The last week of 2010 saw the final episode of what must surely be a condender for the bottom spot in any ranking of TV programmes of that year.
Despite Frankie Boyle’s decision to refer to a pain killing drug in his first solo TV show, there is no relief to the casualty that is Tremadol Nights. Another comedian pursuing a mixture of stand up and sketches, itself a rather old fashioned format of which has resurged with 2009’s Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle and other recent efforts by Russell Howard and Stephen K. Amos. After hearing from the channel 4 voiceover that the following show contained “scenes that some viewers will find offensive”, the start of the programme saw Boyle come on stage and assert to the studio audience that the next 30 minutes will be “f*cking mental”.
“F*cking mental” seems to imply in Boyle’s eyes, “f*cking offensive”, “f*cking outrageous” and “f*ck off you Daily Mail reading c*nts”. Whether or not it was actually funny didn’t seem to be a consideration, as on display was a tedious stream of repetitive witless insults along with an unhealthy obsession with paedophilia. Any mention of children, and along came the inevitable molestation joke. The sketch portions of the programme revealed him to be an unsurprisingly poor actor (lots of fake tear squirted in his eye in the Green Mile parody) and are remarkably laboured and slowly paced. Surprisingly for humour most likely to appeal to those below the age of consent, most of the sketches were parodies of TV programmes at least 10 years old.
In his late ‘30s, the Scottish comedian achieved fame and notoriety for on BBCs panel show Mock the Week. Having quit the show, in interviews he gave his reasons for leaving as being unhappy with the restrictions on making jokes about topics such as Afghanistan and the Israeli/Palestine conflicts. However, he seems to have abandoned any desire to explore hard hitting subjects in his comedy and instead settle for the usual lazy option of targetting tabloid celebrities and the disabled/vulnerable. For the most part, there seems to be no purpose or thought behind Boyle’s offensiveness other than to offend. It isn’t satirical or making a point in the vein of Lenny Bruce, George Carlin or Bill Hicks. Nor is it an exaggerated persona which contextualises the offensiveness as seen in Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s characters Derek and Clive or Jerry Sadowitz. In fact, many have unfavourably compared Boyle to Sadowitz, the comparison not being unnoticed by the latter, who in his recent stand up has joked that he’d tour a show with the title “I’d happily punch Frankie Boyle in the face”. Boyle denies any accusations of plagiarism and claims that he has never seen Sadowitz. This isn’t hard to believe as if Boyle was greatly influenced by Sadowitz, he might have inherited some wit and on stage charisma.
The reaction to Boyle’s show has given him exactly what he and Channel 4 wanted, outrage and disgust. One instance which led to an Ofcom investigation was the use of racist language, specifically “nigger” and “paki”. The outrage at this seems a tad overblown, as a rare case of Boyle being satirical (albeit not particularly inventive) the context in which these words were used could actually be justified. On the other hand a joke which, as I recall, went something along the lines of…
“My Grandad can be funny just by reading the phone book…”
“….He’s a spastic”
…pretty much went unnoticed. In this case, there’s no target or point to the joke, the punchline is literally the word “spastic”. Indeed, there’s an element of free pass in today’s comedy in regards to the disabled. Preceding Tremadol Nights was the equally repellent Morgana Show, in which one of the recurring characters has downs syndrome. And that’s pretty much it. In either of the shows there’s no context to the way downs syndrome is perceived, nor it is used as comedic exaggeration. It is merely the fact that downs syndrome is apparently funny enough on its own.
But perhaps the real joke is on the people who laugh at Boyle’s jokes. Maybe Tremadol Nights is a very self aware lament on what is now considered humour. It’s not hard to detect a degree of self loathing in Boyle as he walks across the stage, awkwardly grinning at his perceived public image as the ‘offensive’ comedian. This is his ticket out, producing a programme so bad it will intentionally destroy his career.
Or maybe its just rubbish.