Frankie Boyle greets me with a smile and hug in the foyer of One Aldwych hotel. He holds the door open as we enter the lift. When we reach the room for the interview he politely asks me what I’d like to drink, orders coffee with full fat milk – ‘let’s go crazy!’ – then cozies himself in an armchair.
There are no pointy digs or distasteful remarks, it’s just Frankie, speaking politely, plainly, and being very funny – occasionally twisting and tugging at his formidable beard – which now resembles a burning bush. His voice is quiet – just a notch above a whisper, and I’m a little discombobulated by this gentle kindness because the Daily Rags would have me believe he’s some kind of evil word-wizard with a tongue that could slice bacon; but in person he’s really more of a ginger Dumbledore.
On-stage, he’s not for everybody. To watch one of Frankie’s gigs is to see freedom of speech at its most extreme. He rebels against convention and societal ‘rules’ of acceptability. He’s crude, rude, he swears, and he goes to the most forbidden places to find his material. Here is a man that dares to talk about the British ‘untouchables’ in a way that the media, and some of the polarized public believe is in scandalously bad taste. No-one has escaped the wrath of Frankie – politicians, celebrities, sportsmen, pedophiles, the catholic church and Royals in particular – have all fueled his furnace: ‘I’m just trying to be funny!’ he shrugs, laughing like a siren.
But millions of people in the UK who watch the shows of black-hearted Frankie find it to be a hilarious and freeing experience. They love his brutally honest comedy and the damning way in which it’s delivered. They attend his sold out gigs, watch his DVDs and read his bestsellers, welcoming his refreshing stance as one who makes jokes about typically forbidden territory that’s normally only sniggered about in the pub behind a cupped hand.
Frankie will joke about whatever or whomever he likes because he is primarily driven by an advocacy of free speech – that it should be truly free without constraint or judgment and not determined by mainstream media: ‘It can’t just be at nuclear crisis point, or at climatic crisis point where you’re allowed to say anything! People need to throw off the shackles of conformity and what’s acceptable because they are living on a dying rock.’
He explains that his jokes are a proposition, a way to provoke thought: ‘If I tell a joke, it’s not my position on something, it’s just a way of discussing serious things, and saying ‘what about this, what about that’ under camouflage.’ In this controversial regard, I can’t help but compare him to Morrissey. Both are language provocateurs that use shock tactics to slam home a point; whether it’s the abuse of animals – or in Frankie’s case – the hypocrisy of the British press.
I met him the day before his last gig ever – a gig for Comic Relief about addiction hosted by Russell Brand – where Frankie’s final five minutes of damnation were due to be delivered: ‘I’m going to implode – really badly.’