Thursday, 23 December 2010

What's so wrong with Fra-Bo?

What a strange time it must be to be Frankie Boyle. Maybe there's not much news to report beyond travel disaster across the country, but for the Daily Mirror to decide that its lead story should be its own outrage at Boyle's use of an racist term during his new TV show suggests that there was precious little else that was newsworthy that day. The Daily Mail has of course waded in, and has proclaimed itself to be just as outraged as the Mirror, if not more so. I suspect Frankie is pretty surprised at all the anger being sent his way. It really wasn't so long ago that he was very much the comedic flavour of the month. He's gone from one of the nation's favourite comics to being a national pariah in a few short weeks. Rarely do comedians stay fresh and popular for an extended period, but this must be one of the swiftest falls from grace ever. So what happened such that we all turned against Frankie (incidentally, myself included)?

My extensive research has involved a few seconds of thought, a quick read of Wikipedia and a ten minute viewing of Tramadol Nights on 4oD. I guess this means that I'm giving no more than my tuppence worth, but Jeremy Kyle has been doing that for years, and he seems to get recomissioned. Anyway, it seems that Frankie Boyle rose to fame first on Mock the Week, and was widely regarded as being one of the funniest people on the show. His style of humour was always designed to be shocking; he was one of those people who was genuinely amusing, though more often than not it felt a little wrong to snigger. Nothing was off-limits for Boyle, and his stock gags involved all sorts of taboo subjects. Nevertheless, people loved him, and there was much gnashing of teeth when he left the show.

He has since appeared on TV doing his one-man stand-up (his stock in trade), and has published an autobiography (whose title of 'My Shit Life so Far' is almost as bad as Russell Brand's 'Booky Wook'). Quite who cares to read this book is unclear, bearing in mind how little time he's spent in the nation's conscious. He's now got his own series, 'Tramadol Nights', and it's the material involved here that has got him into so much hot water. But wait a minute, isn't this exactly the sort of material for which he was so lauded on 'Mock the Week'? Of course it is; so what changed?

A few things actually: 'Mock the Week' involved 7 comedians each week, and so no-one monopolised the air-time and was hence over-exposed. The range of comedic styles ensured that there was something for everyone (there's only so much of Michael McIntyre's smug grinning face that anyone can take). The comedians managed to end up being raisins in a bowl of raisin bran: a real treat when they pop up. Frankie Boyle was the main beneficiary of the show's format, and his were the gags you tended to remember. Being shocking works so much better in tiny bite-sized chunks. In his new show, he's exposed for pretty much the whole time, and it's very clear that he's a one-trick pony. We've heard all the jokes before, or at least variations on them, and when one gets bored of these jokes, all you're left with is the offensive stuff, and that's what people have focussed on. We used to have a comedian who was funny and offensive, and people were willing to forgive the material, so long as the comedy was in there. He has now committed the cardinal sin for any comedian: he simply isn't very funny any more. The reason I was only able to watch ten minutes of 'Tramadol Nights' was because it was rubbish, not because it was shocking or offensive. The sketches were particularly bad, and whereas many of them had the kernel of a funny idea, they didn't have any wit or skill in the writing to back them up. Frankie Boyle also comes across as less than likeable, and here's another reason that the public and press have turned on him.

So bad luck Frankie - you haven't really done anything different. You've just proved the old maxim: one jelly baby from someone else's packet tastes great, but after a whole packet to yourself, you just feel sick. Mind you, Frankie would probably refuse to eat the black ones.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

...and if I hear that song once more in supermarket/garage etc, I shall skip Christmas, and get all Easter-ish on the nearest person by crucifying them. There's so much to dislike about Christmas: I'm not a particularly religious person, Christmas presents are great, but only when you're 8 (If I want something now, I'll buy it, thanks), Christmas TV is horrendous (Rick Stein's Cornish Christmas anyone? If I wanted to see a load of halfwit inbreds getting festive, I'd watch the Wicker Man or take a day trip to Corby) and I've never been a particular fan of being told how I have to enjoy myself because 'it's tradition'. I'm not sure why we've invented a tradition that involves eating more meat and root veg than should be humanly possible, before nodding off mid-fart in front of the Queen's speech with a little paper hat perched at a jaunty angle. I do like sprouts though, which is always a bonus come December. Even the bits I like about Christmas aren't particularly Christmassy; I enjoy spending time with my family, but TV, presents and Christmas jumpers aren't any sort of highlight.

But Christmas is a time for good cheer, and fun of all kinds, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to help people to skirt round the pitfalls of that most heinous of all Christmas traditions: the work dinner. Even the thought of it makes me shudder. It's doesn't matter if it's a team dinner, a department do, an office jamboree, the whole idea is to minimise the damage. It's never going to be good, but if you take into account these simple tips, it's likely to be manageable:

1. Always make sure you come out in credit cash-wise. This is pretty easy to do, so long as you assume that the bill will be divvied up equally. Pre-dinner pint? I'll have a mojito. A la carte menu? Have everything which says 'supplement'. Glass of wine? Make sure the bottles stay down your end of the table. Coffee? Yes, and a balloon of the 1969 Armangac. If you emply all of the above tactics, you'll come out in credit, but you may look like you're taking the piss.

2. Don't drink the House wine. When some office joker orders the waiter to bring a 'bottle of the House white and red', nip in with a choice of something that's actually drinkable for your end of the table. People will thank you for it.

3. Never allow anyone but you to divide the bill. People can't do maths: '£400, 10 people, that's, don't tell me, where's my phone?'

4. Never allow anyone (almost always women) to introduce the different tariff system. This is where you'll have different price points for the a. drinkers b. non-drinkers c. didn't drink much-ers. d. office juniors who don't earn as much, and would rather have been drinking MD 20/20 behind the megabowl anyway. I've been to a colleagues leaving do at Loch Fyne, and the bill was divvied up evenly. OK, so a pregnant wife of a new colleague had to end up shelling out £37 for a starter of mussels and some tap water, but she didn't have to come in the first place, did she?

5. Always offer to pay far more than you should first up. This is a typically male reaction to the bill, and acts as a partial antidote to point 1 (make sure you still end up in credit though). Typical male response to the maths in point 3 is to state 'that's £40 each', then to roll off 5 £20 notes, before flinging them theatrically into the centre of the table, stating 'that should cover me'. People will demand that you pick up the money, and you manage to look generous, without having to end up out of pocket. NOTE: you must be very careful here when dining with women. Men consider it vital to offer more than they should, though women see nothing wrong in resorting to coppers to make up the £38.21 that each person owes.

6. High risk this one, though someone always does it: don't pay. Why is it when the price per person is calculated, and everyone puts in just that little bit extra for tip, do we always hear the phrase 'we're £20 short'? Someone always has a big enough pair of cojones to avoid paying; you could be that person, my friend.

7. Amuse yourself by creating chaos. Most meals out now require a pre-order, but whoever is organising is unlikely to have brought the original sheet which tells them exactly who ordered what food. Your job is to order the most rank sounding starter, main and dessert, and then grab the nicest sounding ones as soon as they come out of the kitchen. Let someone else enjoy your nut roast and three bean soup.

8. Find a like-minded colleague, and give each other 3 phrases that have to be brought into conversation during the evening. I've yet to get in the Frankie Boyle line 'and at the end of the night, you couldn't tell what was poo, and what was chocolate', but there's something for you to aim at.

So there we are. Follow the above, and you'll be able to turn your work meal out into something more than a night to be endured.

And if you're wondering how to make sprouts taste nice, here's 2 ideas:

1. Pureed with double cream and sprinkled with crisp pancetta
2. Shredded and pan-fried in butter

Happy Christmas!