Daily Mirror: Use of the word 'racist' was a fair opinion.
'I am completely anti-racism,' says Boyle
Comedian's lawyer tells court: 'Context is everything'
Comedian Frankie Boyle today defended his right to use words such as "n*****" when "ridiculing" racism after suing the Daily Mirror for libel damages.
Lawyers for Boyle told a High Court jury that a Daily Mirror article which started with the words "Racist comedian Frankie Boyle" was defamatory.
They said Boyle "actively campaigned" against racism and complained that the newspaper had "misunderstood" the context of the comedian's language.
But Daily Mirror publisher Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) is defending its article – published on 19 July 2011 – at a trial in London expected to last a week.
MGN lawyers said Boyle was a "racist comedian" who gratuitously exploited negative stereotypes of black people for "cheap laughs".
But Boyle's barrister David Sherborne said the comedian was ridiculing racists when telling jokes – and expressing views of people he detests.
He gave jurors an example of a joke about Britain's involvement in foreign conflicts in which Boyle answered a phone and said, "Department of N***** Bombing".
Sherborne said "context is everything" and argued that Boyle had "clearly" not used the word "n*****" gratuitously.
"We say the use of the word is clear," said Sherborne. "The defendants have misunderstood it."
He added: "Surely we have not got to the stage where we cannot use the word at all."
Sherborne said some of Boyle's humour was extremist and he told jurors that the comedian had a thick skin.
"He would not have sued the defendant if he had been called 'tasteless' and 'offensive'," said Sherborne.
"But he was not. He was called 'racist'. That is a different matter and he will explain to you why it was so upsetting."
'Absolutist, extremist humour'
Boyle told the jury that he was born in Glasgow in 1972 and said his parents were "economic migrants" from Ireland.
"I am completely anti-racism," he said. "I have never expressed in any serious point anything that has been anything but anti-racist."
Ronald Thwaites QC, for MGN, argued that Boyle was a "racist comedian" and said the newspaper would claim that its use of the word "racist" was a fair opinion.
He said Boyle used negative stereotyping of black people "usually in a sexual context".
"What he has done is to take the negative stereotype of black people and exploit that for cheap laughs gratuitously," Thwaites told jurors.
"This is not part of some intellectual cause. This is not part of some clever message."
Thwaites told jurors: "We have selected some stark examples of where he is racist in his comedy."
The jury of eight men and four women watched examples of Boyle's work on the BBC show Mock The Week and Channel 4's Tramadol Nights.
Sherborne said jurors were not being asked whether they liked Boyle's comedy but whether he was "racist".
"Some of his humour is absolutist, extremist humour," said Sherborne. "But the real question is, 'is it racist?'"
He added: "You may not like Boyle's comedy. You may find it tasteless. But that is not what you are being asked to decide."
Boyle also claims that the Daily Mirror libelled him by saying – in the same article – that he had been "forced to quit" Mock The Week after controversy over a joke he told about swimmer Rebecca Adlington.
Sherborne said Boyle had not been sacked but had left to pursue other work.
But Thwaites said the newspaper had not meant sacked when it used the term "forced to quit".
He said the reporter who wrote the article had thought Boyle had been "forced to quit" because he "couldn't stand" restrictions imposed by the BBC. Thwaites suggested that the phrase was being used as a "badge of honour".
The hearing continues today.