"People Are More Accepting of Transvestism Than Catholicism"

Article excerpt

Is it true that you had never read a novel until you were 21?

That's correct. It was Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe. The second book I read was Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse. That was life-changing. It acknowledged the existence of daydreaming--I used to think it was only me who did it. It was funny and great.

Do you make a conscious effort not to put religion or politics into your comedy?

Years ago, I went to Sweden with Eddie Izzard to do gigs. He was a transvestite but he hadn't yettalked about it on stage. He said: "Let's make a pact--I'll talk about being a transvestite and you talk about Catholicism," I said: "No, because people in the modern world are much more accepting of transvestism than any kind of religious belief." Knowing about science and being an atheist is what's cool now.

Your TV show Frank Skinner's Opinionated bucks the current comedy trend by being nice.

Panel shows can be a bit like the January sales--the biggest, strongest, most violent people get the best bargains. And I was keen to have proper women comics on. I thought: there's a whole area of comedy that has been slightly squandered on telly.

Some comedy fans think that female comics are preoccupied with "women's stuff".

I don't know what a "women's issue" is. I once wrote a column about dieting in the Times--it was about how, as I've got older, when I get ill, there's always a candle flickering in the gloom that says, "I am losing weight." I don't think men admit to that. It's bogus to say that things are either women's issues or men's issues.

You have said that you want to interview the Pope. What would you ask him?

I'd ask him what a lot of Catholics would like to ask, such as: "How come being a saint used to be a really rare and unusual thing? Yet now they're churning them out." St wouldn't be a very interesting interview for non-Catholics. I'd ask him some in-house stuff.

How do you feel about the Catholic Church's hostility to gay and women priests?

It's like it is with friends--often, there are things about them that you don't like but all the good stuff about them keeps them back. It's important to have a devil's advocate approach. When there's anything anti-Catholic in the papers, I read it extensively because I think it's good to keep testing whether it's acceptable or not. Sometimes, it's difficult. Catholics should be ahead of the game in liberating oppressed groups, not 500 years late.

Do you read atheist books, such as Richard Dawkins's God Delusion?

Before I read The God Delusion, I held it in my hands and thought, "When I finish this book, I might not believe in God any more. …