I’ll be honest, walking into Middlesbrough Town Hall on Friday evening after picking up the tickets, the omens weren’t that great. We were told to read the notices, pinned to the entrance doors, which had a fairly matter-of-fact tone telling us that the show would last around 65 minutes and that people were not allowed to leave during the performance.
But finally, after getting to the seats (row Z, right at the back), the lights dimmed and on came the support act. And it was a pleasant surprise to see that it was the self-proclaimed “wobbly”, Francesca Martinez, who I’ve heard a couple of times on Radio 4 on the Now Show and News Quiz. She did about twenty minutes, and was nicely sparky with some good material and a couple of great pay-off lines which I’ll not spoil by repeating here.
After a short interval, on came the man himself. He was greeted by some unknown bloke singing at him near the front of the hall. As you might guess, the put-down (involving his mum and a dangerous dog) was pretty withering. It was also faintly appropriate to me that, part way through his set, I got the BBC News alert announcing Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation. It’s just that no one dared tell him. Which was a pity, as I think he might have had more than a bit of fun with it. As it was, there was a fair amount of material aimed at exactly those targets. However, possibly more surprising to some was some of the material touching on the nature of subjectivity and offence in comedy, and even ideas like phenomenology, which he specifically discussed during the show. Anyone who thinks that Frankie is pitching to the lowest common denominator with his material needs to do some reappraisal. Some of the tone reminded me of a nicely insightful interview he did a year or so ago with Richard Osman at the Efinburgh Television Festival.
And then, just like that, he was gone. Lights up, Frankie has left the building. A couple in front of me were lamenting that they didn’t think he had quite hit the levels of last tour. I can’t compare, but I didn’t mind, for three reasons: first, he’s funny, of that there is no doubt; second, he might offend some, but sometimes people need to be offended; third, we need comedians like Frankie Boyle, especially in times like this . Thank God we have him now.