sat 02/03/2024

Frank Skinner: 30 Years of Dirt, Gielgud Theatre review - a mature master of class-A smut | reviews, news & interviews

Frank Skinner: 30 Years of Dirt, Gielgud Theatre review - a mature master of class-A smut

Frank Skinner: 30 Years of Dirt, Gielgud Theatre review - a mature master of class-A smut

Has Skinner's act got less dirty over the years, or audiences more so?

Frank Skinner: a gleeful, big-smile, brows-raised look that draws you in while signalling potential mayhemAvalon

As the man himself says, he was awarded an MBE last year, despite the dirt, for services to comedy – though which services weren’t specified… On paper that isn’t a remotely risqué remark, but Skinner can milk innuendo from anything that comes out of his mouth.

His new West End set, road-tested in Edinburgh last year, raises an interesting question, though: has his act got less dirty over the years, or audiences more so? 

My memory of past Skinner sets is of a man revelling in stories that would have made the mainstream entertainment censors twitch before he arrived in the early 1990s, but which were still standard fare in old clubland, and approaching normal for the new breed of stand-up joints. Standard anywhere except television. Skinner was often his own anti-hero in these stories, a lad on the pull apparently more intrigued by the absurdity of sex than by the joy of it. Now 67, partnered up for 23 years, he sometimes nudges into club-comic territory with hints that he is hen-pecked, not given his rightful share of oral sex, and gets a cheap laugh about his relationship out of the betting-ads warning, “When the fun stops, stop.” He regrets that he no longer looks good in shorts (did he ever?) and has the obligatory ageing-comedian-does-documentary career to mine now.

This older Skinner seems more apologetic about his smutty stuff, though it’s not a wholly sincere genuflection. As he says, explosively, after an apparent apology for using the C-word: “Then again, if you’re vegan, don’t go to the fucking butchers!” I’d say this perception of his audience's woker tendencies was disingenuous anyway: he knows people have come for the smut. 

Which we duly get, involving mermaids/cunnilingus, puppy-abusing, Keir Starmer’s blow-jobs, Ronaldo’s six-pack, Kim Jong Un’s penis… Skinner tries to persuade us he would love to do a clean show, but the rudery keeps tapping at his window, like the ghost of Catherine Linton in Wuthering Heights. It's class-A dirt.

What is treasurable about all his material, though, is the physicality with which he projects it. The investiture set-piece is a slow-build classic, where he lopes into the medal room, as instructed by a solemn functionary, in a ludicrous slow, casual walk, speculating on why Michael McIntyre will never get a gong, then moves on to another royal anecdote, this time involving William and Kate. The exit line to his encounter with the Princess of Wales is a belter. 

Perhaps his finest bit of mime is not in the section he has designated for it, which is okay though not a lot more. It’s a story involving his childhood pet, a Staffie with swollen anal glands that needed milking (he’s not making this bit up, it’s a recognised condition). The look he recreates on his dog’s face as he goes in for a squeeze is priceless. 

Skinner’s own face is a key part of his appeal: a gleeful, big-smile, brows-raised look that draws you in while signalling potential mayhem. The voice too is a precision tool. This set includes items about his older brother, in a hilarious exchange when Skinner rang to tell him he’d won the Perrier Award. The Smethwick accents rev up here into a potent weapon. More please.

He has lost none of his quicksilver reflexes for mucking about with the audience, either, getting good-natured mileage on press night out of a male gay couple in the front row. In case anybody was on edge about where his teasing would go, early on he told the salutary tale of an elderly stand-in priest at his church who tried to back out of a racist remark in his sermon with an equally damaging one that created equal opportunity racism. Skinner puts himself firmly on the side of the people shaking their heads at this blunder. He also, slightly surprisingly, acknowledges the sensitivities of anti-vaxxers.

So, yes, Skinner is clearly mindful of the lines in the sand. But you would have to be a humourless churl to be offended by his material. Am I alone in finding “dirt” a significant word-choice for his show’s subtitle? Somehow it seems less outrageous than “filth” or “smut”, which come with all manner of seaside-postcard associations. Skinner’s “dirt" is the kind of borderline iffy stuff that now works well among old mates at the pub. 

Not all of it lands well – there are a couple of un-smutty, cheesy one-liners he just about gets away with – but there are also brilliant quasi-traditional jokes, with long set-ups and clever punchlines (the cats rescued by the police and the Nostradamus sections are standouts in this category) that put me in mind of vintage Billy Connolly.

What really works, with even the most innocuous material, is his timing and the mischievous nuance in the voice. He tries to say he is the Hello Fresh comic who simply supplies the ingredients, we do the rest, but this isn’t true at all. He’s still the chef, gleefully stirring the pot. (His section on the chef Tom Kerridge is first-class, too.) Only a man of his experience could fashion a routine around the price of Valentine’s Day roses that had people howling by its close. He may suggest he's a memento mori, like the skulls kept in medieval households as a constant reminder of Death, but nah: he’s still that scurrilous cheeky chappie you want to hang out with. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He acknowledges sensitivities may be heightened now, but he knows people have come for the smut

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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