I like Frank Skinner.
I like him because he reminds me of the 90s, that more innocent time when Tony Blair was popular, the use of combat trousers were being revolutionised by the All Saints and curtains were considered to be a perfectly acceptable haircut. (I should know, I had a lovely pair myself.)
Skinner’s contribution to that Age of Innocence was co-writing, with David Baddiel and the Lightning Seeds, the song Three Lions in which they propagated the fictional idea that England could win at football. No less significantly, he pioneered an entirely new art form: that of Witty Banter, whereby men in their 20s and 30 sit and talk (either behind desks or on a sofa) in an unscripted, hilarious way about things they know nothing about.
Considering the above, Frank Skinner’s cultural significance in a fin de siecle context is absolutely secure.
But, trouble is, he’s still alive and kicking in 2013, at the age of 55. The TV work has dried up, and he’s got a baby at home, which means he needs to get out of the house more often. Hence, this return to stand-up at the Soho Theatre ahead of a full UK tour later in the year.
Right from the off it it was clear that the dichotomy of being rich, famous and comfortable, while having a stand-up act which relies heavily on him being an ordinary, honest bloke from the West Midlands, was weighing heavily upon him.
In the first fumbling minutes of the show, he confessed to all of this in a manner as awkward and nervous as a teenager on a first date (it’s no surprise that the only person he built a bit of rapport with was a 16-year-old who had come along with his mum because he liked Three Lions).
Some of his ‘topical’ jokes were as bad as anything I have ever heard, and poorly delivered as well. One about racehorses involved in the horsemeat scandal – “One minute they were under starter’s orders, the next they were being ordered as a starter” – was terrible, and made worse by him effectively giving the punchline away in the build-up. A bit rusty, shall we say.
The gig picked up in the second half when he started to swear a bit and talk about oral sex. He also raised an important moral question: If Shakin’ Stevens developed Parkinson’s would it still be okay to call him Shakin’? As a leading moral poet – known formally as a moraletrist – I was delighted that he consulted me on this matter.
My answer was clear: Yes. Because it is factually accurate.
I wanted to explore the matter in more detail, and share with him some moral questions I have successfully wrestled with over the years (such as: is it right to call a spade a spade if that spade is indeed a spade?), but he needed to get on sprinkling comedy gold about.
It is true that this show didn’t really have a beginning, or an end, or much of a middle. But Skinner shouldn’t worry, because I have developed a three-step plan to help him out.
1. Forget the topical material. You’re out of touch, Frank, and you know it.
2. Talk about the olden days: the 90s, the Spice Girls and their opposite numbers, the Spice Boys. Those days were good and people, particularly young people who were in push-chairs at the time, should be constantly reminded about them. Three Lions was a great song, despite what it sounds like.
3. Be realistic. You won’t win any comedy prizes with this show but, with a well-organised defence and a touch of luck, you might get a quarter-final spot. Which, as Sven Goran-Eriksson taught us, is still a very good result, given the available raw materials.