Friday, 10 December 2010

Frank Skinner & Barry Norman

Wow. What an event. A sell out success this month with the whole of Brighton (or so it seemed) turning up to Komedia to see our all-star line-up of media personality extraordinaire Barry Norman and none other than record breaking comedian Frank Skinner. If for some crazy reason you couldn’t make it to the event, read on and find out more about the critic and the comic...

Frank incensed and mirth

Frank Skinner at The Space, BrightonFrank Skinner is, without question, one of the most recognisable comedians the UK has to offer. Walking on stage in cosy oversized leather coat and scarf, he admits that he’s not quite sure why he thought it best to enter into conversation in so many layers. Stripping off his winter warmers, it’s not long before he’s acclimatised to Briggy’s presenting warmth. In true Space-style, we start seeing him expose some surprising insights, including multi-tasking musical talents, why he’s happy England didn’t win the World Cup bid and what makes the teetotal comedian really, really peeved.

When Frank first dipped his toe into the comedy gene pool in 1987, he tried his sneeze-based material out on the unsuspecting audiences of Birmingham and London. So unsuspecting in fact, he once played to an audience of zero; there wasn’t even tumbleweed for the added ghostly sound effect.

Juxtapose a flash forward over twenty years later through his exceptionally extensive career, and you’d be forgiven to feel like you’ve bumped into a humorously placed lamppost, what with the staggering expanse of entertainment industry based awards, accolades and nominations you can hold to his name. A mere few include a Guinness World Record for Britain’s Biggest Solo Comedy Performance, a Platinum Disc for his chartbusting football anthem ‘Three Lions’ with the Lightning Seeds (who could forget? I can’t stand football but can happily hum the tune on request), then there’s the one for his No.1 bestselling autobiography and another for his Sony Award nominated World Cup podcasts. Oh and lest we forget, his Rear of the Year win in ’98, too. As I watched him effortlessly induce yet more ripples of laughter from the audience with his naturally flowing wit and perfectly executed expletives, I wondered if there’s anything Frank can’t turn his hand to.

It becomes evident the Frank we see in front of us tonight is one shaped from many years of flat out hard graft and a ‘can-do’ dogma, but what also emerges is a lifelong craving to learn: “Everyone should be having lessons in something at every point in their life, like salsa or ice-skating, for me now it’s the ukulele. I really believe in testing your brain. It’s like complete infatuation.” A refreshingly encouraging notion to hear from a man who you could easily allow to stop everything, sit back, put his feet up, and still be very much considered as accomplished. Frank has just finished work on a documentary on George Formby and has come out the other side with a classic example of what his positive attitude can cultivate; ukulele playing: “I love the ukulele. I rarely go more than an hour without playing. When I’m making a cup of tea, I’ll just pick it up and have a go”.

Sell-out stand-up tours and worldly pundit skills aside, football is the other vehicle that has transported him onto our small screens over the past years, often seen with best friend David Baddiel on Fantasy Football League. With the World Cup bid recently lost to Qatar, Briggy quizzed Frank on whether he was upset England was knocked out of the running. Surprisingly, he reacted against all of the bids: “Packable stadiums that can be given to 3rd World countries? It’s like science fiction”. It’s the neoteric and candid quips like this that has always kept that place for Frank in my heart as a rare celebrity figure with base. He says what he thinks (resulting in the occasional predicament with the press) and fronts up any side-effects (when inevitably taken out of context) with conviction. Perhaps it can be put down to years spent honing his people skills? After all, his stand-alone nine-series strong ‘The Frank Skinner Show’ gave him plenty of characters to deal with. You can still find YouTube clips of him talking religion with Britney Spears, to a teasing interview with Charlie Kray, which he just about survived, and performing a Sinatra duet with Robert Downey Jnr. Or maybe it’s the combination of that cheeky grin and Northern charm that keeps him in the limelight. Relaxed, personable and a humble transcendentalist, he’s proven to the nation that he’s funny.  What next for the multi-faceted Mr Skinner? An Oscar, Poet Laureate, or a Nobel Peace Prize? I wouldn’t expect anything less of this British rough diamond, quite frankly. Just don’t go ruining his mood with this unusual bugbear; “Babies who are dressed in bibs with the days of the week – I f**ing hate a baby wearing the wrong day.”

Under the watchful gaze of The Space audience, Frank realised that this month sees him into his 23rd anniversary of his first ever comedy gig, December 1987. Congratulations Frank, three cheers to many more successful years of making people belly laugh.

Check out Frank in the next series of Opinionated returning in Spring 2011 and his George Formby documentary coming soon to BBC 4.

Mr. Writer

Barry Norman at The Space, BrightonFilm critic and bon vivant journalist, Barry Norman let us in on his secrets to a life-long career in print, spanning five decades and, most intriguing of all, his recently found fame for being a pickling pioneer...

“I’ve earnt my living by writing since I left school. Luckily people like what I write”. Film 72 was a key moment for his broadcasting career for Barry. He openly admits he never sought to be on TV. The raison d’ĂȘtre for the film series was that the presenters would change after short term contracts. Initially contracted for 3 weeks, Barry ended up initially staying for 9. “I was told that Film was looking for a new face and they asked me to do a screen test as they thought my face wouldn’t scare the audience too much. My first guest was (actor and Director) Peter Bogdanovich. I was so new to it that I spoke to him for over an hour for what was to be 10 minutes of air time.” Far from scaring us all, Barry, silver hair groomed back, legs crossed and looking dapper in his dark suit on stage, used his early days on screen wisely. Of all the guests he met, he told us, “I made a point of not being a mate to anyone. I made a decision that most of what we see on TV is rubbish and one day it was going to come when I had to tell them (the guest) so. So I made a point of not getting that close.”

Having a famous father (Leslie Norman, producer  of ‘The Cruel Sea’ and director of ‘Dunkirk’) stood him in good stead for making a career of scrutinising anyone and everyone standing under the harsh glare of the Hollywood spotlight. Barry was used to having famous people come to visit his home from a very early age, as he alighted various golden Hollywood anecdotes to a chorus of awe-like noises from The Space audience. As a result of this, he admitted to never being star struck as he saw them as “working stiffs like anybody else”.

When asked if he had ever been disappointed by guests: “Never, because I was never expecting much. They’re (actors) not rocket scientists. I enjoyed talking most to writers and directors – Spielberg, Scorsese, William Goldman, for example. They have a much wider outlook on life. Actors are more insular, their focus is on what effects their career. They (actors) always keep you waiting, out of what I guess was a sense of insecurity. I never had a problem with it, as I still got the interview”. Then one day he was scheduled to meet Michelle Pfeiffer: “We turned up early. Not expecting to see her for a while, yet I felt a tap on my shoulder and there she was, early AND unescorted.  Back then they only used one camera (for interviews). We had to sit close together – having your legs brush up against Michelle Pfeiffer – well it’s not a bad way to earn a living.”

Life for Barry wasn’t all about being filmed sat down in the interviewers chair from the waistline up. Watched by half the country’s population, Barry statistically came to his peak performance when he surprisingly agreed to a rum old song and dance sketch on hit comedy sketch show Morecambe and Wise. “I’ve never been more famous in my life. If the best ask you to do something, you don’t quibble about it. It was a wonderful experience, it really was.”

Being a journalist through and through when newspapers were “stringent to keep to the facts” (a far cry to what they are today) also helped to build Barry into the stand-up ‘say it like it is’ writer. On writing for his first script for Film 72 he asked himself; “What am I going to be? Who am I going to be? First of all I had to be myself; tell the truth. People reading must believe what I am saying. Say it like you believe it. That’s the wonderful thing about being an artist – it’s so subjective.”

When asked for tips on critical writing from an audience member trying to break into the field, he had a simple pearl of wisdom to provide: “Be as informative as possible. Also if you can make people smile while they are reading, you have their attention”.

Barry’s career has seen him work for the likes of the Daily Mail, The Guardian and Radio Times. A couple of books under his belt, a Spitting Image character befitting his similitude and various TV programmes, added to the equation makes Barry Norman a perfectly preserved cult TV personality, just as I’d hoped him to be. So naturally, the next obvious step in his career path is pickling. Yes, you heard me right, pickling. Onions, to be precise: “It was like St. Paul on the way to Damascus; an epiphany. They’ve been on the market for a few years... I’ve always made my own.” And why not?

Want to try some of Barry’s punchy pickled onions? www.pickleodeon.co.uk

A huge thank you to Frank and Barry and to everyone who attended the event – we hope you all had a fantastic time. Please check out our events page on The Space’s website for more amazing events. www.thespace.uk.com
Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
Geek Girl, Updated at: 22:22