Review: Frankie Boyle at Exeter’s Great Hall
Harry Craig, Print Music Editor, reviews Frankie Boyle’s show at Exeter’s Great Hall.
Open Twitter nowadays and it will likely take you less than thirty seconds to find arguments over “culture wars” or “cancel culture”. Frankie Boyle’s unique style of comedy provides a necessary antidote to all of this, and on 25 March, the Scottish stand-up comedian brought his much-anticipated “Lap of Shame” tour to Exeter.
Of course, one of the most significant of these “culture war” arguments in the UK has been over the BBC, which was recently shrouded in controversy over its removal, and then reinstatement, of Gary Lineker for anti-government tweets. Frankie Boyle’s comedy – even what makes it on to the broadcast – frequently goes much further than Lineker’s social media feed, and consequently it was no surprise when the BBC announced that Boyle’s hit TV show New World Order was to be cancelled, just days before his Exeter performance.
Nonetheless, Boyle’s stand-up tour soldiers on, and at his sold-out show in Exeter’s Great Hall he showed no sign of retreating from his satirical streak. Every comedian and public figure was up for scrutiny and scorn, from Donald Trump to Liz Truss, Keir Starmer to Holly Willoughby. Even the crowd couldn’t escape the wrath of Boyle – a crowd member who left the auditorium halfway through was subject to a searingly deadpan ridicule. It would take a very brave person to heckle Frankie Boyle.
The most cutting thing about Boyle’s comedy is his delivery. In a trademark Glaswegian accent, he can deliver the most obscene lines touching on subjects that no other comedian would dare go near (how many comics could open a stand-up performance with the proclamation that the show was “cancer-themed”?) with little to no emotion – which is precisely what makes his comedy so cutting.
If done incorrectly and directed at the wrong people, this style of comedy can be painful at best, and crass and offensive at worst. This is where the likes of Ricky Gervais and Graham Linehan have recently fallen down, with their obsessive hatred of trans people and comic style that punches down, not up. The former came in for significant and justified criticism from Boyle, branding Gervais a comedian for idiots, and Boyle proudly embraces what others mockingly deem “woke” political views.
This provides another strength of Boyle’s comedy style. Although he is scathing, this tends to be directed upwards, at political figures, celebrities or royals. He doesn’t lazily resort to homophobic, racist or sexist tropes in his routines, instead targeting the political classes. Boyle reserves perhaps his most searing remarks for Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Prince Andrew, but no major political or popular figure comes out unscathed. Boyle doesn’t just punch up, either – he punches horizontally, straight into the mirror, by routinely mocking himself.
Boyle doesn’t just punch up, either – he punches horizontally, straight into the mirror, by routinely mocking himself.
Consequently, even when the audience is wetting itself with laughter, there is an undertone of social awareness, and perhaps even a moral lesson, in Boyle’s comedy. For example, his skit about Richard Branson and Elon Musk going to space presents the moral question of whether billionaires should exist (delivered in the guise of hypothesising about their deaths, in a way only Boyle can manage). This is something Boyle himself has begun to lean into – he explains to the audience after his first (of many) very risqué jokes that he has questioned what can and can’t be joked about.
Anyone who has ever caught a glimpse of Boyle on television, whether it’s on New World Order or Mock The Week, will have likely thought to themselves, “if this is what they’re allowed to show, how risqué and obscene is he off-camera?”. His Exeter show proved he is exactly as extreme without the limitations of a television camera as one would anticipate – but buried deep in this humour are some important social messages, too.