Frank Skinner on Beth Ditto, being Catholic, and why comedy is getting personal
The sponsors of Frank Skinner’s event may have stood him up, but plenty of Cheltenham Literature Festival goers turned up to listen to Skinner talk about why he’s not that serious.
Skinner, arriving on stage to a packed and lively audience, was introduced as a more "serious guy". The comedian, presenter and writer was quick to dismiss such a trait, asking the audience if Cheltenham really is a town full of swingers - so that settled that.
However, with his new book, Dispatches from the Sofa, a collection of his past weekly columns for the Times, some could say that Frank Skinner, once part of the ‘new lad culture’ has definitely changed. Skinner joked that it’s simply because he’s “less funny’, but recognised that he has gained a new audience that once had no time for him. In his eyes, a comic that stays the same “is dead” – Pam Ayres being one example (cue audience laughter).
Discussing how becoming a columnist for the Times came about, Skinner explained that he simply asked for it and got it. After seeing a headline about Beth Ditto, singer from the band Gossip, stating she was Sex Icon of the Year, Skinner thought that perhaps someone of her large size achieving such a title wasn’t the best message to send children. Everyone was afraid to say it - but he wasn’t. He instead wanted to write a column that questioned whether we really want young kids thinking they can eat what they like, becoming ‘sex icons’ and inevitably getting heart problems. All seriousness of child obesity aside, Skinner admitted he of course had resort to the fat joke in the article – “a little bit of cruelty does you good”. But despite his sometimes-controversial approach to comedy, he believes that “politically correct stuff can be brilliant”.
When asked about how comedy has changed, Skinner said that today we see more of the green room on stage – “modern comedy is much more personal”. Remembering how Michael Kelly once told him how he could joke about Michael Jackson in private, but would never do such a thing in public, Skinner said this wouldn’t happen now – and how that’s not a bad thing. But he draws the line with his stand up with what he thinks is okay personally – “the audience are in charge to a certain extent”.
As a well-known Roman Catholic, he admitted he was originally terrified to reveal his religious status: “in modern comedy it is has become cool to be an atheist”. Referring back to a pact him and Eddie Izzard made years ago (Izzard revealed he is a transvestite and Skinner revealed he is a Catholic), Skinner realised “audiences are more accepting of transvestites than Catholics”.
Skinner may be religious and a neighbour of the Archbishop of Canterbury (as well as John Prescott), but that doesn’t mean religious jokes aren’t lost on him. In fact, he jokes that Ant and Dec are “the sons of Lucifer” – too many things associated with the devil and them to be coincidental, apparently.