Frank Skinner was once such a force to be reckoned with in stand-up that in 1997 – a year after topping the charts with his then flat-mate David Baddiel with the footie anthem Three Lions - he did a mega-gig at Battersea Power Station for 6,000 people; a record-breaking solo comedy turn at the time.
A generation on, he’s treading the boards in the West End with a set so low-energy, it almost feels like his contribution to stopping climate-change. Were he to release a single today, ideally it would be called Three Lie-ins.
This show’s title is Showbiz but it suggests there’s no business like the business of slowing down; there are reflections aplenty on the aches and pains of growing older – he’s now 62 – and the waning of a once hot to trot libido. “I don’t miss it… it was a tremendous palaver,” he says in his beguiling West Midlands drawl.
Back in 1997, his success was attributed by one paper to “being funny about the great universals of life - football and sex”. Though rightly associated with the rise of Nineties ‘laddism’, that was still a partial reading of his appeal – it was his blue-collar earthiness (smut a stock-in-trade) combined with natural wit and casual erudition that put Skinner among the premier league of wags.
With TV no longer avid for his highly paid services – Room 101 (which he hosted), got chopped in 2018 - performing live makes perfect sense.
But whereas Baddiel has forged ahead with theatrically fizzy and thinky shows about his parents, the nature of fame, the age of online trolling, etc, Skinner’s purview doesn’t extend much beyond self-deprecating anecdotage and the front few rows of the stalls, wherein basic badinage with fans can be obtained.
To some extent – judged by the first night - the evening is a triumph of getting away with next to nothing. Only Skinner, you feel, could wander about, and wonder aloud, on the subject of Harry and Meghan, in such a laidback way. “I don’t know what to think about it…” He suddenly left-hook, right-hooks the subject with a gag about Prince Philip, and a follow-up about Prince Andrew but doesn’t go further.
Despite abundant other political upheavals and woes, he mainly heads for pastures old: mortality hangs in the air. He begins with a quipping reference to David Garrick’s last words (“Oh dear”) and an impish allusion to Bruce Forsyth’s ashes, stored below the stage at the Palladium.
Toilet humour is well represented with a long anecdote about once entering a gents with tackle already out and if you’ve ever wanted a story about a man being shot in one testicle in the Philippines, here it is.
The warm geniality of his ambling delivery remains intact as ever. But when he says “I’ve forgotten what I was talking about now... which is slowly becoming my catchphrase” you’re left feeling this likely has more to do with the material itself than advancing infirmity.
Until Feb 15. Tickets: 0330 333 4811; www.nimaxtheatres.com