Andy Welch talks to the comedian whose book Frank Skinner On The Road: Love, Stand-up Comedy And The Queen Of The Night is published by Century.
Frank Skinner wants to play a game.
Before our interview, he asked for a selection of questions to be sent over so he could muse on the answers. It’s not an uncommon request, and, after reading his recent book On The Road, complete with honest accounts of his professional paranoia, it makes total sense.
The only thing is, there’s been a slight mix up and the questions he’s been thinking about aren’t the ones I’m going to ask.
“Why don’t I just read out the answers I’ve prepared, and you can guess the questions?” he says enthusiastically. It’ll be like interview Jeopardy.”
He chuckles to himself and we crack on with the interview I had planned.
About an hour later, it’s difficult to comprehend why he wanted a heads up about what was in store; he’s affable, honest and, as you might expect from such a gifted comic, naturally hilarious. Frank might just be the perfect interviewee, no subject is out-of-bounds, no answer glib or cliched.
On Thursday November 20, Frank will appear as a guest team captain on BBC Two’s long-running comedy music quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks.
Nothing out of the ordinary, you might think, but during his career the 51-year-old hasn’t had the best of relationships with panel shows.
“I said no to all of them for years, then I did the Big Fat Anniversary Quiz on Channel 4, which I hated,” he says, adding that he hardly got one laugh on the show while the other guests, including Peep Show’s David Mitchell and The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade, “went down a storm”.
“Then I did a special Question Of Sport for Sport Aid, which I also hated. I realised my problem is that when I’m on a panel quiz, I’m so competitive that I don’t do any jokes and I’m just desperate to win.”
Frank also took part in a panel quiz for Sport Relief. This time, he was happy with his performance, but unfortunately channel bosses decided not to air the programme thanks to presence of Jade Goody.
“It got pulled after the whole ‘racist’ thing,” he says. I’m a bit of a jinx like that; there was that thing with Jade Goody, and then the other week I was supposed to be on Jonathan Ross’ chat show, and he obviously did what he did so we didn’t film the show. I’m the kiss of death.”
Once upon a time, Frank had his own hugely successful chat show. Did the Beeb not think of asking him to stand in while Ross is suspended?
“Another chat show in that time slot would be disrespectful to Jonathan’s memory,” he says, laughing. “It’d be like getting a new Queen Mother after the Queen Mum died.”
Frank’s increase in recent TV activity is down to the release of his new DVD and aforementioned tour diary On The Road, which mark his return to the field in which he made his name.
After beating Jack Dee and Eddie Izzard to the prestigious Perrier Award at the 1991 Edinburgh Festival, Frank, born Christopher Graham Collins, carved out a reputation as one of the country’s sharpest stand-ups.
As he mentions in the book, he was dubbed “A comedian for the Loaded generation” by a Channel 4 countdown of the best comedians ever. Frank came 26th in the list and while he deeply resents the tag it’s hard to argue with its validity. To many, he embodied 90s ‘laddism’.
While he was at the top of the stand-up game, Frank hung up his microphone to concentrate on his TV career. It began with Fantasy Football League with his best friend David Baddiel, then came Frank’s own chat show, as well as Baddiel And Skinner Unplanned and a sitcom, Shane. The TV work then dried up.
“I wasn’t bothered, really, I mean I was from an ego point of view, but I’ve been doing other things, and I don’t really separate work out like that,” he continues. In the last few weeks, I’ve done Have I Got News For You, Graham Norton’s show, a show in Northern Ireland, and The One Show, so I’m starting to get the urge again, it’s whet my appetite.”
Television might have to wait, though.
In 2006, Frank decided to come out of retirement to do a tour of the UK. To prepare for this, to get match-fit after a decade on the sidelines, he did some warm-up gigs in small comedy clubs, and then a residency at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival.
His book, On The Road charts every up and down from his decision to return to live comedy, to his triumphant shows at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena - the results of which can be seen on his new DVD.
At once hilarious and candid, it reads more like it was written as much for his own amusement as anyone else’s.
He says the experience was cathartic, and much easier and more enjoyable than writing his 2001 autobiography. The result is an excited Frank Skinner, who promises to go on tour again either late on in 2009 or early 2010.