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Frank Skinner in Vicar Street: ‘You don’t get these jokes from the young comics. This is a craftsman at work’

The subject matter may be light, but Skinner blows many younger, more innovative comics out of the water

Comedian Frank Skinner became a household name during the heady days of 1990s lad culture and Three Lions. Photograph: Keith Mayhew/Sopa Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Frank Skinner

Vicar Street, Dublin
★★★★☆

In a new era of touring, radio and podcasts – rather than weekly prime time TV – British comedian Frank Skinner arrives on stage at Dublin’s Vicar Street on Wednesday night downplaying his enduring success.

“I used to be f**king massive,” Skinner says, gesturing at what may or may not be an empty seat near the front.

In truth, this current tour – the enticingly-titled 30 Years of Dirt – features 40 dates across the UK and Ireland, with the majority sold-out affairs.

Now 67 years young, the West Midlands native – who became a household name during the heady days of 1990s lad culture and Three Lions – loosely frames his new show around the idea that however much he reaches for loftier artistic goals, the juvenile “knob jokes” somehow always find him.

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The former English literature scholar likens them evocatively to Catherine shouting “let me in!” at the windows in Wuthering Heights. “That’s what knob jokes are like in my life,” he laments.

It is a clever conceit that enables him to litter the show with his beloved smutty jokes, while approaching the material in a more thoughtful way in keeping with the times.

“You used to use your biggest, broadest, filthiest jokes,” Skinner says of previous tours. “Now I still feel like a kid at the fairground, but the hammer is no longer appropriate.”

He explains that the current comedic climate is more akin to that kids’ game where you’re trying not to touch the wire in case it buzzes. Yet you never get the impression that Skinner is bitter that the boundaries of taste have shifted. In fact, it seems like he’s more than happy to move with them.

“I don’t want to be one of those old guys who say, ‘You can’t say anything now.’ Because when you say that, what you’re really trying to say is you miss racism,” he says with trademark pithiness.

‘I used racist language, I was sexist, I was homophobic’: Frank Skinner on drinking, bullying and comedyOpens in new window ]

The veteran comic has a warm and effortless stage presence, borne of more than three decades’ experience playing to live audiences and thinking on his feet.

Skinner’s crowd work is magnificent, and he appears genuinely at ease as he weaves in and out of well-told stories and gags punctuated by amusing tangents and digressions on everything from Cristiano Ronaldo’s six-pack to a surreal moment with Tim Rice and DIY veterinary skills.

While a few cringeworthy puns might feel beneath his talents, Skinner points out unapologetically that he has always revelled in making people laugh with a low brow gag.

The subject matter may be light, but it is delivered with such virtuosity that the performance blows many younger and more innovative comics out of the water.

“You don’t get these jokes from the young comics. This is a craftsman at work. It’s like watching the village blacksmith,” he quips at one point.

While a couple of jokes and gags could be lame ducks if delivered by someone less masterful, Skinner’s delivery, pacing and rhythm are a cut above.

He might not be breaking the mould, but the workmanship is truly impeccable.