Frank Skinner is one of the biggest names in British comedy. In September he returned to his Black Country roots to receive an honorary degree from the University of Wolverhampton in recognition of his contribution to comedy, particularly stand-up.
Trying to keep a classroom full of noisy children or teenagers enthused may not seem the obvious launch-pad for a successful career in stand-up comedy. But for Frank Skinner, school was the perfect place to debut his material – both as a child and an adult.
“I loved school – too much probably. At school I was already working as a stand-up comedian,” he says.
Frank is a great believer in the importance of education, and describes gaining his own degree in English from Birmingham Polytechnic as the “biggest change” in his life. So returning to a higher education setting to receive an Honorary degree from the University of Wolverhampton was both an honour and familiar territory for Frank. At the graduation ceremony this September, he told students and their families that education had opened up a whole new world of possibilities for him.
“I am a big fan of education. It really changed my life getting a degree – for the first time in my life I felt like I had achieved something special.”
Life could have taken a very different direction for the comedian, who left school and worked in a factory before realising it wasn’t the path for him.
“Growing up in Oldbury and Smethwick, I thought my destiny was to leave school and work in a factory until I died, but education opened up another life a lot more than being on telly did.
“It was the biggest change in my life – even more than the fame thing. I really felt my head expand.”
He admits he first read a book when he was 21, but went on to develop a real love of literature, including the poetry of Wordsworth, Tennyson and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Frank has gone on to become an author himself, publishing his first book, Frank Skinner, which became the top selling entertainment autobiography of 2002, and his latest book Frank Skinner On The Road, winner of a Richard and Judy Book Club Award.
After also studying a Masters degree in English at the University of Warwick, he became a lecturer in English at Halesowen College, whilst also doing stand-up comedy as a side-line.
But he remembers again using the classroom as a platform for his comedy too.
“As a teacher I was a pretty good stand-up comedian – at the end of the day, it was an audience. I am a great admirer of teachers – it is an amazing job. To get through to someone as a teacher is incredible,” he says.
After four years as a teacher, he left to become a comedian full-time, and the rest, as they say, is history. He performed his first stand-up gig in December 1987 and four years later went on to win the prestigious Perrier Award. During the mid 90s Frank sold-out two massive UK tours. He also established himself as a leading name in television entertainment, going on to star in a succession of hit comedy shows, including Fantasy Football, The Frank Skinner Show, and Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned at the Edinburgh Festival.
His prolific career has also seen him attain three number one hits with the football anthem ‘Three Lions’, alongside David Baddiel and The Lightning Seeds and star in the hit West End show Art in 1999. Frank returned to live standup in 2007 and his third tour sold-out 69 dates across the UK.
Frank Skinner’s Credit Crunch Cabaret resumed its West End residency, for its third extension, on October 12 and Frank Skinner – The Ultimate Collection will be released this autumn on DVD. His latest book, Frank Skinner On The Road, explores his stand-up comeback; from how an act is put together to the terrors and joys of trying to make a live audience laugh night after night and the nature of comedy itself.
At the graduation ceremony, Frank presented a comedy award to two drama students from the University’s School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure who are launching their own career in comedy. The double act, Sami and Tilly, gained genuine stand-up experience while studying at the University, and Frank recognises the value of being able to test material in friendly surroundings.
He says: “You cannot teach comedy, but you can teach funny people to be stand-up comedians. There are a lot of funny people who start off doing it and it can be pretty horrible and not everybody gets through it. But a course like the one here gives them a chance to get the horrible stuff out of the way in the company of friends.”
Frank described receiving the honorary award as “a great honour” and wearing his red and gold gown and black cap after filling Wolverhampton Grand Theatre with laughter as he collected his award, Frank is still singing the praises of gaining a higher education degree.
“Doing a degree made me a human being. It gave me an analytical mind and I don’t think I would have found comedy as easy if I had not done that degree. The actual skills I had gained applied to all sorts of other things in my life.”
For more information on all Frank’s projects visit: www.frankskinnerlive.com