Comedy review: Frank: not a women's magazine

Frank Skinner Apollo, Oxford

There's a Frank Skinner in every pub in the land: chirpy, cheeky, and very, very crude. The only difference is that Skinner plays each night to several hundred people in large provincial theatres rather than to three blokes in replica football shirts hunched over a pint and a bag of dry roasted peanuts. His is "all your mates down the pub" humour writ large. He has become one of Britain's biggest comedians paradoxically by appearing to remain just like us.

His great skill is to turn every member of the audience into David Baddiel - Skinner's laddish best mate. He prefaces one intimate confession with: "I feel we know each other now; we're like family."

We experience the frisson of being allowed to enter his most secret cavern - sorry, his innuendo is infectious. Flattery gets him everywhere. "I never intended that this should be told in public," he winks at the audience at one point, "and I might yet regret it." After a particularly graphic joke about anal sex, he chides himself for embarrassing his buddies in the audience: "You know, I feel I've myself down and let you down."

Occasionally, you sense that the act is becoming a triumph of charm over content and that his sheer likeability has permitted him to get lazy; some of the banter with a rather recalcitrant front row on Tuesday night at the Oxford Apollo seemed more filler than funny.

But generally he deftly surfs the waves of warmth emanating from the auditorium. Wandering around the stage with only a microphone for company, he is one of the few comedians who can elicit laughs by simply not saying anything; at one juncture, he had the supreme confidence to try and get the audience to remain competely silent.

Dressed apparently for Cowes Week in white T-shirt and trousers and blue deck shoes, he even manages to make the most outre sexual practices sound cute. Jokes about masturbation and Manchester United are trotted out with the same easy amiability. Whenever he skates on to a potentially dangerous area - and gags about Princess Diana, chemotherapy and the disabled certainly risk doing so - he cleverly pre-empts our disapproval by asking "Is that the crackle of thin ice?"

Although he could still be cuddly for Britain, Skinner's stand-up persona is much more risque than the cosy TV presenter having a natter with Tony Blair on the sofa; 90 per cent of the live material is unbroadcastably blue. Those who think water sports involve a pair of skis and a power- boat are advised to go to the marina instead.

Frank Skinner's tour continues at Wolverhampton Civic (01902 312030) tonight and tomorrow, and Bournemouth International Centre (01202 456456) on Sat. Tour details on 0891 887766

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