There's more to Black Country comic Frank Skinner than comedy and football. He talks to Shropshire Star writer Sunita Patel about his new-found passions and obessions.
There's more to Black Country comic Frank Skinner than comedy and football. He talks to Shropshire Star writer SUNITA PATEL about his new-found passions and obessions.
Frank Skinner has grand designs for a new cabaret show.
He believes laughter is the best way to beat the recession. Well, at least forget about it.
But fear not, for as entertaining as it might be to see the 51-year-old in a burlesque-style skit, he'll be sticking to stand-up.
With a little help from his showbiz pals, he plans to host what he calls "the poor man's royal variety show".
At £10-a-head, Frank Skinner's Credit Crunch Cabaret will showcase Monday nights at a theatre in London's West End starting in February.
"I guess what I am trying to do is recreate the old days in Kings Heath and Bearwood – just trying to cheer people up. It's a nice way of reminding people what comedians are for," he says.
Skinner celebrated 21 years as a stand-up comedian this month, following his first sell-out tour of the UK in 10 years to rave reviews, including three nights at Birmingham NIA where he recorded his new DVD.
The fear of making his stand-up comeback is the subject of his new book.
The avid West Bromwich Albion supporter, who rarely misses a game at The Hawthorns, was told by a fellow fan that he had been described by a morning newspaper as "the ghastly Frank Skinner".
The criticism nagged at him for weeks and was the catalyst for his decision to return to live performance.
"Without sounding cocky, I had a sense I used to be good, but whether I still was, I didn't know," he says.
"Comedy is always changing. I wasn't sure if my audience would still like it, if I would have a new audience. I didn't know if all the TV had made me a different kind of comic.
"There was a mixture of excitement and terror. It was like going on a first date with someone."
He recently caused a commotion by speaking out on the overuse of swearing in British life by celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay.
He has since been asked to make two documentaries and interviewed comic Roy Chubby Brown earlier this month in Wolverhampton on the subject.
"Sometimes swearing is very funny, but I think it is funnier when it is not surrounded by lots of other swearing. I think it is a lovely thing," he explains.
Born Chris Collins in Oldbury, Skinner is well-known for his working class background – and is proud of it.
He was raised Catholic in a council house by his parents John and Doris and attended Moat Farm Infant, St Hubert's RC and Oldbury Technical secondary school before graduating from Birmingham Polytechnic (now Birmingham City University) with a BA in English, followed by a Masters at the University of Warwick.
His central London pad means he is just a stone throw away from a variety of arts attractions.
The football-loving comedian, who spent four years as an English lecturer at Halesowen College, now spends most of his spare hours either roaming around the capital's art galleries or losing himself in the magnificant spectacles on offer at the Royal Opera House.
He always wanted to be a musician and not so long ago picked up the banjo.
His current obsessions also include learning to play the ukulele.
"Apart from going to watch West Bromwich Albion lose, I have become quite obsessed playing the ukulele. I am kind of obsessive – if I get into something, I do it properly," he says.
"I really like the art galleries and I have really gotten into opera," he continues.
"A couple of people took me along and I have gotten hooked.
"I used to think it was just a place that posh people went.
"I sit in the cheap seats in my jeans and trainers.
"I can't believe it has happened but it has. I love it," he enthuses.
There is more to Skinner than meets the eye. Does he fell the need to be taken seriously?
"I don't feel the need to. I am proud of the fact that I was born in a council house and ended up with a masters in English," he replies.
"I think there is a thing about having a Midlands accent. People make presumptions about you – that you are a bit slow or a bit thick. I like surprising them when I feel that they are making that presumption."
He recently received an honourary doctorate from Birmingham City University, so he can legally call himself Dr Skinner.
"I haven't done that yet, but I quite fancy the idea," he laughs.
He may have fallen in love with the cultural delights of the capital, but home is where the heart is.
Skinner still has a flat in Harbourne, Birmingham, and his roots remain firmly fixed in the Black Country.
"I do love London. I think that if you are going to do the job I do, you kind of need to live here," he says.
"I am still a season ticket-holder with West Bromwich Albion. I rarely miss a home game.
"My family are still up there and mates that I went to school with – so I have always got somewhere I can sleep on the sofa. It still feels like home when I go up there."
Skinner claims he only has two celebrity friends – David Baddiel with whom he shot to fame co-presenting the hit show Fantasy Football League – and fellow die-hard Baggies fan and TV presenter Adrian Chiles.
"I see Adrian a lot. He lives not too far away. Our common bond originally was the Albion, and then we just became really good mates. If I can't get to an away game, I go to the BBC and meet up with Adrian.
"The last time we got relegated I sent Adrian a text, saying, 'we don't go to the Hawthorns to watch premiership football, but West Bromwich Albion'," he continues, commenting on the club's current situation – languishing at
the bottom of the Premiership.
"I would love to be a big premiership side. If football was predictable, we wouldn't love it like we do. So I live in hope."
Asked if Chiles had confided in him about the break-up of his marriage, Skinner replies: "Well, you know, men don't really talk about about that kind of thing."
But adds: "We are going to go on holiday together in the New Year – a road trip in America – just drive around Texas and stuff. Totally his idea."
As for his own love life, Skinner is "happily" living with his girlfriend Catherine.
"I am happy. It has been going brilliantly," he says.
"We have had a slightly tempestuous relationship, but we are great."
Could marriage and children soon be on the cards then?
He replies: "Who knows. Anything is possible. Maybe if Albion stay up, we will get married."
• The DVD Frank Skinner Stand-Up and book On The Road are out now.