Random House, £18.99
You can draw your own conclusions about the state of the modern autobiography that on the front cover of Frank Skinner’s fascinating follow-up to his earlier, imaginatively entitled ‘Frank Skinner’, it needs to be pointed out that he actually wrote the book himself. That much was clear to anyone who read his earlier book, which was a raw, often very funny, and unusual autobiography that Skinner refers to more than once in this new book as almost like some kind of cleansing exercise.
Volume two, entitled ‘On The Road’, is, at first glance, the story of Skinner’s long-awaited return to stand-up last year, tracking back as early as the trial gigs, and going full-on into the tour itself. That said, as with the first book, it takes some unpredictable turns, as Skinner also takes some time to discuss his love of art, his religion, and his feelings on love. It’s certainly fair to say that you don’t get quite the book that you expect.
Dealing with the comedy segments first, these are at their best in the earlier stages of the book, up to and including Skinner’s gigs at the Edinburgh Festival in advance of his tour. His mix of spontaneity and science is fascinating, as he talks about how he measures what material makes his shows, and what doesn’t. Sometimes he’s unsure, and he spends passages wondering just what is acceptable in grounds of taste and what isn’t (throwing in plenty of back-experience of older gigs too).
And then he explains his ‘tick system’, which ultimately decides what makes it to the final cut of his act. Then, he talks about mixing that in with new, on-the-spot material, and where that kind of stuff should come in the flow of his act. It’s a fascinating dissection of putting a comedy gig together, and the umpteen insecurities that go with it (Skinner won’t go near reviews, it seems, and will analyse even the most complimentary comment looking for the criticism). It’s the best part of the book, and Skinner is a remarkably candid tour guide into the state of his head as he goes through the process.
When it comes to the tour itself, Skinner talks a lot less about the comedy, only occasionally injecting commentary as to how the odd gig had gone. Although, to be fair, he does spend some time talking about Adam the tour manager, someone it seems he’s never going to get on with at the start of the book (and Skinner doesn’t come out of the exchanges particularly well), but warms to by the time everything’s done and dusted. But most of the second part of On The Road is effectively the next volume of his autobiography, and perhaps a little less interesting this time around.
His love of art and culture may surprise some, but you wonder if Skinner is trying to prove, a little too hard, that there’s more to him than the crude comedian he’s often wrongly surmised as. It’s very intimate stuff at times, and – as with the first book – when he delves into his religious beliefs and experiences, it’s often very compelling. But you do find yourself wondering just how well the tour is going, and wishing for a little more insight into just what it feels like to stand in front of 5,500 people and tell jokes.
Having seen Frank Skinner as part of his tour last year, this writer can affirm that he remains a clever, very funny comedian with plenty to say throughout his material. On The Road manages to capture quite a lot of that, at times eclipsing its predecessor, although taking one or two too many diversions to mark it an unqualified success. That said, warts and all, it’s easily one of the better and most searingly honest accounts of a comedian’s life in recent times.
Since, er, Frank Skinner first came out, in fact.
On The Road is out now.