Frank Skinner: Dirty stuff does get more laughs
Don't blame Frank Skinner for the naughty wisecracks, it's the saucy audiences that you need to have a word with, he tells Keeley Bolger
Over the years, Frank Skinner has had some seriously strange meetings with fans.
For starters, there was the time when a woman asked him to sign her breasts for Wally. Wally as in "her dad", Skinner clarifies with a wry smile; an "odd encounter".
Then there was the time he met a woman outside a gig who told him, "This is the second time I've been to one of your gigs".
"She said, 'The first time I came was about 25 years ago and I was in my mother's belly'," Skinner continues. "Being a comedian with all the strange hang-ups that brings, I had two big questions - why have you only seen me once since then, and when you were in your mother's womb, was there any sense of how that gig went? You know, any muffled laughter?"
Most recently, there was a "fairly unique" request when a fan asked him to scribble his signature on a copy of the New Testament.
"I have no hand in the writing of the Bible," he says, smiling.
It's a common stereotype that comedians can be humourless figures in real life, but 57-year-old Skinner says he is "happy to sign anything" for fans and makes for easygoing company, frequently breaking into laughter and gently ribbing my clumsily-worded questions.
He did, however, recently tell a little white lie - when a cabby mistook him for Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em character Frank Spencer. "I hadn't the heart to disillusion him," says the funnyman, who was born Graham Christopher Collins and brought up in the West Midlands. "So when he said, 'Are you still in touch with the lady who plays Betty?', I just said, 'Oh you know, we still do the occasional show but we're not really friends'."
Talking of shows, Man In A Suit, Skinner's current nationwide stand-up tour, is nearing the end of its extended run.
The father-of-one (he has a two-year-old son, Buzz, with girlfriend Cathy Mason) is clearly in demand, but he admits he had reservations about performing in big arenas, not least because they leave him "too far away" from the audience.
"I'll do big theatres but not 'big big'," he says. "But obviously the subtext of this is I don't know if I can fill big arenas," he adds with a laugh.
"I did a five week London run and I could have filled [London's] The 02 with that whole run. Everyone would say it would have been a lot easier if all those people had come on the same night, but I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much. Because I was in a 400-seater, it felt great, and it felt like stand-up."
He admits to having a comical moment of doubt recently on stage. As a rule, Skinner never drinks water while performing. "I mean, in my everyday life, I wouldn't dream of drinking mid anecdote," he reasons - and it's true, there is no sipping while he chats away.
So, during a gig, after revealing his dislike for comedians who reach for their water bottles during routines ("It's become a cool thing to have ..."), later on, he waded into a spot of trouble.
"I had a throat thing, so about an hour later, I had a drink of water, something I never do," he recalls. "I'd forgotten that I'd been talking about this whole thing, and I didn't know why they were booing, so I immediately reached for my flies. I thought somehow my genitals had become visible, and the reaction was to 'boo' them as if, 'Yeah I saw that Frank Skinner, he's a good comic but his genitals are very unpopular'."
Regardless of the worries about his nether regions, poetry fan Skinner is at ease on stage, saying his current tour feels "beautiful".
"The gigs have just felt like I walk out and talk to some people. I always felt like a very chilled performer, but I'm moving towards being comatose. I just don't feel any different from being on and off."
Off stage, Skinner, who lives in London, has many projects on the go. There's the second series of Sky Arts 1 series Portrait Artist Of The Year, his weekend Absolute Radio slot, and he's said to be presenting another helping of long-running BBC One show Room 101.
"Funnily enough, I saw Lily Allen recently and she said, 'Why don't you ask me to be on Room 101?' I think she'd be great, because people who are honest about their opinions are obviously perfect for Room 101. I'm definitely going to try and get her on the next series if there is one," he says.
While pop star Allen might be eager to let off some steam on air, sci-fi fan Skinner saw his own dreams set in motion recently, when he popped up in an episode of Doctor Who as train engineer Perkins.
"Doing Doctor Who probably was my bucket list," says the teetotaller. "I basically started dropping hints, and then moved onto out-and-out begging to get that part," he adds proudly.
With his one and only bucket list item ticked off, Skinner seems content as he reflects on his life on stage.
"I think it's very hard to get around the fact that, generally speaking, audiences laugh more at dirty stuff than they do clean stuff," he says, grinning.
"I wish that wasn't the case in many ways, but I think every stand-up show is a negotiation. 'Here's some stuff I want to do, and here's some stuff I know you want me to do - let's see if we can do a deal'.
"The audience always wins, of course."
Extra-time: comedians with stage names
• Roy Chubby Brown - The stand-up comic's real moniker, Royston Vasey, was used by The League Of Gentlemen to name the fictional Yorkshire village in their series.
• Johnny Vegas - The husky-voiced star of Benidorm was actually born Michael Joseph Pennington.
• Harry Hill - Before Harry took to screens to dissect the week's telly, he was a doctor and known as Matthew Keith Hall.
• Jenny Eclair - The comedienne's real name is Jenny Clare Hargreaves.
• Lee Mack - The star of Not Going Out started out in life as Lee Gordon McKillop.
Man In A Suit is released on DVD on Monday, December 1. Portrait Artist Of The Year continues on Sky Arts 1 on Tuesdays