comedian is not motivated by hate, but by the need to challenge and question everything - a kind of ultimate cynicism.

Personally, I'm not a great fan of Frankie Boyle, and I wouldn't pay to go and see his show. But if he stays within the law, and people know what to expect, I believe he has a right to make jokes about anything. I realise may be in the minority in that view. I wonder what others make of it?

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