Frankie Boyle warns ‘risk averse’ TV comedy becoming ‘stale’

Comedian Frankie Boyle has criticised 'risk averse' TV comedy in the UK. Picture: Robert Perry
Comedian Frankie Boyle has criticised 'risk averse' TV comedy in the UK. Picture: Robert Perry
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Frankie Boyle has warned that television comedy in Britain has been set back decades because it is so risk averse.

The Glasgow stand-up said the industry had become “stale” due to an avoidance of alternative comedy, a culture of box-ticking and an obsession with audience figures.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Boyle suggested TV channels should be forced to meet strict quota targets to ensure their comedy programming was more diverse.

Boyle, who has been embroiled in a string of controversies over his TV appearances, also suggested there were double standards over the treatment of reality and comedy programmes, with the former subject to much more scrutiny.

He said comedy commissioners had been over-cautious since the controversy over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s prank phone calls to actor Andrew Sachs, blaming an over-emphasis on protecting TV “brands.”

Boyle, who made his name on the TV panel show Mock the Week, said: “To me it seems like television now is back in 1978. They are remaking a lot of old comedy shows and you wouldn’t know there had been alternative comedy.

“Now, most of the comedy is observational, most of the shows are variety shows and most of the sitcoms are family-friendly. I think it’s hit a bit of a stale patch.

“Ratings seem to be the main thing and critical success a bonus. When something is a bit ratings hit, like Mrs Brown’s Boys, they try to for another one of those. When something comes out and it is a critical hit they go: ‘That’s ticked that box for a while.’

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Boyle said television comedy in the UK was being held back by an attitude that only “risks that work” should be approved.

He added: “The bits that they moderate and worry about in scripts are the bits that we now call viral - the bits that people would share online and people might go: ‘I can’t believe they did that.’

“They’re sort of the bits that when you send a script to the BBC or Channel 4 they go: ‘I’m not sure about this.’

“In various jobs I’ve done I’ve found it’s all cool up to a level then there is often someone who doesn’t quite get it sticking their oar in.”

Boyle said quotas should be introduced because broadcasters had failed to improve diversity - despite talking about the issue for years.

He added: “People who don’t make television say that channels want ethnic diversity and female-led sitcoms. That doesn’t seem true to me. When they get those shows either they get rid of them or they think that box is ticked for a long time. I just think they should have quotas. They’ve proved they can’t do it.

“There should be quotas across the board and they should be forced to do it, it shouldn’t be some young black comedian’s job to make sure the BBC have representation.”

Boyle said British comedy was now lagging way behind America when it came to risky, challenging and satirical shows - and suggested the era of austerity may be to blame.

“I worry that the way British channels have moved into being like safe brands is going to stop us making challenging stuff, taking more risks or being more diverse.

“The fact we can get American stuff online allows them to go: ‘You don’t really need a satire show on the BBC. You can just watch The Daily Show or something.’ It’s kind of catered for in our culture, it’s just that we don’t make it.

“We’ve not got that much challenging stuff at the edges now. Is that because we’ve been through a financial crash?

“If we look back on this maybe we’ll think these had times for Britain.

“After that, the first thing that happened was that Michael McIntyre became the biggest comedian in the country.”

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