Friday, 9 April 2010

Comedy reaches Boyling point

In between making the classic Blazing Saddles and the slightly less auspicious Dracula: Dead And Loving It, Mel Brooks once defined his art by saying "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." In his mind, comedy is all the bad things that happen to other people.

So it's a shame that comedy fan Sharon Smith didn't brush up on some of Mel Brooks before going to see Frankie Boyle in concert at Reading's Hexagon theatre. It's also unfortunate that she thought front row tickets might be a good idea for a comedian known for tearing strips off his audience.

Sharon's experiences have been thoroughly documented in the nation's press, since she wrote a lengthy blog post to describe her upset over what happened when Frankie started joking about Down's syndrome children. You see, Sharon's daughter Tanzie has Down's syndrome, so she and her husband Keiron found themselves squirming uncomfortably as Frankie made his characteristically controversial comments.

To make matters worse, Frankie saw the couple talking through his set and put them on the spot, leading Sharon to take the comedian to task for his insensitive comments. According to Sharon's blog, Frankie derided the unhappy couple saying "This is my last tour. I don't give a fuck what people think."

Unfortunately, since much of Frankie's act seemed to be ad-libbed, it's hard to know exactly what was said. Sharon's account seems to suggest that much of Frankie's tirade was aimed more at the parents of Down's syndrome children than the kids themselves. Either way, the couple got what they paid for - edgy comedy that isn't aimed at the easily offended.

By their own admission, the Hampshire couple went in knowing what to expect: "One of the reasons that we wanted to see Frankie Boyle was that we have seen him on shows like Mock the Week and have loved his humour, how dry he is, how nasty he is, how clever he is. We wanted to see him out of the confines of a TV editing suite, to hear him say things he could not get away with on mainstream TV."

The problem is, they're happy laughing at 'nasty humour' that goes beyond what's deemed conventionally acceptable, just as long as they're not the ones in the firing line. Frankie may well have made a bunch of crass and offensive comments (no-one really knows since the show wasn't recorded) but that's his act. It's a little disingenuous to laugh along with the jokes at everyone else's expense, only to become indignant when you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end.

Comedians like Boyle and Jimmy Carr have carved a niche for themselves by tackling issues that people are uncomfortable with. It's not always pleasant, and sometimes it's downright offensive, but it provokes discussion and encourages people to think about where our societal taboos come from.

The other alternative would be a world full of Russ Abbotts and Joe Pasquales. And even Frankie Boyle would have trouble finding humour in a nightmare scenario like that.

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