Ipswich Regent bound comedian Frank Skinner interviewed

Frank Skinner brings his Man in a Suit tour to Ipswich this month

Frank Skinner brings his Man in a Suit tour to Ipswich this month - Credit: Archant

Frank Skinner talks to entertainment writer Wayne Savage about enjoying tea and biscuits with an alien mummy, working up the courage to portrait paint and his latest stand-up tour

Frank Skinner as Perkins with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor in Mummy on the Orient Express

Frank Skinner as Perkins with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor in Mummy on the Orient Express - Credit: BBC/Adrian Rogers

We’re meant to be talking about Skinner’s new stand-up tour Man in a Suit, which has just had its run extended. We spend most of our time talking about his recent guest spot in Doctor Who’s Mummy on the Orient Express.

“I was nervous but as it’s got closer excitement has completely overtaken.. Because I’m not a trained actor I was obviously wondering if I’d be up to scratch. In the end being in it is more important than being good in it,” laughs the self-confessed Whovian, who played engineer Perkins.

“When you’re in it, because you love it so much, you’re worried about letting the side down; that put a bit of extra pressure on but I’ve never been as excited about any professional thing, including the football song (Three Lions).”

It wasn’t the first time Skinner had stepped on to the Tardis though.

“I was doing a gig in Cardiff, tour manager and support act went to the Doctor Who Experience. They let us go through on our own, so there are just three blokes alone in the Tardis with the Daleks and all that coming at you and my tour manager said to me ‘this is as close as we’ll ever get to being in Doctor Who’. I knew I’d got the part in the show but hadn’t told them and still didn’t, so that’s brilliant.”

Technically, it’s not his first time appearing in Who, having a part in the The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot spoof.

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“It was really a good laugh because Peter Davison was directing it. If I’m around any ex Doctor I’m pretty excited to be honest. He sent me an e-mail which ended Peter Davison in brackets Doctor number five,” he laughs, “in case I’d forgotten saying ‘come along and do it’.”

Turning up to shoot Mummy on the Orient Express was top secret. Skinner remembers driving towards a brick wall that suddenly slid open to reveal the studio area.

“I went into make-up and Peter Capaldi comes in, in costume, takes me by the hand and just says ‘let me show you something’. We go down these corridors, up some stairs and suddenly I’m in the Tardis, just completely blown away.”

The secrecy surrounding the show is legendary.

“They’re not that good at it, the first five scripts were on the internet weeks before it came out,” laughs Skinner, coming to the Ipswich Regent November 6.

“When they write to you, you have to sign an agreement to say you won’t Tweet or tell anyone about it. I found all that quite exciting.”

Fandom has been split by the current series but he says you can only judge it so much when you’re actually in it, adding if you’ve got a good monster you’re with a shout.

“The mummy.. I ended up drinking tea and eating biscuits with him in costume, but he looked scary when he came on set and then when they put him in this train corridor and the lights went down and stuff. I felt properly frightened even though I knew the bloke in there so it’s good to have a scary monster,” says the comedian, who has a picture on his desk in front of him with Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman.

“I saw a screening of the Christmas special at the British Film Institute. After you can have your photo taken and they put you in a scene with them so you look like you’re part of the publicity for it. I was really chuffed with that so actually being in it,” he laughs.

Skinner returns to our screens on Tuesday for the new series of Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist Of The Year. Loving the idea of painting himself, he hoped co-hosting the show would encourage him to pick up a brush but it hasn’t happened yet.

“If you take this tour, there’s a point where you sit down - when I write stand-up, for some reason I write free hand on a pad with a pencil or pen - that you look at the blank page and think ‘oh God’. When I watch these guys paint they start off with that blank canvas and that first splat of white paint I think takes enormous courage. I haven’t yet found the courage to get a lovely pristine white canvas and start spoiling it.

“It’s a psychological thing, it’s like jumping off the cliff and I just haven’t found the guts to do it.”

“If you speak to the artists, they don’t have any choice; they have to paint. If they didn’t I suppose they’d all have breakdowns. I feel that about doing comedy as a stand-up or telly, whatever. It’s where your fear fits in. I don’t find it a frightening prospect walking out in front of a few thousand people whereas if I go to the swimming baths as soon as I smell the chlorine my heart starts thumping.

“We’ve all got our own little areas where we feel okay. Mine just happens to be one where most people would think it was harrowing. Public speaking is in the top three of those big fears right up there with death and stuff like that.”

Skinner started trying out material for Man in a Suit last April and is still messing about with it now. In the old days, when he got to a point where it all worked he’d just leave it alone but he’s enjoying adding bits and keeping it growing organically.

“I’m enjoying doing it. I’ve done it more than 100 times and haven’t got bored of it at all I think because I’m still messing about.”

It’s his first one-man show since 2007 and the theme, of sorts, is about a dirty comic trying to get a bit of credibility. What you have to decide as an audience is how much of it is genuine and how much of it is ironic.

“I haven’t completely decided myself. In talking about my attempts to move away from being a laddish knob joke kind of comic to becoming a more sophisticated comic I do end up doing quite a lot of filthy material in the way of illustration. The show actually started relatively clean, but as I’ve toured it around it’s like it’s picked up dirt. (I’m) rolling a big ball around the nation, as it goes it picks up more and more filth I think,” he laughs.

Now 57, Skinner feels more relaxed on stage than ever; not that he ever felt anything else.

“People have been saying to me ‘blimey you really do look completely and utterly at home’. I wonder if it’s age,” he laughs. “I wonder if it’s I’ve become less and less aware of my surroundings so it doesn’t matter where I am... I’m basically being led from city to town to city.

“There’s a bit in that film with Bill Murray, Lost in Translation, where Scarlett Johansson asks what’s it like getting older and he says it’s pretty awful, but there is one thing - you feel a bit more at home in your own skin. Maybe that’s true of being a stand-up comedian, you grow more and more into it. I’ve never been a bloke who’s really suffered with nerves so I thought I was already at that level, but it’s only when you feel even more relaxed that you think you can get this laidback.”

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