Frank Skinner Live at The Towngate Theatre, Basildon - 13th Sept 2007.
I will confess, as a comedian, I have always liked Frank Skinner. Having caught glimpses of him without his stage persona on (the South Bank Show special and in parts, his autobiography), I'm not totally convinced he's quite the likeable, happy-go-lucky Brummie that he trys to portray. Indeed, a small slice of tonight’s show seems to catch him with his guard down and confirm these thoughts, but more on that later.
I go back a long way with Frank (real name Chris Collins), and will always have a soft spot for him. He used to be one of the resident comperes at my local comedy club (The Joker) back in the late 1980s/early 1990s (the other resident compere at that time was Lee Evans -- not a bad night out for a fiver!). Frank really got involved with the Southend crowd and there were running gags with certain hecklers that spanned dozens of shows. We saw them all come and go at The Joker, but Frank was one of the acts you always knew would make it. To be honest it was a double edged sword, you wanted him to get on because he deserved it, but in a more selfish kind of way, you wanted him to remain undiscovered, so he could stay at the Joker forever!
By the mid-90s he was doing regular large-scale tours on his own, but these ended abruptly after the 1997 tour (which played over 100 dates and ended with a 6000 seater sell out show at Battersea Power Station). I remember the 1997 tour well -- I went to the first or second night and it was the day after Princess Diana died. If you can remember back to the mood of what seemed like the whole country at that point, it must have been a daunting start for Skinner "I always like to start my comedy tours when the country is in national mourning" were his first words..
So live performances went by the wayside at the first opportunity. Unlike some stand-ups who seem to live to perform live (Ross Noble is a good example), Frank always seemed to be using his comedy act as a route into other avenues. Personally I have always felt that he was a frustrated singer, he never misses a trick, and tries to shoehorn in a song whenever possible (despite that awful nasal whine of his!). So as soon as TV came knocking, his live act became redundant.
So why after 10 years is he back on the road? I'm sure the official answer will be "missing the excitement of a live audience" or "giving my creativity of chance to blossom and write new material", however my guess is, the TV work has dried up a little, and there is a pension fund that could do with a top up.
Indeed it is his aging years that turn up as a reference time and time again throughout tonight’s show. Frank has always seemed one of those people desperate not to grow old, however at 50 he’s looking like he may finally have come to terms with the fact he’s not 20 anymore – he seems comfortable with himself and has even allowed his hair to go grey. If however if you are expecting a more ‘grown up’, age conscious Frank Skinner to deliver more insightful and thought-provoking comedy, you'd be disappointed. This is Skinner as he has always been; rude, crude, outrageous at times, non PC…. oh, and very funny!
His stand-up persona has always been a little at odds with his material, his 'cheeky chappie', mainstream delivery to me, harks back to people like Tarbuck or even Brucey. Yet the content (as was always the case) can be extremely close to the knuckle and uncomfortable at times. Many site Ricky Gervais as the new-age comedian who has instigated the return of the non PC stand up routine (albeit in an ironic way). Yet Skinner has been the master of this all along -- and his new material on display today will make you wince and squirm every bit as much as it ever did.
It was all here tonight -- Paedophilia ("when I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, kids used to run everywhere, they'd never walk. We had paedophiles around in those days, but they could never catch us. Now today with all this childhood obesity….."), his discovery and love of granny porn, having 'one night stand' sex with a fan only for her two-year-old daughter to walk in during the act, Muslims, disability, and indeed, Muslims with disability, as Abu Hamza also came in for the Skinner treatment ("having two hook hands would be too much to bare for many people, but fortunately, he likes corn on the cob"). Like Gervais, it's all about the delivery -- and they both seem to be able to get away with murder by the way they load and fire the gag. You can't take it seriously (although it was interesting to note a number of empty seats in the second half, so maybe some DID) and the irony of it can't fail to hit you in the face - something that was/is missing from a lot of the old school 70s comedians (the Bernard Mannings, Jimmy Jones’ and Jim Davidson's of this world), where the delivery just seemed to confirm they truly believed the bile they spat.
Over two hours of new material flew by, but it was the closing segment that seemed to just peel back a layer or two. Skinner was explaining what an insecure boyfriend he makes, manically fussing over the non-arrival of text messages and then when they do arrive, panicking that the affirmation of love is not clear or strong enough ("no fucking kiss at the end"). As he continued, it was interesting to note that the ever present cheeky grin of Skinner's had gone, and for the first time there seemed to be a genuine look of anguish on his face. His delivery had also changed, from the upbeat 'laff-a-minute' style, to an intense, uncomfortable, tearing at the soul, as though he were confessing to a counsellor rather than an audience. The sketch went on perhaps a little too long (but then tonight’s show is one of the first of the tour, and no doubt some fine tuning is still to take place), and was not particularly funny, but it was certainly very interesting, and I felt there was perhaps more truth in this segment than any of his previous material, and the portrayal of an insecure, manically obsessed, loveless 50 year old may have been closer than he'd like to admit.
Had he finished on that note, I think the audience may have walked out looking a bit bemused, but fortunately he was back for a quick encore, and yes you guessed it…it was a bloody song!
So on the whole, a strong return to the stand-up scene. His material has not particularly matured, but perhaps he finally has?
Details of the tour and ticket availability (not many by the looks of things!) can be found here:-