Comedy legend Frank Skinner, 66, is returning to standup at Edinburgh fringe -the show is called 30 Years of Dirt. This comes over 30 years after he won the Perrier Awards. He is most renowned for his TV show Fantasy Football with David Baddiel and Room 101. His poetry podcast is about to go into its 8th series. He lives with his partner, Cath Mason and their son Buzz in North London, He is also a practicing Catholic.
“I have been trying for some years, and without success, to do a clean show but I think in knob jokes, and I think you can be ashamed by that, but they are so ingrained in me.
I don’t think people want you to be talking about science or politics. I don’t think comedy has become harder since woke or PC rules, those lines have always been there. When I started out I did working mens’ clubs in Birmingham and was reprimanded intensely because I did jokes about masturbation. Then I would apologize and do three racist jokes in quick succession. So it is OK to be racist, but not talk about masturbation, When I started out in so-called alternative comedy, you couldn’t be sexist or racist, that was the big thing, but over the years I haven’t found that particularly restraining.
I don’t mind now that I am a comedy legend, on stage I talk about being a comedy elder statesman.and all the changes that have happened.
I don’t really get nervous any more. When I first started, three or four months in, I got properly and overly nervous, then I noticed it just slipped away. Now I can say that I feel different on a show day than on a no-show day, but it is pretty marginal.
I don’t struggle. I don’t do any exercise except for walking the dog and I lost weight, (one and a half stone ) just by cutting out bread. No struggle.
I am 66; I didn’t do my first stand up until I was 30, so I did start later than everyone else.
Also I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs and whatever we think about the stresses and strains of life in this business, it’s not like digging holes. Once I got into my 60’s I felt good about who I was. I always felt a 66 year old man-in-waiting.
Some people are born for youth and they sparkle and maybe they spend the rest of their life looking back and wondering where it went
I was 55 when my son Buzz was born and that does seem old for a first and only child, but I assured myself that many people of all ages had completely messed up parenthood.
For a long time into my 50’s I was tortured by the fact that if I didn’t go out of an evening I felt I was missing something really exciting and it was difficult for me to combine that with parenthood.
I think by then I’d been to all the parties, I had a kid and I was happy to. be doing that. I don’t know why, but I found it much easier to cry after having a kid. Recently I was watching a woman’s tennis awards show and I got tearful about a winner, even though she meant nothing to me and I did not even know who she was. I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing.
I called my son Buzz after Buzz Aldrin and it was a name we used for the bump, but then I liked the idea that he was a child who is going to take second place in history and didn’t have the pressure of being named Neil (as in Armstrong) who had to be first in everything. I didn’t want to put that on him.
I didn’t give up drinking and think that would be replaced by comedy or religion, it wasn’t metaphysical like that. I thought when I was drinking Sherry for breakfast it was nothing. but when I started drinking Pernot for breakfast, it was something, I returned to church when I was still drinking, so I didn’t think that one was a replacement for the other, or a release. When drinking has been your life you get through a lot of hours doing it, The time you would have spent drinking in pubs was the time you got for comedy.
I remember that I was interviewed on Parkinson’s and he asked me about drinking and the camera goes in really tight on your face. I said then, and now, that I thought drinking was brilliant and I had the best time drinking, I don’t think I replaced it as a social lubricant. My friendship group diminished very quickly after I stopped drinking and it never really recovered.
I made friends all the time when I was drinking. I know there is a theory that men stop making friends when they are 35. When I was drinking I had no suspicion of new people. I miss the white heat of joy of drinking. It’s uncomplicated joy. Watching a goal is a similar pleasure. Most of our pleasures in life are from work or love, but they’ve got an element of risk in them. I miss the adventures of drinking. I don’t mean sexual adventures, I mean going out in London and waking up in Brighton,….a different world.
I’m not sure how I got from New Lad to poetry, I think it’s about how people want to see the drinking narrative. I would never hide the fact that I was Catholic, or that I have a Masters in English Literature, but it didn’t fit with the narrative about me. Like Aristotle talked about the probable truth. If one thing dominates and there are other moments you don’t mention because that gets in the way of the narrative and what really happened. The fact that I don’t drink was always downplayed because it was in the way of the soires about me. I go to church in Hampstead and I have a Monseigneur.
It was easier to come out as an alcoholic than a Catholic.There is something quite cool about a person having a drink problem, as long as they don’t go into the bed-wetting stage. I don’t see the heroic religious person,. I think it’s the age when we were encouraged to embrace the difference in people, but I don’t think Christianity has been on that list. I did a Podcast about the religious poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. We looked at the poems Pied Beauty and the Windhover. His poetry is like having an electric tingle going through you.
When I went to couples’ counselling with Cath, the couples’ counsellor was a German intellectual. If you’re in any kind of counselling situation and you don’t want to be the brightest person in the room, the best one can hope for is a German intellectual I’ve never had any kind of counselling before and I thought, if I’m prepared to do this, it’s a show of commitment. The counsellor turned out to be a fascinating bloke and he definitely helped us – we’re still together after 22 years. We still fight, but nowhere near as much.
I’m not sure if you can have passion and harmony in a relationship at the same time. But it is my experience that it is not possible to have a relationship without conflict. I wonder about couples who say “we don’t really argue”, it makes me suspicious. One thing I’ve noticed about getting older is that I give in 98% of the time. Samuel Johnson once said that it will all seem different and less significant in 12 months. And sometimes it can be that, and sometimes it’s a couple of weeks or a couple of days, but sometimes it’s important to just move on. By nature, I’m usually much more confrontational, but I have found recently the allure of the doormat. In the first round of the World Championship of Snooker, Terry Griffiths, the Welsh snooker player, was out and was interviewed. He said “there’s a certain beauty in defeat”. He was completely nonplussed. Giving in is sometimes good for the soul.
I have proposed to Cath four times, but she didn’t want to get married. Her parents got divorced when she was seven and it hit her hard. It put her off marriage. I think there are bigger things than marriage. LIKE If one of us runs away to the West Indies, it’s definitely not a fantasy of mine, to run away, in fact I can’t imagine leaving London. I don’t have the travel bug at all. I think having a child is a bigger thing than marriage. I do think about death in planes because that’s something that happens when you have a kid. You think that you have to be there because you have responsibilities, “I can’t die today”, you think. But I don’t think anyone’s death can be avoided by not wanting it. I’ve always said I’d like to be around until he gets into university, then I can go to Las Vegas and drink myself to death – I don’t mean literally, but that would feel ‘at least my work is done’. At the moment he’s obsessed with rock music and I don’t know what he’d study at university. Hopefully he’d like to do English literature and do the rock music unofficially, but I don’t want to be passing him any direction.
I never had a death thing before, but it happened as soon as I had a kid, you think about letting him down. My parents died when they were 69 and 70, they died quite young and within 12 months of each other. My dad, in the middle of an argument, would say to my mother, to put her on the back foot: “if you die on Monday, I’ll want to die on Tuesday”. She died first. I think the biggest blow to them, both physical and mental, was after the decided to retire, they both died within five years of retirement. I’d like to die like Tommy Cooper, on stage.
My mum was filled with love all the time and my dad was my hero – probably the bigger influence on me. Because he liked music, sport and comedy and was a Catholic. But my mum – if I went into a pub and shot seven people, she’d still be visiting me in jail. It was a classic working class combo of loving mother and a dad who would come in after a fight. Once he came in with his wrist all swollen, he’d knocked a guy into a garden wall. He said it was because somebody asked him for the time and I wondered if I’d missed something. But he’s from the North East! Where, if someone asked him the time going down the mine, while he was looking for it, someone would steal his lunch.
When I became a celebrity, I didn’t have to do anything other than be someone would always come up to me and talk to me. It was like I suddenly got good looking over night – and I’m not thinking that I ever have been good looking but I liked to take advantage of that.
My mum was filled with love all the time and my dad was my hero – probably the bigger influence on me. Because he liked music, sport and comedy and was a Catholic. But my mum – if I went into a pub and shot seven people, she’d still be visiting me in jail. It was a classic working class combo of loving mother and a dad who would come in after a fight. Once he came in with his wrist all swollen, he’d knocked a guy into a garden wall. He said it was because somebody asked him for the time and I wondered if I’d missed something. But he’s from the North East! Where, if he’d asked the time going down the mine, while he was looking for it, someone would steal his lunch.
A long-term relationship is a combination of the right person and the right time. Nobody is 100% the right person, but the right time has something to do with when you think, ‘I wouldn’t mind settling down with this person’. I met Cath when she worked with my management agency, Avalon. She worked in the post room. Also at Avalon, there was then a contractual thing that members of female staff could not be involved with clients. I think this was to protect them. And also so you wouldn’t discuss how much money you made. I told her I’d take her anywhere in the world that she wanted and she said, “I’ve always fancied the Lake District”, then I knew. I still like the Lake District and we do a lot of walking holidays. . We remind each other that we can spend 24/7 together and be still talking and not stop enjoying each other’s company. That’s incredible after 22 years, that we could go on a walking holiday tomorrow and never stop talking. We did this after the couples’ counselling, instead, we spent money on the Airbnb. I think it’s all about the communication, that’s what heals a rift.
All those things that used to annoy you about dog owners, suddenly, I feel it’s you. I can sit for 10 minutes and watch the dog chase a fly and it’s better than Netflix. I like him trying to catch a fly and not catching it, because that gives me that Roadrunner feeling. The coyote in Roadrunner spent his entire life chasing something he couldn’t get. He was cuddly and focused and those are not usually words you see in the same sentence, but he was chasing, perhaps, for the perfect comedy gig”.
Frank Skinner brings his new show ’30 Years of Dirt’ to the Assembly George Square – Gordon Aikman Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Fringe from 3rd – 27th August (excl. Wednesdays) at 8:50 pm. For more info and tickets visit www.frankskinnerlive.com.
Series Eight of Frank Skinner’s Poetry Podcast is out from 2nd August.
Listen on the Absolute Radio app or wherever you get your podcasts –www.absoluteradio.co.uk