Right up until Frankie Boyle arrives I’m bracing myself for a no-show. He’s already cancelled the interview three times: the first following his mysterious illness on the set of BBC Two’s Mock The Week last month, the second citing exhaustion, and thirdly, just a few days ago, because of a throat infection which left him unable to talk. Yet here he is at last, the light dancing off his goofy black-rimmed glasses, sporting a bushy beard which befits his slightly shambolic appearance.

In fact – drum roll – Boyle is early, as he has just abandoned another magazine photoshoot in disgust. “A bit of crossed wires,” in his words. The comedian shakes his head incredulously. “They were trying to get me to do this really terrible photo idea,” he says in soft Glasgow tones that are the polar opposite of his aggressive on-screen persona. “I was meant to be a medieval warrior with a falcon” – he pauses to pour himself a glass of water and pop a couple of paracetamol – “and I thought, ‘Great’, because I love birds and it would be great to see a falcon in the shoot. Then they appeared with this really horrible stuffed, dead bird.

“They wanted me to wear a f***ing kilt. It was like a shitey Halloween Braveheart costume. I said to the guy: ‘I’m not going to do this …’” He breaks off into machine-gun laughter. “The guy was really angry but I was like: ‘Hang on a minute, you are trying to take the piss.’ I left immediately.”

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It’s been a tumultuous few weeks for Boyle. The 37-year-old was taken to hospital last month after complaining of chest pains on the set of the satirical comedy show, Mock The Week. At the time Boyle’s agent denied he had suffered a heart attack, prompting speculation about the comedian’s physical and mental health. Following his hospital dash, Boyle pulled out of a publicity tour to promote his colourfully titled autobiography, My Shit Life So Far, blaming extreme exhaustion. Only days later it was announced he planned to quit his role on Mock The Week, where he has been a regular since 2005.

“I died – well, at least according to Wikipedia,” jokes Boyle, after the online internet encyclopedia reported he had passed away. “I think that’s pretty cool. It’s a proper Richard Pryor rumour, an Elvis rumour: it’s great. The thing that happened on Mock The Week, I was just knackered. When I went to the hospital the doctor said I’d had too much coffee, basically. I was knackered in general.

“There was this f***ing ambulance there [at the BBC studio] for a stunt on Blue Peter, so I spoke to the paramedic and he said, ‘C’mon in.’ I was saying to my pal that I wanted to be airlifted out on a stretcher, you know, like in M*A*S*H.” Boyle cheerily hums the theme tune to himself.

Now Boyle has been floored by a severe throat infection which has left him unable to talk for two days. “Have you ever had strep throat? It’s really terrible. It’s like a throat infection squared. I’ve eaten nothing but yoghurt for three days,” he says. Describing his bout of exhaustion as a “wake-up call”, Boyle is resolving to take life easier. “I have spent the last three weeks swimming and sitting in a sauna listening to lower-league footballers discuss betting patterns,” he says. “To be honest, it’s been fascinating. Did I get any good tips? No, they seemed to lose heavily all the time.”

On stage and screen Boyle seems to spew venom by rote, his mouth curled into a perpetual sneer. In person he is infallibly polite, whip-smart and gregarious. There’s even the hint of a smile on his lips. Quizzed on his motivation for writing an autobiography, he quips: “Money and settling scores,” before adding: “Seriously, though, I don’t have grudges with anyone.” Although I’m sure the US-born Scottish comedian Jerry Sadowitz would beg to differ (more of that in a moment).

Boyle’s autobiography offers a colourful snapshot of his life to date; two parts anecdote, one part acerbic observation. The middle of three children – his father was a labourer and mother a nursery-school dinner lady – Boyle grew up in Pollokshaws, Glasgow, which he describes as “an aching cement void, a slap in the face to childhood”. Among his earliest memories is the frigid cold of the family home, the only heating in the living room a three-bar gas fire that went on for the Six O’Clock News.

He recalls huge chunks of his childhood with vivid clarity, whether it be his fear of nuclear war (“Every time I heard a plane go overhead I was convinced we were all about to disappear in a ball of incendiary light”) or the hours spent peering through his elder brother’s telescope at the neighbours (“One of my favourites was this woman who’d do really high-powered eighties aerobics and then put a coat on and go outside on to the balcony and smoke fags for ages”).

“Pollokshaws in general was a lot like Blade Runner without the special effects,” he writes. “Turning one way from our house, high rises towered over freezing little sixties prefabs. The other way, the road must have been one of the bleakest in Europe. It had a yard filled with building materials that was eternally locked up, a tiny office building the size of a large van and a milk factory. All facing a giant used-car lot.” He adds: “Most tower blocks in the seventies were so depressing they should have put a diving board on the roof.”

So did he enjoy any part of growing up against this backdrop? “Naw,” says Boyle, before breaking off into a staccato burst of laughter. “It was terrible. I quite enjoyed primary school. It was a real haven, as was nursery school.” And secondary school? “It was horrible, really terrible,” he says. “Although there must have been people who had far worse experiences than I had.”

Beyond religion

Brought up a Catholic, religion featured prominently during Boyle’s early years and formative education, although he says he hasn’t been to church since he was 14. “I’m beyond atheism now, I’m in some different f***ing place,” he says. Boyle condemns the Catholic school system which he went through. “Taking little kids in and telling them there is a magic guy in the sky with a beard? There’s a f***ing creepy death obsession about all of that,” he says. “This dying man who rose again. Kids of five should be out playing in the sand. It horrifies me.”

His teenage self, says Boyle, was “driven by horniness”. In his autobiography he recalls the eternal search for decent porn – unlike youngsters today, he notes, who can access illicit material at the click of a mouse. “I hid my porn under a rabbit hutch – until it was stolen. I think by my dad, although I’ve never been able to prove that.”

He is, it seems, warming to the topic. “My porn habit is a bit like having malaria. It’s not a huge problem but every few months I lose a couple of days to it,” writes Boyle. He gives a little shrug. “That’s pretty accurate although, to be fair, it’s calmed down over the past few years, maybe because I’ve seen almost everything. Think of it like Marco Polo going round the world, what he might have seen in the imperial harems of China would have been the greatest exposure to that – now you can see it all in a day. We can see stuff that would have shocked f***ing Genghis Khan.”

During his late teens Boyle underwent group therapy for depression. Or did he? “I don’t really think it was depression,” he says. “In terms of depression being a chemical illness, I don’t think I had that – in fact, quite the opposite. I’m strangely optimistic usually.” So does this mean he’s a positive person, then? Boyle looks thoughtful. “That’s quite a conundrum. If you wanted my opinion about almost any noun it would be quite negative, yet at the same time I’m always ridiculously optimistic. I remember this famous comic telling me he did NLP [neuro-linguistic programming] which is about positive visualisation, like imagining doing a gig and it being brilliant or your journey home being totally untroubled. It’s exactly like how I think all the time anyway.”

Does he consider himself quite well adjusted? “Naw. I can’t be, can I? What am I adjusted to? Horror. Comics, probably. And death. I started reading some stuff about Buddhism, that whole mindfulness of death. It’s just there, with me, all the f***ing time now.” Is it true he’s a perfectionist: that, no matter how well he performs, always thinks he could do better? “I could definitely do better,” says Boyle, grinning. “But that comes from imperfection, not perfectionism. If people pay their money, I want to do it properly.”

When I ask him about the notion of self-destruction, though, it seems to touch a raw nerve. We go back and forth with Boyle not really understanding the purpose of the question. “You could destroy my career by saying something like that,” he says. “I don’t understand how me being venomous is self-destructive.” Perhaps, I venture, people view his sharp and biting brand of humour as a sign that he’s not a very happy person. “But I’m not being venomous about myself,” he counters. “I’m venomous about, usually, politicians.” He laughs softly, lightening the mood again. “I can see that as destructive – I would like to destroy those people.”

Thanks to his morbid sense of humour, Boyle has been dubbed “the dark heart of Mock The Week” by its host, Dara O’Briain. While the BBC’s official line is that Boyle has left to pursue other projects, the comedian believes he has gone as far as he could with the show. “I have done 60-something episodes now. That’s enough,” he says. He also hints at creative differences with the show’s producers. “I wanted to move on from episode one,” he says. “I write a lot and I feel I’m writing great stuff, then this year they didn’t really want me to do the stand-up thing. That’s fine, but I want to do this great stuff somewhere. If that’s live or has to be in a different environment, that’s cool. I don’t have to be doing panel shows all the time.”

Boyle is due to film a pilot episode of an eponymous show for Channel 4 in December, produced by RDF Scotland. “It’s me doing some stand-up, which will hopefully be a bit more like my live DVD,” he says. “I’ll also be doing some sketches with Jim Muir, who is Reverend Obadiah Steppenwolf III for any Scottish comedy trainspotters, and Tom Stade, who is a comedian maniac. It won’t be a panel-type show. There will be no frills about it.”

He remains philosophical about whether or not the pilot will be picked up as a series. “Loads of people want to get a show on Channel 4,” he says. “We’ll give it our best shot.”

Complaints

Boyle hit the headlines again last week when the BBC Trust, in its first ruling since announcing a crackdown on cruel comedy, ruled that a comment Boyle made about Olympic gold medal-winning British swimmer Rebecca Adlington on Mock The Week in August 2008 was “humiliating” and “offensive”.

A separate ruling saw the trust dismiss complaints about another episode in which Boyle made a sexual reference to the Queen, concluding that the joke was “in bad taste” but was broadcast long after the watershed and was “within audience expectations for the show”. Boyle says he feels “almost less than nothing” about the rulings and has no regrets about either comment.

“I think political correctness is something which got inflated slightly as a political thing for privileged people to push against,” he says. “These things move in fashions. Sometimes you get a break on that fashion, which is great, but you can’t really dictate it. Also it’s the economy. People like cheerier, less challenging things when they are worried about how they’re going to pay the bills.”

Boyle has made jokes about disabled people, paedophilia, incest, rape and terrorism, but by the same token views racism and homophobia as no-go areas. “I don’t make jokes about disabled people that are offensive to disabled people,” he clarifies. “Most jokes have victims but I don’t think any of my stuff is done with any real malice, apart from the stuff that is towards people I feel malevolent about, like f***ing politicians, bankers, racists and the world’s c***s.” I mishear his last comment. “C***s,” repeats Boyle with a flourish.

So what has Boyle done to annoy Jerry Sadowitz? The stand-up recently announced he would be calling his tour I’d Happily Punch Frankie Boyle In The Face, in a nod to Boyle’s own upcoming tour I’d Happily Punch Every One Of You In The Face.

Boyle has been the topic of vicious tirades by Sadowitz in the past, with some comedy fans making less than glowing comparisons between the pair and dismissing Boyle online as a “Jerry Sadowitz impersonator”. “It’s me being more successful than him,” says Boyle, looking duly unfazed. Have they ever been friends? Boyle shrugs. “I’ve never seen him, never seen his act.”

What about other high-profile enemies? “Yeah, I’ve got a beef with Jay-Z,” he deadpans. “Do you know the rapper The Game? I’ve got a beef with him too.” How did that come about? “It didn’t really,” says Boyle, grinning. “I’d like to have some proper beefs, though – people with guns, to keep me on my toes.”

In My Shit Life So Far, Boyle lays bare his battle with alcoholism and drug abuse, the former leading to the collapse of his first marriage. “Luckily, because of the drink, I have very few memories of whoever that was,” he says joking. He was 27 when he stopped drinking and kicked drugs (he dabbled in cannabis, ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms) six years ago, although he insists there was no watershed moment. “You don’t really have those turning points,” he says. “I don’t believe in alcoholism and how it’s presented. I don’t believe in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous]. I don’t believe I’m a recovering alcoholic – I’m someone who used to drink. AA comes from a religious movement and that whole thing of ‘I’m always burdened with this’ and the original sin idea. It’s not like that for me. Drinking was just something that happened.”

As a father of two, what advice would Boyle give his own children (a son aged two and daughter aged five) with regards to drugs and alcohol? There’s a long pause. “I don’t know,” he says finally. “I would have to get more of an idea of what they are like as they get older because I think it’s very much down to what the individual person can handle. Let’s not think about them on drugs yet.”

Outside the comic fraternity

He is, understandably, protective of his children and asks that their names not be mentioned. Likewise, when asked about his current partner, the mother of his son, he shifts uncomfortably in his seat, his brow furrowing and his eyes taking on a steely glint. “I don’t really fancy talking about my family,” he says. “I don’t mind talking about kids in general but …” He trails off, returns again. “I don’t understand that whole idea of [he adopts a shrill American accent, waving his arms around] ‘Here are my kids, here’s my house, wanna find me? Here I am.’ I just think it’s madness when people do that.”

He is less reticent when it comes to talking about his fellow comedians. In the book he writes: “I’ve never felt any sense of kinship with other comedians; they’ve always seemed too needy.” Is that perhaps true of comics as a breed? “I have some friends who are comedians but not many,” he says. “I tend to be quite outside the whole thing. I wouldn’t go and see someone’s show or hang out with some comics. They try to replace the things they don’t have with comedy.” Such as their parent’s approval? “Their parent’s love, more than approval. I think people who need approval tend to go into more structured things such as becoming producers and agents.”

Boyle says comedy has a “stupid, young man’s game side to it”, and refers to comedians in general as “social retards”. He nods animatedly. “There’s a real sexual edge to it as well,” he says. “They are travelling about, not really adept at making conversation, trying to hit on people at the disco at the end of Jongleurs and bin raking. Comedians are sexual bin rakers.”

He laughs at the notion of comedy being a good way to get sex. “I’m an old man now with a family. It’s not really a concern.” Not even in his younger days? “No, never. Comedy is a terrible way to meet women. It’s certainly a way to start talking to them, but they always have preconceptions about you. The fact my act was all about murder and getting paralytic probably didn’t help.”

Next March Boyle will embark on a UK tour, although those who want to catch him in action had better get in fast. Asked where he sees himself in 10 years he says: “Very much retired, knocking about Glasgow and largely forgotten. I’m looking forward to it. I’m starting to wind down right now. This is the last tour. After that I’d like to do some telly stuff, something that has some quality to it. If I can’t do that, I’ll just stop, try something else.”

My Shit Life So Far is published by HarperCollins, priced £18.99. Frankie Boyle will be signing copies at Waterstone’s, 13-14 Princes Street, Edinburgh, at 5.30pm on November 18 and Borders, Buchanan Street, Glasgow at 6pm on November 19.