Boyle vs. Sadowitz: the mechanics of sick comedy

November 23, 2011 Categories: Culture & Review by No comments yet

Enigmatic comedian Jerry Sadowitz may appear to be more depraved than TV joker Frankie Boyle but in his own monstrous way, Sadowitz is less offensive, argues Dom Downes









I start here with a simple argument: Jerry Sadowitz is great, Frankie Boyle is shit.

This may need some explaining. Jerry Sadowitz, for those who don’t know, is a Scottish comedian, known for his sick jokes involving horrific tragedies, casual sexism, racism and generally all round offensive material. Frankie Boyle is that guy off Mock the Week. But even though Sadowitz’s material is more depraved, he’s actually less offensive in a real sense than Frankie Boyle.

‘You could be forgiven for thinking Sadowitz doesn’t exist’

Jerry Sadowitz is a weird, weird man. There are no videos of him on YouTube because he insists they be taken down immediately and if it wasn’t for the high esteem fellow stand-ups hold him in, you could be forgiven for thinking that he doesn’t exist. Various interviews make him appear a lonely manic depressive, with a huge self-pitying streak, constantly going on about how other comedians have stolen his jokes and his act. He hates Frankie Boyle the most. When Boyle launched his tour “I Would Happily Punch Every One of You in the Face” Sadowitz satirically announced his own tour, playing at all the same venues and dates entitled “I Would Happily Punch Frankie Boyle in the Face”. Anti-Boyle rants appear sporadically on his website, often taken down pretty quickly.  There is a reason a lot of other comedians like him however and it’s because he has some genuinely funny jokes. They target the most benign of characters, from Jill Dando to Nelson Mandela and incorporate ‘admissions’ of rape and hideous racism, apparently much worse than whatever Frankie Boyle comes out with on Mock the Week or Tramadol Nights, in terms of offensiveness anyway, but much better in terms of construction, delivery and meaning.

‘Sadowitz flits between saying incredibly callous things about the dead, to doing breath-taking magic tricks’

An important thing to note about Sadowitz is that he’s one of the best sleight of hand magicians in the country. Occasionally he’ll just launch a pure magic tour, with no jokes. Even when he does a normal comedy set, he’ll often bring a lot of props and aids and such. This gives his whole stand-up a surreal edge, as it flits between a man saying incredibly callous things about the dead, to him doing breath-taking magic tricks. This mood of dissonance makes him seem crazier, yet somehow less dangerous.

Frankie Boyle just does stand-up regularly. I don’t know if you’ve seen Boyle’s set in full, and I’m not going to go through a line-by-line critique, but I will say there’s a limit to how many jokes can end with: “I saw tragedy X. (SPOILER ALERT) I masturbated over it”.

Sadowitz lives up to the hype of being a “misanthrope” and “equal opportunities offender”. For instance, his last tour included a long, deeply racist rant about Muslims, which got the Daily Express types cheering, before immediately diverting into a 15 minute spiel about how he hates British Troops and wants to see them all dead.  He’s managed to achieve that long fabled goal: alienate everyone in the room.

To Boyle, being an “equal opportunities offender” means picking on Pakistanis and gay people.

‘Boyle tries to have it both ways, pretending to be sick and out of control, while still living on license payer’s money’

But there’s something more here.  When you watch Boyle, he’s a rich man in a suit, living in London, doing gags to irony-drunk students, office workers and well-heeled young advertising executives.  He tries to have it both ways by pretending to be sick and out of control, while still living on license payer’s money. Sadowitz is a crazy homeless lookalike who shouts and screams invective at literally everything. He seems more of an outsider figure, who screams at a world he is powerless to change, while Boyle just seems callous and smug. In this way, comedy is one of the most context sensitive art forms that there is. If Sadowitz was more successful, or rich, or on the telly, his jokes would seem a lot worse. In comedy, it’s not really about the joke but the teller, or what we take the teller to be. Sadowitz is pitiful, which is why you end up liking him more.

‘Giving voice to dark thoughts’

Sadowitz is more thought provoking than most other performers. People latch onto the racist and sexist jokes, and accuse him of being racist and sexist, but what about the rape jokes? I’ve heard him on stage saying off-handedly that he was a rapist, but people do not seem to accuse him of that, (or at least not as much). Why not? Sadowitz is forcing people to re-evaluate their value systems.  He deliberately comes across as a monster, not just a bully, giving voice to the dark thoughts in everyone’s heads, and aiming them at angles, until eventually, one of his jokes is going to be about you and your beliefs. Stewart Lee said of Jerry Sadowitz: ‘There’s a part in every show of his where a little piece of me dies and I think, I wish I’d never heard that.’ He’s fearless in a tangible way, and that’s why he’s so good.

‘Old jokes and soft targets’

Boyle does none of these things. He claims to be more left wing than Chomsky, while still doing corporate gigs, and eschewing ever making political jokes, possibly out of a fear of alienating his undoubtedly more conservative audience. It all just seems like posturing, old jokes about soft targets, like D- list celebrities or poor people. It’s like a watered down version of Sadowitz, with none of the wit or catharsis.  To best capture the feeling, have a piss then stop, and try to hold in the stream. It fucking kills. And that’s what listening to Frankie Boyle is like.


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