Comedy: Frank Skinner London Palladium

`Skinner's knack is to make you forget about the other 1,999 people and make you think you're his best mate'
You know that bloke who sits in the corner at the local pub and transfixes his audience with colourful tales about sex, lies and vomiting? Well, he was performing on Sunday night - not to a handful in the snug at the Ferret and Fist, but to 2,000 at the London Palladium. And his name was Frank Skinner.

Despite being a big enough star to have his own BBC1 series, Skinner remains defiantly down-to-earth. Indeed, his messy appearance - shirt- tails hanging out of his trousers, tousled hair - rather clashed with the dry ice, the Las Vegas set ("Frank" spelt out in 10ft-high letters against a galactic backdrop apparently borrowed from the opening titles of Star Trek) and the smart, showbizzy ambience of a venue whose very corridors are haunted by the slick shades of Tarby and Brucie and other scions of the pro-celebrity golf wing of comedy. But Skinner's great knack is to cause you to forget about the glitz and the other 1,999 people and make you think you're his best mate.

All comedians want to be liked; very few manage this successfully. At the end, some lads in Luton Town shirts at the front were chanting as though "Skinner" was the name of their football team. Even his put-downs of hecklers -"What's you name? Don't feel you have to rush. You've probably got it on a tattoo" - are done with the smile of a cuddly assassin.

The key to Skinner's appeal is his candour. By apparently taking every single person into his confidence, he makes them all feel special. If someone tells you of their bed-wetting and masturbating exploits, then you're bound to feel privileged (even if the stories may have been tickled up for public consumption.) A full recounting of Skinner's sexual preferences - laid out in glorious detail on stage - is not suitable for a family newspaper. After casually recalling, "One night I was having anal sex, right..." he interrupted himself with a laugh. "You know, that might be the first time that sentence has been said on this grand old stage."

He went on to tell tales that would probably raise more than the eyebrows of viewers who only know him as the cheeky jokesmith sparring with Bob Monkhouse on Gagtag. About the most printable was his reflection on the supposed braininess of dogs: "I don't respect the intelligence of any animal that is surprised by its own farts."

There's no reason why Skinner shouldn't go on as long as Monkhouse. His bloke-next-door image appeals to all ages. As if to confirm that, Sunday's show climaxed with Michael Aspel scuttling on stage to present Skinner with the This Is Your Life book.

JAMES RAMPTON

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