Frank Skinner

Frank Skinner

Skinner's journey to millionaire entertainer has been one of rags to riches - a story told in his 2001 autobiography.

Born Chris Collins in the West Midlands suburb of Oldbury, his destiny appeared to be a life working in one the region's many factories,

Indeed, he was expelled from school at 16 over a money-making school meal scam. As he admits: "All I did was find where they Dumped the old meal tickets and sold them on cheap to other kids. I'm not ashamed of it, it seemed like an honourable, Robin Hood kind of thing to do."

True to expectations, he moved on to the local foundry, but decided it wasn't for him. "We hammered lumps of metal into shape," he recalls. "Everyone there was deaf and had three fingers."

So he sought an escape through education - enrolling at night school for A-levels, an English degree, and finally an MA - and by making his first tentative forays into showbusiness.

"I entered a John Wayne impersonation competition at a Midlands nightclub called Samantha's," he recalled. "And I won. Mind you, the other entrant's impression consisted of getting on stage, baring his arse, and shouting 'Birmingham City: Kings of Europe.'"

He also sang in a Stones-style band called Olde English, and punk combo The Prefects.
But he says his 'Road to Damascus' moment came during a 1986 visit to the Edinburgh festival, which inspired him to begin a career as a stand-up.

It was a life-changing time. It may not fit with the image of a comic, but he also abandoned alcohol and renewed his interest in the Catholic church.

His first gig, in December 1987, was at the Birmingham Anglers' Association. "I died on my arse," he recalls.

And, as actors' union Equity had another Chris Collins on their books, the fledgling comic had to choose another name. He stole the moniker Frank Skinner from a man in his dad's pub dominoes team.

A four-year slog through the circuit, financed by a string of day jobs, led to Skinner establishing his own club in Birmingham.

And all the work paid off in 1991, back in Edinburgh, where he won the prestigious Perrier Award ahead of some seriously talented competition, including Eddie Izzard and Jack Dee.

The prize gave him some hard-earned recognition, and landed him a host of TV roles to supplement his constant live work.

It was on the stand-up circuit - at Jongleurs in Camden - that Skinner met and befriended David Baddiel who would become his flatmate and, later, collaborator.

The partnership led to the best moment of Frank's life, hearing the Three Lions anthem they co-wrote being sung by fans at Wembley.

In 1997, Skinner moved out of the Hampstead flat he shared with Baddiel since 1992 and into his own place - 100 yards down the road "I lived by myself for seven years and I quite liked it," he said. "I used to like eating baked beans out of a tin and sitting naked watching Sergeant Bilko. You can't do that if you share a flat. Other people's nakedness, unless you're in love with them, is a pretty off-putting thing."

The duo continued to work together, and in 1998 took their Unplanned show to the Edinburgh fringe.Anticipating audience cynicism about the loose idea, they set the ticket price at just £2. "People loved it," he said. The show proved such a success, that it transferred to TV and the West End.

While working with Baddiel, Skinner also developed his solo career, working on his stand-up and becoming an accomplished chat show host on BBC1 - a show that transferred to ITV when the corporation would not stump up the seven-figure sum he wanted.

In 2007, he returned to stand-up after a ten year absence, in a show that was nominated for best theatre tour in the 2008 Chortle awards.

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Frank Skinner: Showbiz

Tour review by Steve Bennett at G Live, Guildford

He was the face of the lad comics who dominated the 1990s, talking football on the telly and sex, in graphic detail, on stage. But now Frank Skinner’s 62 and he admits the libido has gone. 

And not just literally in his gently ageing body, the comedy libido is diminished, too: he’s no longer so cocky, not quite so willing to head for risqué material with a naughty, cheeky wink, not quite so desperately eager to land a big guffaw. 

This may sound negative, but it’s not; the more relaxed, discursive approach suits him. The bawdy bloke has matured into the older geezer with a thousand amusing stories, which he’ll tell at his own sweet pace. 

He jokes that his longevity means we might consider him with a mix of curiosity and grudging respect – ‘like seeing a wasp in November’, in his own memorable phrase. But he’s still got those innate stand-up skills that made him famous, only now they are combined with the quiet confidence of an elder statesman with nothing left to prove – unlike the younger generation of comedians who he scorns as ‘current’ giving he word all the jokey contempt he can muster.

Of course, the failings of the flesh are a recurrent theme, as they expose the fragility of human vanities. He makes strange noises, his shoulder slopes oddly and he’s ‘got a back’ but doesn’t know why. Combine that with hilariously told ego-shredding stories of how he likes to eat a hard-boiled egg in front of the TV, of inappropriately getting his penis out (but not in a Louis CK-y type of way) and how he might skimp on wiping his arse, and any elevation he might have had from being rich and famous – which he cheerfully acknowledges as a statement of fact – is instantly eroded.

How the world is changing so fast for him is another strand, evoking nostalgia for the strange novelty dances of his day and wondering where pubic hair went – not the most original routine, but in keeping with his persona. 

While there are lulls, Skinner is entirely at home with them, confident in the knowledge that he’s got stronger stuff to come, and that he’s already achieved an enviable career and reputation.

The tour is called Showbiz, and although any theme is very loosely applied Skinner does have some classic anecdotes to share, from putting a little tarnish on Bruce Forsyth’s avuncular legacy, revealing the backstage secrets of Stevie Nicks, and sharing the very trivial gossip that Elton John dished about Bob Dylan. He might have got a seat in that rarefied world for a while, but he resolutely remains one of us.

In that spirit, he indulges in some mild ribbing of audience members between the prepared routines, which adds to the gently chatty nature and leisurely pace of the evening.

Though he has mellowed, there are sharp punchlines amid the affable anecdotes, no less funny for their muted presentation. And he’s not lost his ear for a good double entendre, but they are presented as works of craft rather than with crass ribaldry.  

Skinner always had more depths than the hugely successful laddish persona suggested. In Showbiz he gets to engage with any number of disparate topics that pique his comedy antenna and show his flair as a witty, entertaining raconteur. 

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Published: 11 Oct 2019



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