Frank Skinner

David McLaughlin celebrates Frank Skinner's return to stand-up

Can't get a handle on txt spk? Feeling lost in a world of SatNavs and Google? Frank Skinner feels your pain. See, Frank is a man struggling to come to terms with the multimedia demands of the modern age. Having recently celebrated his landmark 50th, the popular comedian is feeling the pinch of a ‘two thirds of the way through life crisis’ and harkening for a return to innocent, simpler times.

As the former chat show host capers onto the expansive, empty stage a bellowing gust of love pours from the sold out Opera House audience. Faux-surprised, he remarks, ‘That’s a very generous welcome you’ve given me, Belfast’. ‘We thought it was Paddy Kielty,’ screams one brave wag in the stalls. ‘No mate, this is the comedy night,’ volleys Skinner, and within seconds of returning to stand-up after a ten year hiatus, it’s clear he hasn’t missed a beat.

That blokey, terrace-friendly repartee is Skinner’s stock-in-trade, having earned his stripes alongside David Baddiel on the buddy banter format of late 90s TV favourite Fantasy Football League. What separated Skinner from wide-boy stereotype and made him a chart-topping, household name, however, was the dichotomy of his endearing, light entertainment-style camp.

Why just tell a joke when you can do it with a knowing nudge and a wink after all? This cheeky chappy quality gives him virtual licence to make light of nerve-touching subjects like paedophilia and the sordid details of the Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills saga; somehow getting away with it all by wrapping up his punchlines in cotton-wooled double entendres.

‘I was reading Marie Claire the other day,’ he begins one typically ribald anecdote, ‘and apparently some men suffer from clitoriphobia, which is a fear of a lady’s you know what’. Just as he says it, within a split second’s silence one poor man succumbs to an explosive, shuddering sneeze and quick as a cat, Skinner jumps on the opportunity. ‘Apparently some symptoms include violent sneezing…’ he smirks, and torrents of laughter erupt around the hall.

Tottering around the front of stage with the curious duality of boyish joie de vivre and soapboxing pseudo-diva, Skinner is so languorous and easy-going that ten minutes into the performance he has to assure the audience he hasn’t actually begun his routine yet, preferring instead to toy and tease the front rows. Truth is, such interplay is where he shines brightest.

This ease made him a star alongside Baddiel and it was where he was at his best with his guests on television. All by himself, minus a suitable comedy foil, he’s not quite as arresting. But whether he’s bemoaning the prospect of his fifties, lampooning the embarrassing intricacies of his infamously illicit sexual encounters or just doing an effeminate jig across the stage ‘like you do when you played Cowboys as a child’, he’s always likeable if not loveable.

Rounding the performance off with a banjo-led homage to the era of George Formby et al, he leaves the stage to a rousing ovation that tops his entrance; a reminder that despite the risqué material in Frank’s oeuvre, he belongs to a sadly diminishing generation of good-natured, light entertainment humourists.