COMEDY / Dishing the dirt: Stand-up Frank Skinner is filthy and on television. How does he get away with it? Tristan Davies reports

Four years ago Frank Skinner was teaching a class of mechanics, salesmen, pensioners and dropouts how to be funny, and frankly he had a bit of a cheek. If you detected, as I did, covering it for the Independent, a slight note of desperation in his voice as he passed on the tricks of the trade - 'If you get on to the stage quickly enough,' he told his gaping students, 'you can pick up some of the previous act's applause' - then you might have put it down to Skinner's lack of credentials. A teacher by day at a West Midlands adult education centre (and an unqualified one at that), he'd had some experience of stealing applause by moonlighting on the London comedy circuit, but little in the way of earning it. As he waved a stick at his trainee comedians, you had the distinct impression of the blind leading the blind.

Yet there he is, plugging his comedy showcase, Packing Them In, on Wogan, his video on Pebble Mill, his sitcom, Blue Heaven, on The Big Breakfast and his UK tour on The Des O'Connor Show. There he is again, pitting his wit against Paul Merton and Angus Deayton on Have I Got News For You, the hottest ticket on television for a comedian. Either Tony Slattery has affected a greasy quiff and a Brummie accent, or suddenly you can't turn on the TV without Frank Skinner popping up with his lewd banter and his ludicrous double-thumbs-up trademark.

And here he is, the returning hero, preparing to face his home-town audience at Birmingham Town Hall. OK, so you have to look pretty hard to find his poster on the box-office noticeboard, but there he is again, stuck between Chubby Brown and the CBSO, decked out like a boxer under the headline 'Comedy Heavyweight, The Guardian'. Skinner has moved out of the Mexican roadsweeper class of comedy to become a real contender. Representatives from Avalon, his promoters, fuss around him in his dressing-room; two managers, a video-cameraman, PR and several mobile phones attending to his every need. So his needs only extend to a couple of rounds of ham and tuna sandwiches and a trayful of Diet Pepsi and Perrier, but hey, Chivas Regal and red smarties went out with the dinosaurs.

Skinner has always been a pathological joke teller, but it took a while to dawn on him that he should try to make a living from it. He had been expelled from school (lunch-ticket fraud), done two years in a hot metal factory, three and a half years on the dole, retaken his O- and A-levels, passed an English degree and failed his teacher training before he told his first professional joke at the age of 25. His comic potential was realised in the pub, not the playground.

'People would go silent and wait for me to perform. One thing I used to do, if anyone had a roll with clingfilm on it, I used to take the clingfilm, dip it in beer and stuff it up my nose and pretend I'd sneezed. They'd fall about. One of the nice things about becoming a stand-up, one of the great things about becoming a stand-up, is you realise you haven't been wasting all those years you thought you'd been wasting.'

Now, to you or me, passing off snap- wrap as a trail of snot may be a few notches down the evolutionary scale of pub entertainment from crushing cans of lager against your forehead. But - little though he knew it then - Skinner had the sniff of an act here. (If you still doubt the quality of the snot gag, it has since been recorded for posterity on Packing Them In.) To cut a long story short, after watching Jasper Carrot at the 1987 Edinburgh Festival, Skinner found himself heading for a talent contest in a working men's club as The Rockabilly Charles Hawtrey. 'It was me and a whole load of fat women in chiffon singing 'Don't Cry for Me, Argentina'. The compere was called Marty Miller The Man With The Golden Voice. He told me 'You've got something, kid. I don't know what it is, but it's there. You'll come second tonight.' So I won't win, then? 'Oh, no. We've got a ringer: we always get a pro in 'cos we have to give them someone half decent.' ' Skinner came second, vowed he'd never do another working men's club, and headed for London.

Born again as Frank Skinner, the former Rockabilly Charles Hawtrey began to find his level. All around him raged the comedy of Thatcherism and political correctness. Skinner, however, decided to play to his strengths. 'I don't know anything about politics, so I don't do political material. But I find myself drawn to masturbation as a subject. I have sat down and thought, I'm not going to write any dirty jokes at all today, but four jokes down the page and I think of a really good knob joke.' His television debut in 1988, on LWT's First Exposure, earned him 131 calls of complaint, including one from Edwina Currie. Thus encouraged, he began to creep up the bill at the make-or-break comedy clubs. By 1990 he was compering his own club in Birmingham, playing Jongleurs and the Comedy Store in London and was able to give up teaching. By the time he went to the Edinburgh Festival in 1991, he had developed what turned out to be an award- winning 90-minute routine.

The Perrier Award was Skinner's passport to television. The medium that has so emasculated ballsy comics in the past has been curiously kind to a comedian who works so exclusively below the belt. Call me old-fashioned, but even in these post-PC days it's a shock to hear Skinner's post-coital pillow talk barely an hour past the watershed. 'I hate that moment when you look down and there's that pink, wrinkled condom lying there . . . especially when you weren't wearing one in the first place.'

And if you thought that was bad, you should see him live. The posters for his tour warn off the easily offended. A good night-out for the lads, it suggests, but a no-go area for families and couples. Yet, sitting to my left in Birmingham Town Hall is a middle-aged man, his wife and their teenage children; directly in front of me is a neat couple in their early forties; to their left some young double-daters. They would not look out of place at a Cliff Richard concert; surely they'd made a mistake?

Too late. Skinner skipped on to the stage. 'I went down the doctors the other day to buy a packet of suppositories. It said on the back: 'To be inserted four inches up the rectum. Keep out of the reach of children.' ' He feigns puzzlement just long enough to allow the penny to drop. 'I was doing a gig for some Alzheimer patients and I told them this joke and it went down a storm, so I thought, 'Oh sod it, I'll tell it again.' 27 times I told that joke.' Then he's off: floaters, constipation, blow jobs, and of course, lots of masturbation - who does it, why they do it, when they do it and every conceivable way they do it.

Shocked? Outraged? Disgusted? What's your problem? Just take a look around you. The family to your left are being careful not to catch each other's eye, but it's their shoulders, not their stomachs that are heaving. The man in front has his hand to his mouth, but he drops it to reveal his embarrassed grin when his wife nudges him and collapses in uncontrollable laughter. And the girl to their left has her head on her boyfriend's shoulder, dreamily smiling up at him as if sharing some secret joke.

They love this guy, with his dirty mouth, his filthy jokes and his schoolboy Brummie charm. Were they shocked? Yes. Outraged? Of course. Disgusted? Are you kidding? What do you think they pay him for? In the U-bend of British comedy, they don't come much bigger or better than Frank Skinner.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...