King of the road
Frank Skinner’s going back to his roots, compering a variety show for the modern age and writing about the journey he took to get there.
Hopefully it will be many a year before Frank Skinner is measured up for his coffin, but he is already adamant that his headstone should state clearly that in life he was a comedian.
“This might be a sad confession but that probably would be the most important thing on my grave,” says the former Perrier winner. “That’s terrible, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be ‘Warm-hearted human being’ or something like that? Not that you often hear those words along with ‘comedian,’” he adds in mock sorrow.
While Frank is the first to say that there was a brief period when he lost some of his comedy vitality, his career is currently in rude health and, despite the talk of mortality, it certainly doesn’t require the services of a headstone writer.
For most of the Nineties and a good chunk of the Noughties, Frank Skinner was Britain’s most high profile comedian. Nine series of his prime-time chat show, a best selling autobiography and various forms of his knockabout football chat with David Baddiel all meant that fun-time Frankie was as much a part of the national consciousness as The Spice Girls, Oasis and Bridget Jones’ Diary. Not that his bare-knuckle comedy would have shared too much of a demographic with fans of the latter.
Cut to this Fringe and it’s his own comic diary which is making a splash. Just about to come out in paperback, On The Road is Frank’s second chunk of autobiography. It’s a tale of how and why he decided to go back to stand-up ten years after his last live gig. Brutally honest about his successes, failures and insecurities, it charts his return to the back room comedy clubs where he originally earnt his chops and then on to the nail-gnawing build-up to his 2007 national theatre tour.
As he prepares for an Edinburgh run compering his eponymous Credit Crunch Cabaret, a show that already boasts a sold out West End run on its CV, Frank reckons that going back to your past can be a tonic for the present.
“I started out in comedy compering gigs in the West Midlands. It was massively important in my formative years as a comedian and it turned me from a hit and miss new comic into an established comic.
“My stand-up style developed through compering. A compere is not quite an act and not quite a member of the audience but he is a bit of both. I like that bridge. Doing compering made me a very talk-to-the-audience kind of comic as opposed to someone who is a bit more of a bedroom mirror comedian.”
One thing that comes through loud and clear from Frank’s book is that although he has performed comedy for over twenty years, he has never stopped torturing himself with worries about how funny he is. Ironically, worrying about whether or not the crowd will applaud is as addictive for Frank as the applause itself.
“I definitely need something to worry about,” he says while also acknowledging the buzz of having your ego stroked and listening to other people laugh. But what’s always there is the adrenaline rush of flying by the seat of your pants.
“About two to three weeks into the West End run of the Credit Crunch Cabaret, I was loving it,” he grins. “Some nights there was that white heat of comedy. You go on a completely improvised bit and it’s working and the audience are going along with it: it never feels any better than that. That is just so joyous.”
On The Road is out in paperback on 6 August. To join his mailing list visit www.frankskinnerlive.com
Frank Skinner’s Credit Crunch Cabaret, Assembly Rooms, 14-30 August (not 17) 6.50pm, 27-29 August, Midnight 0131 623 3030, from £10
Frank Skinner Charlotte Square 23 August, 9.30pm, From £7 0845 373 5888
If you like this, try Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe at Underbelly’s Hullabaloo 8-30 August (not 11, 18, 25)