How Harriet Harman gave birth to Frankie BoylePosted on November 11, 2010
Last night I went to see Frankie Boyle at the Hammersmith Apollo. Depending on your tastes it was everything you might hope for, or everything you’d never want to hear – offensive, contrarian, shock-a-minute stuff. In short, hilarious.
It got me thinking about exactly what has spawned the recent boom in stand-up megastars. Most of those who have become hugely successful – Boyle, Jimmy Carr, Russell Howard, Al Murray – are distinguished by being as offensive as they are clever.
They plumb every controversial issue you could imagine, giving audiences a double hit of clever humour combined with an “I can’t believe he said that” shock factor.
Why has this happened? So far as I can see, it’s a classic case of supply and demand.
I don’t mean there’s a demand for actual racism or sexism – happily that has largely died out in the last couple of decades. However, there is a demand for freedom of speech and thought, and there will always be demand for comedy.
The prurience of politically correct tyranny, first in cultural discourse and now even in our criminal law, restricted the supply of free speech by threatening disgrace and conviction on anyone who dared say something un-PC. At the same time as they restricted supply, they managed to encourage demand by bringing out the natural British urge to give bossy authority a poke in the eye at any opportunity.
Those PC crusaders who forced through changes in the law and drummed people out of jobs have shot themselves in the foot by going too far. They have become so puritanical that they have provoked a popular backlash, like Cromwell’s attempt to ban Christmas celebrations. Neither comedians like Frankie Boyle nor their audiences are racist or sexist, but there is now a cachet, a frisson about someone saying what is supposedly unsayable.
I’m sure that – had she been there – Harriet Harman would have walked out of last night’s gig within about 17 seconds. How it must gall her that as a result of her work, someone like Frankie Boyle makes millions from saying to eager audiences all of things that she wants banned.
I’ll be buying tickets again, and I hope you will too – when you’re rolling in the aisles, revel in the feeling that Harriet is out there, somewhere, supping on the bitter broth of failure.