Frank Skinner: ‘Not getting a laugh at your jokes still hurts’

Frank Skinner
Frank Skinner
Grimm's Fairy Tales for Young and Old. Hal Darling as The Wolf, Emily Wells as Little Red Riding Hood. Photo by Paul Inskip

REVIEW: Grimm’s Tales For Young and Old by Chichester Festival Youth Theatre

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Fatherhood and the nature of fame have been subjects that have been weighing heavily on Frank Skinner’s mind lately.

The popular comic is back with his first stand-up show in seven years – although given his regular appearances on TV, you’d be forgiven for not noticing his absence.

Entitled Man In A Suit, the show sees Frank, now 57 and recently a father for the first time, in more reflective mood.

It’s not just been the sleepless nights and the extra responsibility – it’s also seen him re-evaluating his place in the world.

But all things are relative.

He says: ‘I think there’s less of the rude stuff now. I’m not saying there’s no dirty stuff though. I used to think about sex a lot more, but the show reflects what I’m thinking about now.

‘I was always on the hunt, and now I’m not.’

Whereas his shows used to be famously filthy, full of talk of one-night stands and dubious practices, his material has changed too. But you don’t need to worry about it all being him gushing about his son.

‘I think material about parenthood can be very dull,’ he explains, ‘especially if you’re not a parent. I remember watching a Robin Williams video where the whole show was about becoming a father and as someone who didn’t have children then, I found it very tedious. It was like someone talking to you about aerodynamics.

‘I don’t think parenthood has made me any cleaner though as a person.’

But it has made him more aware of his legacy.

‘I was talking with a photographer the other day during a photoshoot who was about to have a child. He said: “Do you take your foot off the pedal?”in terms of the work, and I said if anything I care more about the work I do now, because I want this to be the work that I’m remembered for.

‘I would want my son to be proud of me, And let’s face it, it’s not going to be for my football skills.’

Frank first went back to stand-up last year – after persuading his old friend David Baddiel (the pair are pictured right in their Fantasy Football days) to take it up again, and realising how much he missed it himself.

But the process has not been entirely straight-forward. He explains: ‘It was very much work in progress. When you are doing totally new stuff, you do stuff that gets nothing, and then you get stuff that goes really well, and that’s the best feeling professionally.

‘If you ever think to yourself that it’s going well, that’s usually when it goes wrong.

‘Not getting a laugh still hurts.

‘Between those first shows and the one I’m doing now, there was lots of stuff that got changed. If I look at the first hour I did then and now, I would probably find there’s about 12 minutes that is completely different.’

He’s spoken in the past about his love of swearing, but having a Saturday morning show on Absolute Radio, as well as being the host of the BBC1’s Friday night primetime programme Room 101, he’s used to behaving himself.

‘I’m very aware of the time we’re going out and who is watching or listening. When we record Room 101 I always explain to the guests that this is a pre-watershed show and to keep it clean. Some do say something rude to get the audience on side and get a big cheer. But obviously that gets cut.’

He also enjoys how doing TV forces him to come up with new material all the time: ‘If I do a joke on Room 101, it’s probably the only time I would get to do that joke. It’s done and it’s gone, but it is nice to do fresh stuff every week.’

Frank is also highly aware of how lucky he is, and that fame has treated him well.

‘During the day time people recognise you and often don’t say anything,’ he says. ‘But after 10pm people are more relaxed and confident – I can’t imagine why,’ he laughs .

Frank is a recovering alcoholic and has been teetotal for more than 20 years.

He says: ‘I’ve been doing this now for 26 years, and I can only think of three occasions where people haven’t been good to me and it’s gone a bit difficult, which isn’t bad.

‘There was a guy who wanted a fight, He didn’t say anything, he just walked up to me and spun me around.’

‘I can’t imagine how politicians get on,’ he adds with a chuckle.

In a World Cup year, it’s impossible not to talk to Frank about football – and particularly Three Lions, the chart-topping song he recorded for Euro ’96 with his pal Baddiel and The Lightning Seeds. It has since become something of a second national anthem for England, and been rerecorded in 1998 and 2010.

But as Frank says: ‘I still like to hear it, but I wouldn’t want to release it again. We’ve millked that enough.

‘When you use the teabag for the 12th time, it’s not such a nice cup of tea.

‘I think a girls’ version could be good though, maybe we could do that.’

On home turf, it’s his beloved Baggies that he’s most associated with: ‘When it comes to West Brom, I’m always the guy.

‘I am a season ticket holder but this year I’ve missed more games than since when I first started going in 1967. It’s been a combination of parenthood and work, but I’d like to see them more often.’

One other thing Frank is also renowned for is ukulele- playing. He made a documntary about George Formby for BBC4 in 2010. He adds: ‘I am still playing the ukulele every day, I’m not doing it in the show, but I quite enjoy tampering with it, so it might be at some point.’

Frank Skinner will be at Portsmouth Guildhall on Thursday, May 8. Tickets cost £27.50 and are available from portsmouthguildhall.org.uk or by calling 0844 847 2362 . Doors open at 7.30pm.