Frank Skinner is to star in Don't Start a new BBC Radio 4 comedy opposite IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson next month and as far as I'm concerned you can't have too much of this comedy great.
Sadly, it will probably take his mortal departure for Frank Skinner to get the praise he deserves. Because for some reason this King Kong of comedy is so big, he is virtually anonymous. With no palpable sense of ‘glitz’ this is a millionaire who has somehow retained his humility. He even thoughtfully got his meltdown out of the way before he made it big. He’s there, but he’s not there.
When it comes to critical assessments of comedy, Frank Skinner hardly gets a mention. Frank is one of a number of many fine artistes who, although clearly masters of their respected genres, never really seem to attract ‘fanatics’. If someone asked you what you thought about Frank Skinner the answer might possibly be favourable. You might even mentally scan through his career, shows, routines and guest appearances resulting in a possible improvement of your initial assessment. But asked to name the funniest ten people on the planet, chances are dear old Frank wouldn’t get so much as a sniff. He’d just about squeak into the top 30? But Frank deserves better than that.
Not a progressive, post-modern conceptualist, ‘Funtime Frankie’ is more of an honest slugger. He has and always will be a gagsmith. His jokes ride the edge, yes, but he doesn’t hide behind a post-modern façade. It’s him. Whereas Jimmy Carr delivers a slick, almost automaton routine with the detachment of a Thomas Pink tailor’s dummy, Skinner’s skill is engagement. Skinner is a charmer.
First off, Frank definitely benefits from having an interesting face. Comedians shouldn’t be good looking. A funny handsome guy is a loathsome beast. Skinner however, owns a Punch-doll face of nobly, askewed bones and parsnip snout topped off with a thin thatch of pathetic hair. He just looks funny. He looks like a posh scarecrow. A male witch. While Gervais is slimming down in his athletic tees, with a mush full of sculptured stubble playing court jester to a host of granola-eating friends, Frank still looks like he’s just been kicked out of a bookies. And for a man who doesn’t drink that’s no mean feat. Frank’s a rare case of a man who would look better as a statue. The eyes are amazing as they open owl-like in incredulity to ease and bewitch his audience. He creates a desire in his public to appease him with laughter. It’s comedy at its most basic and powerful.
If Skinner were a cheese, he’d be a Stilton or red Leicester. A stayer. McIntyre is Cathedral City.
The Brum accent is a boon too. Whereas Michael McIntyre somehow grates with his boarding-school baritone booming from his hairless bum-like face, Skinner has a palpable, loveable cheek. If Skinner were a cheese, he’d be a Stilton or red Leicester. A stayer. McIntyre is Cathedral City.
Multi-millionaire he may be, but Frank’s prize card is that he’s somehow still devoutly working class. The Brum accent, crap football team and a love for ukeleles, Frank even refuses to change his seven-year-old car as, just like Frank, it “still works”. He’s had proper jobs, lecturing, working in a glass factory and even an enjoyable yet brief stint smashing office furniture to bits. He still feels that someday someone will tap him on the shoulder to find out who invited him to the ‘party’. But make no mistake; his place at the table is deserved.
Fantasy Football League was a sublime piece of TV. A genuine fan of what writer Hugh Mcllvanney termed working class theatre Frank just exuded a childish glee for the game. His skits with the late Jeff Astle were touching, Phoenix From The Flames was seminal and his impersonation of Matt Le Tissier was mighty. A show so joyous and innovative Fantasy Football League launched Skinner’s propulsion into the big time. So massive was his and Baddiel’s reputation that post FFL that they could even front a live, prime-time show, with zero script and just a battered sofa by way of a set (Skinner And Baddiel Unplanned).
Skinner went on to write his own best-selling memoirs, had three number one hits, acted in sit-coms and hosted a top-notch chat show. His bread and butter – as a Perrier-Award-winning stand-up – is almost lost in the mix. Yet, still this national treasure somehow evades our attention. Shame really.
Frank’s Opinionated is on BBC2 at 10pm Friday
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