This is the BBC. This podcast is supported by advertising outside the UK. BBC sounds, music, radio, podcasts, hello, there I am. Hello, I'm Louis through and welcome back to another episode of my podcast series for BBC Radio four, Grounded with Louis through.
I'm a bit of a technical novice, but downloaded the app.
Today's guest is comedian Frankie Boyle, logging on from his sofa in his house in Glasgow. One, two, three.
To my ears, Louise. Very quiet. What have I done wrong? Maybe I can.
Yes, I was a bit quiet, about nine inches away from you.
I said nine inches. It turned out I was talking into the wrong side of the microphone, as you will hear throughout the conversation. Sorry about that.
I deserve a little scare once in a while. Technical difficulties.
Francie's been in the business for years and is still winning awards for his outrageous comedy. He was recently nominated for a BAFTA for Frankie Boyle's New World Order, beloved by many, but also involved in more than his share of controversy.
Thank you for doing this. Hey, nice to me. Along with strong language. Some of the jokes may not be to everyone's taste, including one notorious one about the queen. So if you think you might be offended, this is your chance to switch off. I'm looking forward to the turning that down, let's jump in. We were going to do this last week and then I had to postpone. But what I was intrigued to learn was that you said, oh, that'll work.
I'll come back from yoga. For some reason.
I don't see Frankie Boyle and Yoga going together five days a week with a pretty harsh Zimm yoga instructor. And it goes on for 75 minutes, which is a lot of yoga. And I can't last seventy five minutes. So I've had to learn the art of small talk to try and clip five minutes at the front of the class.
Ages ago I did a bit of yoga and the class started with a lot of jingly new age music and you just sort of lie there and I guess get into the zone. Do you not do any of that?
She's taken all of that out. It's just the hard part. I sometimes fell asleep and I sort of thought, well, maybe I could be doing this at home or not doing nothing.
Now, this is the real hardcore stuff. I started a long time and for the first month I managed to pretend that there was a kind of delay on Zoome.
So like when she gave me some instruction I could by a few seconds between classes, she's like, I don't know because I do. I have Joe Wick's, which I like because it's unbelievably intense. But you're done within 15 to 20 minutes. It sounds like what you're doing. It's intense, but really long as well. There's a definite thing with it where like there's a bet that you really hate that you get introduced to and like two weeks later, you look forward to that part of the class.
What's the worst one?
I did my first band today and like, you're kind of curled up in a ball and then she sort of says will reach towards your left thigh. And there's no way there's no part of my body that can move towards that from here. So it's essentially just tying yourself a fairly intractable not.
What about standing on your head now?
I mean, I think that's where its head and I'm either going to have like a head stand or a replacement. I think that's the two directions. It goes yoga.
She got me to come in and say, Frankie, you're sticking up in the room now. I don't have a wife. Is there not another body in the house? A live one? Not.
Yeah, no, I get rid of them every weekend. There's kids five days a week and my wife takes issue with me doing the workouts because she claims it creates a smell, which undoubtedly it does. That's a good Segway maybe into, you know, what I've been thinking about because I've been a fan of yours for years. I think I first read your material like in the Sun. And I was like, wow, this is a very these are kind of scathing and hilarious and dark, but just extremely well written.
And full disclosure, I hadn't seen much of your TV stuff. I don't know. I think I had small children at the time. But since reading you, I then went back and watched them yourself. Most recently, you've done brilliant standup special on BBC two called Excited for You to See and Hate This. You specialize in quite provocative comedy, quite outrageous comedy, but very funny, but from, I suppose, a left wing perspective, right?
Yeah. Do you do jokes when you do your stand up performances, not on TV, but, you know, touring or whatnot.
Is that all written by you as a stand up comedian? And I usually read lots of stand up before I went to a writing room for New World Order. So I might bring in about 90 minutes of standup or something that we perform can on the basis of one or whatever, an hour prose. But I do I have writers when we do, you world order, all of it really has writers on it.
The Yemen joke in your recent standup special was so good. When I was watching it at home, I sort of had to sit back and just admire it. The craft of the unexpectedness of the payoff. Would you be comfortable doing it? Oh, this is really not the gag, I'm going to do it. I can only remember the punchline. Shall I do it? I did a podcast with Sia, the singer, and I was singing her some of her songs like Chandelier.
This is this feels like the Frankie Boyle version of that Louie through massacre's material by professionals at the height of their craft. I can't do it. You're talking about the British supplying the Saudi regime with arms. Right. The third biggest supplier of arms to the Saudi Arabian regime, which they're using to invade and kill people in Yemen. And at the same time, they're supplying Yemen with aid with the number two provider of aid for the number two provider of aid.
Well, you know what they say life gives you Yemen. You may try again. Life gives you Yemen. You give the mandate, does it give? That was what I was stumbling on. Yeah, it's not you get Yamane. Yeah, you're not make lemonade, but he cheats the air. You don't hear the fact that you've switched. Give to me.
I thought you were just you were just time and it really weirdly I thought, wow, Louise, that's really offbeat. Taman is this is an incredible pause. You'd actually forgotten the one bit you said you remembered.
I know. That's why I'm not a comedian. Well, that and the fact that I'm not that funny. And so there's times when I'm laughing. I think it's OK to laugh at this, because if you're a sensitive person, sometimes you interrogate your choices about what you're laughing about. But then sometimes the line between highlighting and making light of must be quite thin.
But at the same time, it's very hard to be a comedian without leaving yourself from accusations of trivializing things, because that's on some level the engine of what it is. I think one of the misunderstandings is that what we're actually trying to do is take things that people would normally find offensive and make them funny. So there's always going to be some accusations that that's something that you shouldn't be making jokes about. But then everybody has something that they think you shouldn't be making jokes about.
And if you added them all together, if there's a rumor 2000 people new to everyone felt you shouldn't make jokes about, as Doug Stanhope says, you left with juggling. I always admired the joke you told about the queen became a big cause celeb, didn't Emily Metalist do?
Honestly, I think the director general of the BBC was on Tuesday and Emily Metalist did that talk to him in kind of outraged when seriously.
Yeah, you should see, it's quite funny because she she says it in very clipped IRP tones and he's clearly taken aback.
Framing for the joke was that these are things the queen is unlikely to say. Right, that bit was and your line was, I'm so old, my pussy is haunted.
Yeah, I'd be happy to be remembered for something else, Louis, to be honest.
But the thing was, if you reminded me that sounds of Emily Maintenace doing that gag is a bit like when Charlton Heston recited the lyrics from Cop Killer by tea. We are I mean, one of the reasons I wanted to get into it first, I suppose, is it seems to be in the headlines a bit last week. I don't know if you saw Dawn French said something along the lines of, oh, I'd hate to be starting out as a comedian nowadays because of council culture.
I don't know if she used that phrase. That was the headline that was used. She suggested there was an inhibiting atmosphere that prevented edgy and interesting work from being done. But let me read the quote, since, you know, these things can easily get mischaracterized, the kind of laughs you have when you think that's one of the naughtiest things I've ever heard, or there's a person in building a character who is everything awful. But now I just don't know if you'd ever be able to do that because you just have so many haters on your back.
And I don't know how we explore it anymore.
Well, I think that's interesting because Don French is someone I think is brilliant. But I mean, she's also what we think of as quite mainstream. You know, there aren't a lot of comics who are in favor of censorship. They all know that that's part of the engine of what they do. And someone like me would be kind of extreme example of something that we all do. Really, if you even went to the other extreme, like make MacIntire or something, they're still looking for some of that shock level.
But their shock is about what happens when the bath water is too hot or whatever.
So to the question of whether we are in a period in which so-called cancer culture is making it difficult to do interesting comedy, I don't think it's so much that as the fact that what the press have become quite good at is taking that stuff and just giving it to a whole audience that's not intended for.
There's no way that I can write something not work on a Friday night in Newcastle. That's also going to work for people who are having their cornflakes and say, you know, when they're presented better in the paper at 10am or whatever. And what the press have got very good at doing is taking that stuff and giving it to those people to create a scandal about a joke because people think people think context means or if you give me a second, I can explain that to you.
Right. Context means a little paragraph here and you'll know what happened by actually context usually means you had to be there. Like, it's quite complicated to explain. It's just that the press realise that it's a story and really easy sometimes three days story. And, you know, if the comic responds to it, that's another day, you know, so sometimes they can get a week of headlines out of these things. And it started out with people like me.
But then when people like me had to become more, it ended up being like people like Jason Munford or whoever, because they can find these jokes that people tell and suddenly like that, someone could find offensive.
So I think the argument runs that with an increasing awareness of women's issues, systemic racism, just vulnerabilities in general and power structures, comes a sort of sensitivity about what you can joke about. Right. And social media as a sort of hive off of outrage.
Also, a lot of people don't have that sense of humour. If you think of the alternative sense of humour, like what we've seen since the late 80s in Britain, probably the biggest show was the office, and that had maybe three million.
At its peak, it was peaking around five or six million. I think I only know because I was on BBC two around that time and I would look enviously. We're talking early 2000s was 2000. That was the biggest alternative comedy ever. I mean, it's front page news, the last episode. And, you know, a lot of people really don't get that kind of stuff. You know, they don't get comedy of awkwardness. They don't get why someone would say something that seems deliberately provocative.
There's another one I was going to run by you. Another quote. This one's from Todd Phillips, who directed joka and he was on the record as saying he made Joker a superhero film because he couldn't make comedies anymore. He said, you know, he'd made The Hangover films and other comedies before that. He said, go try to be funny. Nowadays, with this WOAK culture, there were articles written about why comedies don't work anymore. I'll tell you why.
Because all the fucking funny guys are like, fuck this shit. I don't want to offend you.
Yeah, I mean, I just I don't feel I don't feel culture has to walk. I don't feel comedy is to walk.
You know, I think a lot of that pressure comes from the right. A lot of it comes from the mass media.
And it's largely just as a way of generating column inches. You know, I don't think. A genuinely offended at some of that stuff and also it doesn't I think also we sometimes get into the trap of imagining all these things. They get offended by our offensive.
I mean, some of the stuff I've heard most heat for has been you could never pack out your show and go, well, that's the thing everyone's going to get angry about in a way like you were canceled before it was cool to be gay.
Yeah. Could we put it that way? And like and sort of repeatedly canceled. I just kept rising from the dead and get them killed again.
I mean, I've been trying to fix the time frame in my mind, and I don't know if I turned it down. Is there a kind of an arc to what happened? You were doing a lot of TV work on Mott the Week, is that right? And then you had your sketch show on Channel four Tramadol nights. Yeah, and that was majorly canceled.
What was the point at which you hit the buffers TV wise? I was still doing like kind of pilots and stuff to like 2012. And then I think that let some tweets about the Paralympic opening ceremony, which were all really jolly and celebratory, but like the papers just managed to create a kind of storm around it. So I ended up never working for them again.
But they were like dorks like the Austrian Paralympic team look better than the Scottish actual team. And things like, you know, it was I mean, it was kind of like it was pretty jolly staff. I think there's also that thing where as a comic, all your stuff seems lame when you go back to it.
It's very hard to very hard to look at old stuff because you're you're always develop and you kind of go, man, I wouldn't say that they were I wouldn't do that in that we know all of the jokes I do I think are defensible. I don't think it's the concepts I wouldn't do. No, but I would definitely execute them differently. But that's that's true of like 95 percent of the stuff I've ever said.
But before that, you'd caught a lot of flak for other jokes, right? I don't know. Which was the inciting incident. Was it a joke about Katie Price's son?
I think it was before that like I always had a sense of like since I was a club act of getting cancelled. So like Konda, I'd go into a weekend somewhere and go, wow. But someone in the crowd would complain and then you wouldn't get rebooked or whatever. And there was all sorts of different levels of that that happened to me as I went along.
Because, like, if you are trying to provoke and challenge a law, then you're just going to get that. That's kind of your job as a comic.
And I think that's quite a useful person to have in society in some ways comedians, because, like, it'd be terrible if everybody didn't care but to have the occasional person. He'll say stuff and not care. It has a kind of social yet, and it's like it's my fault.
Maybe if people don't understand what routines are about, you know, I take responsibility for that.
Yeah, makes sense. You know what occurs to me, though, if you take a step back, because I do think that there is a even in the comedy world, maybe. I think there is a sense that because of the times we're living in, there is more sensitivity and there is a fear of saying the wrong thing. I mean, so, for example, this past year, a lot of old comedies have been taken off streaming services, episodes of an episode of Fawlty Towers.
I think Middle Britain has been taken off and maybe come fly with me, think maybe The Mighty Boosh now has been in danger, though sometimes of lumping a lot of stuff together.
So I think in Fawlty Towers, the thing is like the major is a racist and that sort of language he uses is very casually racist. And there's one scene that shows and I think that is fair enough. I mean, I think that's a satire of someone like that sort of person. I think it's OK. Who is this stuff? What people are doing blackface, I think, is on a different level. I always wonder about that. Like it takes so long to do makeup.
Is there no point where you're sitting in a chair being done up as in like Chinese makeup or something for hours every morning where you go? Is this OK?
Is this is this kind of look in a few years? I mean, just to present a counterargument, which may or may not be valid. So there's characters like Pupper Lazarou. Yeah, but then again I think that's different is a similar one on Mighty Boosh where they don't say that they're in blackface of a sort, but it seems to be really more of a kind of almost meta commentary on the scariness of minstrel tropes. Right. Like it seemed to say something about how weird blackface is.
And I think papillary definitely is that thing is that we can't lump all this stuff together. Some of it has some kind of justification and some of it is obviously just things that shouldn't happen. There is something about comedy, but it's such a ridiculous job and you kind of have a responsibility to not take yourself that seriously.
So this stuff happens and you can have opinions about it and stuff. But at some level, it's also vaguely ridiculous doing that, I think in the background as well. It's people make it a freedom of speech issue. So, for example, should it be illegal? To show cartoons lifted, because the degree here in some respects is the cartoons of Muhammad, right? Yeah, that is something that people have been killed for, know terrorist acts, in fact, quite recently.
So should it be illegal to draw the cartoons?
I think you have to think about the facts, don't you? So as I've got older, I think we have to think about the effects there. So when you hear people laughing about that subject, you're going to have an instinctive reaction of, oh, this is an attack on me. And I think from Muslims as well, a lot of Muslim people are pretty heavily oppressed in Western countries. When you see things like us discussing whether it's OK to draw Muhammad, you don't think, well, there's two guys who are really interested in these intellectual issues.
You might just think, well, you know, that's that's just that thing again.
Well, so just to go back. So then at some point the mirror decides that you're racist, right? The headline lanced this racist boil.
When was that case? 2012 or something. But like I mean, it was it was such an incredible thing because I grew up liking an anti-racist atmosphere and and I didn't really know what their case was about. It was the gist of the article that you shouldn't be on TV.
I think it was like, never mind the Buzzcocks or something. Yeah, I think it was something that.
What made you decide to bring a case against them? You sued them, right, for libel, was it? Yeah, because I'm not a racist and it's a really serious thing to be called. And the you know, the weird thing about these things is if you when it kind of gets forgotten about so I sometimes tell people about that case and then, oh, really did that happen? Was for you.
It's just it's an incandescent experience. It's so intense to be in there with the baristas in their gowns and being accused of racism and witnesses and sitting in the box for like a day and a half.
And you remember the the joke that led to the whole thing. They had a series of jokes that they kind of held up as being examples of this kind of thing. One was about 70s porn stars having big bushes. Right. And it was a joke that said women who looked like they were giving birth to Emmanuel Adebayor, you remember him, the Tottenham striker, and this is racist. And I saw this joke as in my book, but it says Kevin Keegan.
And it's just, you know, the reference got old. So, you know, I updated it to the next person with big hair. And that was literally the first thing in the case. And you could see the going. What's this about? Why is this case?
It was it was it turned out to be impossible for them to make a case that there was anything racist. And the jury, I think within half an hour returned the verdict. And it was just I mean, it was so weird to be there and to bring your friends up as witnesses and and to go through this whole thing. I mean, it was a dreadful experience.
It's I mean, I've only been involved in one. It's not even civil. I was sued North sued. I was the head of Scientology. His lawyers threatened to sue me for Ill-judged tweet. It was a read tweet. But the hot the stress of being involved in the legal system, it's kind of surreal, right? Because you're almost like prepping for a theatrical performance. But it's an incredibly expensive one that you're putting on at your own cost. You know, you get annoyed when you get a traffic ticket and then you think this could be like a getting a traffic ticket that costs a hundred thousand pounds a much more.
But I mean, in that case, it was quite simple. And you just had to kind of be yourself, just to be honest to a bunch of people. So at no point did I feel I was really in danger there because I could trust people and I quite trust audiences, you know, ultimately to understand stuff.
I get it. What about. While we're on the subject, Mark Meacham is the other one that always comes up, also known as Count Dracula, famously a YouTube and comedian who supposedly as a way of getting back at his girlfriend who had a little dog, took the dog to do a Hitler salute whenever he said Heil Hitler, put it on YouTube and was prosecuted. And it became a kind of cause celebre and sort of a rallying point for comedians in general.
But the far right or the right, let's say, for whom it was evidence of kind of political correctness gone mad, I guess. Mm hmm. Did you take a view on that? I don't think someone should be prosecuted for that if the use of free speech defense.
I read the judgment in the case and the judge and that very dry way that legal people often do it kind of noted that it hadn't really been a free speech defense. Like I think his defense was that he had put it up purely for his girlfriend. It was a private message, but he'd put it up on YouTube and his girlfriend hadn't seen it. So it was a very poor defense.
Yeah, yeah. I read that, too, funnily enough. And I thought, well, that's ridiculous. Like, why would you try and defend it on those grounds? It's obviously a comedy bit. So you thought he was wrongly convicted, but because of bad defense? Yeah.
I mean, I don't believe in people getting prosecuted for jokes. Obviously, as David Matricide said, something is not a subject for comedy is like saying it's not a subject for fiction.
Well, me too.
I think I think, though, a lot of those people who talk about free speech on the far right aren't really interested in it. I mean, that's just too obvious to say almost. I don't think they're really they're really that bothered about free speech. I mean, no one talks about the Reichling that do there. They don't say what you like about the Reich, but you could you could say what you wanted. Free speech, paradise.
And you keep retiring from touring as well, like in 2009 or 10. And I read you saying, oh, I'm not touring anymore. What's that all about?
Well, I because I hate it so much, I find it physically quite grueling. Microbeads compared to like your average stand up crowd are incredibly lively and hackley and some like most of the time it's great, but you have to be ultra concentrated, like for the whole time you're on stage for the whole thing because I mean, it's chaos sometimes just trying to ride that demon and like doing that 100 times in a row is almost fatal.
Sometimes the last big tour that was like, I think physically dangerous. And just like you may just die of a heart attack because like my whole shoulder, there's a part of the reason I started doing yoga is my shoulder and arm have kind of seized up from just grabbing the microphone so tight because, like, I started out, I was like a club comic and I wanted to be a writer and I had a kid. So like, I ended up doing lots of trades for panel shows, which is kind of how I ended up on TV.
But I imagine myself being like a line writer and I used to write for people like Jimmy Carr and various other people, and I thought that's the way my career would go. But when I had a kid, I was like, Oh, I've got to make some money. And I ended up getting to a position where I could tour. So I went from probably the longest I'd ever done was 25 minutes on stage to do in like an hour and 25 minutes in front of 2000 people like every night for 100 nights.
And like that gives you enormous fear. And like, I'd have actually kind of out of body experiences at the start, like, I was actually kind of disassociated from myself. Like I ended up with this incredible sort of a shoulder injury just from fear before you would go on or while you were on stage.
You're while you're on and it would happen like 10, 20 minutes into the thing and you're like, fuck, I've got an hour to go here. So that was when I first started doing it. But, yeah, I don't I don't have those nerves anymore.
There's a moment sometimes when you walk on and it's a really bad dream and there's like, you know, that first kind of cheer or whatever, when you come on you're like, oh my God, what the hell am I doing here? You'd have a slave kind of reversion back into that. But more, more and more, I'm completely nerveless.
So what's the grueling part where there's all the travelling and there's a lot of social stuff to it? You know, you meet a lot of people as you go into the theatre and you do your sound checks and you do your stuff, you know, you gotta be nice to everybody. You've got to have a public face on, you know, for a year, I guess, about wearing. Some people find that fairly easy. Some yeah, they do, don't they?
They do. But, you know, I'm quite introverted. Really. Yeah.
And you're going from theater to theater and each time people are excited to see you relatively right. Would you mind signing a couple of posters, kind of get yourself. You're too, and you don't want to be a dick. No, because always there's that thing, isn't there, where people are going to have a story about you if they're excited to meet you. And it's always going to be that you were really nice or that you were a deck.
And really, you've got to kind of push it that way towards the really nice back. So it's good in a way, because it's sort of transitioned to being caned, I think.
So maybe nervous is the wrong word, but the intensity of what you do on stage, the rowdiness of the audience, the need to be on your game and the focus that that requires. Yeah.
And you want to do it properly. You want to do all that properly, every show. Do you know what I mean? Because I really think, you know, people have paid their money and they've got high expectations of you and you don't want to turn on a really lame performance. So I guess it's partly that as well is having those standards and going, what?
Could I do that again for another 100 nights? I don't know that I could.
You reminded me of the fact in the recent special you have a pop at Ricky Gervais. Oh, yeah. Because he has a joke about trans people saying, like, that's like me self identifying as a chimpanzee. And then you say, well, it's like you self identifying as a stand up comedian. I murdered the joke. But I think I don't think I told the joke. But it's it's along those lines. Yeah. You know, that's pretty much that's the spirit of it.
That's the spirit of it. But I always thought he was a standup comedian right now.
He sort of went into that after he was after the office. So the kafiristan that watching him, you feel like, oh, this is someone doing a version of this thing. We do. But really, it's more that I saw his routine about trans people and I thought it was very lazy. And, you know, I just I would like him to have the same respect for trans people that he seems to have for animals. I think that's not a lot to ask.
Yeah. And then you start caring about animals that's followed, Karen, to what do you do? How did you put it? You do it. Come on. Going on about loving animals.
Suspect I read as though I did it, you know, or you hate it there.
Hello. This is just a reminder that you're listening to Grounded with me Louis Through. And this is a podcast for Sounds and BBC Radio four. My guest is Frankie Boyle.
And we've been chewing the fat about comedy, but I'm keen to delve more into his childhood, maybe even see what we have in common.
You know, we a similar age right now.
This is my Segway, you could tell because the change in intonation 48, I'm 50.
We grown up experiencing some similar things. You wouldn't you were in Scotland in Politburo's, which is outside Glasgow Centre. Right.
And sort of in Glasgow. It's the very south of Glasgow, south of Glasgow. I was in south London. We both had big ears. I'm drawing on the parallels. You got your ears pinned back. Yeah, which that struck me when I read your book because I thought, well, that's what they do in Beverly Hills that give children plastic surgery. You were growing up in a rough area of South Glasgow getting plastic surgery because you didn't like your ears.
No, I had bad ears.
So they were completely there were flaps of skin.
So I couldn't get on the NHS last year as I was going to take years. But one of my teachers at school, I think, talk to this surgeon who did it and is kind of lunch or whatever.
So he did all the bits of Mayos but have these big earlobes because he was supposed to pen these back. But he died before you did.
So I've always had these these kind of quiver earlobes. So bat is is not just sticking out is a little thing where you have no grooves in your ears at all.
It was at a family condition.
Is that genetic? Yeah, I had a great uncle, I think, who was like one of the first male models, but he had bad ears and he appeared on the Cassidys of Postcards in Ireland. He was a very big, handsome guy, but with these very unusual ears, with the ears you would think would disqualify him.
You would think, you know, he he clearly managed to staler.
How did it not affect your hearing? You would think that is would be almost like a superpower.
Yeah, I can't remember much about it. I mean, I find if I stick my ears out or little handcuffs behind my ears, I can hear more. All right. It's like a little satellite dish. And you did say I was a little quiet at the beginning of the conversation. So did you. If so, in fact, it was it's unfair to characterize that as plastic surgery. Was it a rough. I think I know it was quite a rough area.
You talk about it in your book, but were you conscious of that? Like, did you experience that as a sort of daily reality that just felt normal, I suppose?
I think there was it wasn't as rough as some places in Glasgow. So there is that you always had a sort of comparative sense of like the real places in Glasgow or like places that are too unconnected knowns, LA Easterhouse, Castlemilk, Drumchapel, you know, if you if it's two unconnected and you're in trouble, whereas we were like it was it was grim, but not in a not in a sort of dangerous way.
You talk about someone at your school having his head chopped off by his father. Oh yeah.
I remember actually I was in a writer's room when I first started writing in London. I was writing on ten cars and they were doing a thing going the table about what's the worst thing that happened at your school. And it was all things like someone wetting themselves in assembly or whatever. And I was just running through the stories of all the things that happened at school, try to find one that was palatable because that was like that was the worst. One year his dad chopped his head off in a drunken rage.
Yeah. What would make you so angry that you chucked your child's head off, do you suppose?
I think he was an alcoholic. He's probably in some kind of psychosis.
I mean, there was a strange thing because we grew up Catholic as well. So there was like you growing up in an environment where there's all this kind of like there's a lot of harshness and there's a lot of brutality. But there's also that thing where you go to church like once a week and everybody sings about boundless undying love for the love of the Lord.
And then you go outside and you don't experience that. You know, it's all these middle aged people singing about essentially being horny for God.
And then like I mean, I think love with, like, very conditional, like when I grew up, you know, I mean, you were loved if you behaved. Are you talking about your family now? I think everybody's family at the time. I just think it was like two children were very were very harsh. There's lot violence towards children. In your book My Life So Far in 2009, you talk about your upbringing, but you don't say much about your family, your mum and dad, Irish, your is a dinner lady.
Your dad's a labourer. You've got a brother and sister, but they're very much in the background. At one point you refer to the tranquil autism in your home.
Yeah, they're incredibly reserved. They're from like Donegal, my folks. So it's almost like being from being a time traveller, really. They were very introverted even in that baric. I mean, try and find stuff about your childhood coming from that background that you're going to have and a kind of like jaunty autobiography of a of panel show contestant. I went and like I got a hotel in Edinburgh and basically took Ecstasy to write the first draft of that book to just try and find some of the, you know, some kind of spark or something that you could translate into something that would be palatable because, like, the actual reality of it was fairly bleak.
Well, like in every way, because, like, you know, there's that whole thing of like people below the poverty line, but living just above the poverty line is no Mardi Gras.
I guess also the fact that you're kind of thrown together with people that you know really well in those environments you like, you develop a lot of empathy for people, you know, because you spend an all day playing with someone or you're stuck at the back with the same group of kids every day. And then you see what life does to them and how they're kind of treated and how they're brutalized.
And, you know, that's pretty sad stuff, you know, brutalized by the society they live in, like like beaten up at school, bullied, not able to get a job. They're not going to work, all that kind of stuff.
Are you still friendly with the people you grew up with?
Um, no, not really. I have not really seen, like, people from that period from being a child, like for a really long time.
And did your as you became a comedian, did your parents take an interest in your career?
No, I think my parents were always just like like they knew I was an alcoholic. So I was an alcoholic until like my mid 20s. So the thing of being a comedian and having some success at it, like it was just all gravy for them. I mean, I think, like, I sort of imagined I'd be dead in my life by 30, like a lot of people I drank with dead. And then, you know, you're not I think that's all as much interest as they ever took and it was like, oh, he's actually he's actually done something.
Are they still alive? Your parents? Yeah. Yeah. But they so they don't they watch your routines with they watch you on TV.
No, no. My dad would sometimes I think my mom doesn't like and you say I don't think they're particularly interested in any of that kind of stuff. And they're, they're just I mean it's it's strange to explain in a way.
They're kind of like bad seeds and good sides to all that stuff. One of them was they came from such a rural part of Ireland that they're actually incredibly nonjudgmental because you had to get on with everyone. You know, the person up the road. You may not like them, but at some point you were going to have to borrow their tractor or get a sheep out of the field or whatever. So, like, they were incredibly accepting of people in some ways.
One time a guy asked my dad about I said, what's he like? And my dad said, he's OK, but he poisons dogs.
So they were like nonjudgmental to the level of of a fault, really. And I think I've kind of inherited some of that. I think that's quite good. You know, it's striking what you say about sort of atmosphere of low expectations, right? That's correct me if I'm mischaracterizing it, but smothering the dreams is that sense of possibility of the people that grew up there.
I mean, is that more or less what it was olingo like, deprivation to some extent. Also, social attitudes were quite brittle. And also there was like a failure to engage with what was happening. So I remember a couple of times notario I mean, I wrote about this briefly in the book, but people just dived out of their windows from like high flats. People committed suicide and it was explained to us how they fell out of their window, washing the windows or whatever.
I read I did read that. I wasn't sure if it was a joke. You know, that happened a couple of times. So how did it it sounded like you some of your love of comedy came from the library where you were checking out the goons, Monty Python, of course, and P.G. Woodhouse. Oh, yeah. A lot of pidgey ringtones. Yeah. When you were about how old was from like really, really young from like 12 or something.
I often find that weird when I meet English comedians from a different background where they sort of assume that they've got a lot of different reference points from year, whereas I actually of Python and the Guns and P.G. Woodhouse, isn't it? We all pretty much read the same things.
I mean, I think Pigweed has also is kind of the driving engine of Bresch satire. It's all in the style. I mean, when you read Marinates columns or something, everything has that kind of like circumlocution and bawdiness and kind of elliptical quality that P.G. Wodehouse has. And it's kind of Haresh, in in tone. And I think that's because when we have a society where what's happening is actually quite obvious, it doesn't do to express it in very blunt terms, in general, in terms.
So we end up having this very kind of like what the kind of roundhouses way of talking about things so that, you know, the plebs don't know what we're talking about. On some level, it's the raised eyebrow.
I sometimes think comedy brings out the worst in people and that includes comedians, you know?
Well, Nature, who I like to mention once every podcast, one of his more famous aphorisms is a joke. You probably know this one is an epitaph on the death of feeling, which is really a restatement of the other one, which is comedy is tragedy plus time. That's basically the same thing. Comedy is tragedy plus laughter.
I think you don't even need to talk. You talked about comedians being not sociopathic, but you used the term social retards and also misogynists.
I think I think there's a lot more like of the one attention thing that I find uncomfortable. And you can sort of see more that people are sometimes trying to fill a hole that they can't fill with this thing. There's a thing like Alanis Morissette said about songwriting, which was it's cathartic, but it's not healing. It's like it feels good for you to get out there and it feels good for you to be doing it. But I don't know that actually gets you anywhere.
It's that you speaking from personal experience, you haven't found that it's particularly been conducive to mental equilibrium. Oh, no.
I mean, I've actually I guess I needed the catharsis and I think it's really helped me. But I think for a lot of people there, Trevelin stuff into a void that they're not actually going to fill with what they're doing because, like, they're they've got narcissism. And it's a really hard thing to address. But I don't really know that many comics like socially and if you see a table of comedians, a wedding or something, they look pretty grim.
You know, it doesn't look like the table you want to be happy. You mentioned your alcohol years, right? Are you OK to talk about that? Oh, yeah, absolutely. How did that happen? Did it kind of creep up on you or just.
Oh, no, I remember having my first drink at 15 and just going. Yes. Yep. This is it. Like, you know, something they say in addiction therapy. Sometimes there's a feeling sometimes that this substance completes them and that's kind of what it wants from it. It's like, oh, this is the real me. And I think personally now much older, I sort of think it's actually the dissociative qualities of alcohol that allow you to disassociate from trauma or any problems that you have and allow you to be the person you feel you would have been.
So I think one of the reasons it's so invidious to feel that it completes you is that in a way it does.
What were you drinking at 15 vodka. But like, I was like, I'm definitely up for drinking on my own as well from my teens. But then you go to uni and you can just drink all the time.
Special Brew and oh, have you ever had that?
I only mentioned because that was my first well the first time I got drunk. This is going to make me sound like a no never mind. I was with my parents on a skiing holiday and it was fondue night at the Hotel Sydney. Now it's probably 13 in France where we were. There's a drinking culture. They bring wine and kids. Drinking wine isn't a big deal. So I began drinking the wine. I thought it tasted disgusting, but I found that if I held my nose or just did breathe through my nose while I was drinking the wine, I could just sort of drink, knock it back.
So I was drinking glass off the glass of red wine. I don't I blacked out. I woke up the next morning in the hotel room. I shut my pants. I'm I've drunk enough to shit my pants and vomited everywhere. It was a hangover beyond anything I've really experienced since almost I felt radioactive with toxicity.
It sounds like a level of drunkenness, doesn't it? Get yourself a fondue night drunk.
Yes. And my parents said, oh, get out on the slopes and you know, you'll be fine. What you need is some fresh air. So I managed to get out. I went up on the ski lift. My muscles were completely a tonic. I could just about stand and I just skied all the way down without doing any turns because I was incapable of doing anything due to my condition. And then went back into the hotel, I think slept the rest of the day.
Why did I tell that story? Only because I think if you're drinking, I know it's not recommended, but wine and beer, that's sort of a ceiling. You know, there's just too much work. It takes too long and to get really annihilated. But if you enjoy drinking, say, bourbon or vodka or whatever it tequila and you actually enjoy the taste of the drink and you can find yourself at half, 11:00 at night knocking back as strongly.
This is what I did last night, knocking back a strong bourbon because you like. Why not? You know. Well, this is something alcoholic.
Say, Louis, is this a people who are connoisseurs? They have some of the hardest journeys to give up because they actually enjoy it and most of us don't. Were you a connoisseur?
Oh, not at all. It's like an egalitarian.
I mean, you were a functional alcoholic in the sense of you were being productive, right? You were holding your jobs down.
Yeah, just I mean, I was just getting to that stage where I wouldn't have been, I think, because you were drinking so much.
And also I mean, also there's comedy there, wasn't there? So I was doing comedy when I stopped. And to an extent, you can do it drunk. That's one of the charms of it. You can certainly do twenty minutes drunk. What did stopping look like for you?
I was like and I went to a wedding in Romania and I drank everyone under the table like Leitchville. I can remember the last guy slide in under the table, then on the plane home he gave me like a soft drink or something and I just kind of threw it on the ceiling and I sort of spasm because I could I was still hung over there. My body just checked into this kind of paroxysm. And I thought, this is good. This is getting to the stage where you either going to give up or die.
So I gave up.
And how easy was that or how hard was that? I find it relatively easy, I think compared to other people. I didn't fall off the wagon and go back on a lot or whatever. I used to get a lot of Deanne's from people like on Instagram who want to give up drinking. I think particularly Scotch men find it difficult to say this to people. And I would sort of chat to them and usually just, you know, send them address of alcohol counseling or their AA or whatever.
But I've noticed that's really. Dried up since lockdown. I mean, it stopped. I don't know anyone is trying to stop at the moment, you know, I mean, there, too.
It's not easy. No, it's forgive me if this sounds like I'm crying and I don't want to take you into areas that you aren't comfortable with, but you said that for a lot of people, drinking is a an escape from trauma or the idea that it completes you in some way, maybe because of what's going on with that. Were you conscious of anything that you were dealing with that it helped with or was it something you were trying to anesthetize?
I mean, I am, but I mean, I think we got into the specifics of I think most of it was a general reaction to like the horror of my earlier life. I guess there are people who can use alcohol productively that way in moderation.
But for the most part, people can see the horror of pollock shorts. I'm going to cancel the Airbnb because I was actually going to spend half time there with the family, not the area, but the horror. Can you dig into that a bit? Just to open up a tiny bit?
Just the whole thing of you had a school system that was fairly brutal. I guess children, young people weren't treated that well.
It's hard to talk about these things from a subjective perspective without kind of sounding like Angela's ashes, because that whole thing is it kind of comes across to people who have never been in that situation. But like, yeah, the whole thing, the hopelessness of feeling that you're growing up, you're kind of going to struggle to find anything rewarding to do with your life. Your best hope really is to get into uni. And that was the escape, I guess, for the people that could get it.
But maybe I don't know if you're having fun doing Gornstein at 13, that's a very difficult mindset to get your head around the idea that people would respond to life in general like that. But I feel that's how I responded to it.
It sounds like maybe you weren't even having that many fondue parties, not even chocolate fondue.
I don't think I've ever eaten fondue. I wonder if I have a. Well, no, I don't think your story really sold it, to be honest. Well, chocolate Flunder with marshmallows would be good.
Wouldn't do. They did. I didn't make it to the chocolate fondue pudding round. We talked about drinking. And, you know, when I think about, oh, I could stop drinking, but what would I do? Like what do you do in your evenings?
I write, I read a lot and watch movies. You don't have any vices other than the usual ones of maybe masturbating and eating.
It's interesting that, you know, it's. Yeah, but no, I mean, those two are taken as read, right?
Yeah, I think that's a big question for people who give up. Drinking, though, is one thing that I say to people who are trying to give up drinking, it's you need to find a way to deal with all the free time. I mean, that's the first thing that you've got to have all these extra hours in the day where I was just blessed.
So you don't have any vices.
I'm pretty dull and I read a lot of journalism. That's kind of advice, isn't it? What kind of journalism? Oh, kinds of things.
Like long form staff, serious stuff, leftist stuff. One of the things I learned preparing for this interview was that you had gone on hunger strike.
Yeah, I did it for a reprieve. So Clive Stafford Smith at Reprieve was a guy called Shaker Aamer over Guantanamo Bay. He's been out. Yeah, he's living a very happy life. But I did it and a whole bunch of other celebrities did it and they all seemed to really breathe it. So we all did a week of hunger. Did it, Clive? That himself and a whole bunch of actors, Julie Christie, and she was like in her 70s and she breezed there.
And I find it like one of the most harrowing experiences I've gone through so hard. And I was travelling at the time, had booked and a weekend to go and see Shakespeare plays and Stratford-Upon-Avon.
So it's like day four or five of this thing. And I went to see Titus Andronicus at the RNC and it was all just blood and guts. And I just felt so terrible. Sitting in a corner covered in sweat, did this hunger strike that I could have probably nobody would have known if you'd eaten. I felt like I felt like I had to or maybe the first weeks the hardest.
Just amazed that you're surprised what I think going a day without food would be hard, but a week it was absolutely awful.
And I remember talking to some very posh English couple at the hotel and explaining what I was doing, and they just took it in their stride.
And that way that posh English people in the hunger strike, you know, that kind of unflappable quality that I love about English people.
So it worked, I guess. Did it? Yeah, well, we like him. There are lots of different bets to the campaign, but he's certainly got some publicity for it. You know, I think that's extraordinary. Yeah. You know, I wanted to talk about your fear of flying, but you can only cover so much.
I just like if I see a plane on screen, I feel l never felt like trying to deal with it now. And I think it's related to claustrophobia, isn't it? Do you have claustrophobia? Not in a way that I would think of it. Like I wouldn't feel bad going in a narrow hallway or something. But there's something about planes.
You're flying in trains. Tunnell's. Yeah, maybe it's not claustrophobia and about lifting nalmefene and everything. I think it's more the falling several miles is a burning fireball. And if you're in a gimp suit. You know, I've never had a problem. It sounds like it's just planes, then. Yeah. Do you think that's held you back? I think, yeah. You could have gone and done some more stuff. I got offered writing jobs in America that I could do because I could travel.
I tried to do it. I tried to fly over when I got offered this job and I took so much Valium, I nearly died. Did you get on the plane? Yeah. Yeah, I felt terrible. But then, of course, you've got two days of just trying to come to your senses in New York. Seriously? Yeah. And then you thinking also I have to fly back. That's in your head from the minute you land.
Oh, God, we've got to do this again. And it ruins everything.
You do realize plane trouble is the safest form of travel, right? Yeah, it's the whole it's the whole falling through the sky, an unusual angle and then blowing up, that's what pissed me off. It's the nature of how bad it can go. Would you be alright in a balloon? No, absolutely not. Who would be?
You don't care about where you fucking go. You're just going to get into a balloon. Let's see which way the wind blows.
And Zeppelin. I think you'd have to win you for the for the story, yeah, you'd have to get on an airplane. There's there's guys who specialize in curing phobias. I don't want it hear. It's a rational phobia. I don't think even you believe that. I do. I don't think of all the things that can happen on a plane. Someone could blow up, an engine can fall off. So you're not going to be going into space on one of the Elon Musk's rocket.
So I certainly hope he does.
I think he's just he's just intuiting the collective telepathic well of the planet.
Why shouldn't he fuck off? I've got a soft spot for Elon Musk only because he feels like, you know, if you like I know you like comics and superhero type stuff, and he feels like the closest thing we have in reality to a character in a Spider-Man. Comic or film? You know, it seems like the closest thing we've got to Iron Man or Bruce Wayne, but isn't that tragic? That's to me a tragic side.
You are you busy like you? Are you working much? Really busy because people know that you're just at home. So you do lots of charity gigs and you do lots of things that you're asked to do. And like even last week, some, like Instagram deemed me like the environmental charity. And I sort of didn't respond to this as really petty. And then they followed up the next week with we kind of know you're just there.
Yeah, I'm just there, OK, you know, so I've ended up doing quite a lot of things. In 2009, it came out you wrote, Walking around a Scottish city is like walking around London after an apocalyptic viral event.
I yeah, because I was always into the idea of viral events because it was called Herrod Blinn. Do you remember him? Who was the guy who did Prince's marketing? And he was an advertising guy, came up with the Pepsi Challenge and he got struck down by Emmy or something, and he couldn't move for a lot of his later life.
But he was obsessed with the idea that there was going to be a huge viral event because the way previous plagues had happened, they were carried by pigeons, rats, and they we had air travel. So I'd read all that stuff. So I always felt we were overdue for one. I've never heard of this guy. So he spent a lot of time talking about these the possibilities of a huge pandemic.
So it was sort of on your radar in a small way. Oh, absolutely. Is one of the Wynarka minor ones.
But also Noam Chomsky talks about it doesn't he kept saying we're overdue for a huge viral event. I feel like we could break it, but I don't know that we talk. We talk to anything. Is there anything you wanted to say politically? Like, I don't know that we set the world to rights as much as we could ideally have done, but perhaps that's good. But I don't think you want to be an oracle. And maybe that's part of what makes you credible is you're not getting up on a platform and telling us what to think.
No, I think if people were taking their advice from me as a primary source, I'd be quite worried.
I also have to say, running out of power, I'm on two percent here because the make goes into the old power source I had to unplug to make.
No just because I've done it. Frank, you were a real star. Thank you for giving us longer than we expected.
Thanks. No, I messed it up to you. I was finding a lot more serious than I thought, but I don't think it's good to be serious.
Absolutely. I mean, I stand by.
You've been listening to Grounded with me. Louis, through my guest, has been the thoughtful and very funny Frankie Boyle. This has been a mindless production for BBC Radio four. The program was produced remotely by Catherine Mannan and Sarah Jane Hall.
Next week, it's the turn of Oliver Stone.
But if you can't wait till then, there's always the first series to catch up on with everyone from Chris O'Dowd and Miriam Margulies to Lenny Henry and Boy George. Just search for Grounded with Louis through wherever you get your podcasts and subscribe. From BBC Radio for a new series From Intrigue May Day on November the 11th, 2019, James Le Mesurier was found dead in Istanbul. He was the British army officer who helped set up the White Helmets in Syria.
Ordinary people trained to save civilians in the aftermath of bomb attacks. The biggest heroes in an ugly world. But lots of people here in the UK say all the White Helmets videos staged part of the greatest hoax in history by.
I'm Chloe Methow, and I've spent the last year investigating the White Helmets and James Le Mesurier, who they are, who he was and why he died. Subscribe to Intrade now and BBC Sounds.
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