On screen, he’s like an over-enthusiastic puppy wanting to play – yet there is a much deeper side to comedian Rob Beckett, the loud, beaming Jack the Lad who joshes on the telly with pal Romesh Ranganathan, or talks parenting with Josh Widdicombe on their hit podcast, Parenting Hell.
In fact, his success on TV and on his stand-up tours have masked years of self-doubt which, coupled with a huge work schedule, culminated in a near-breakdown just before lockdown last year, he reveals in his memoir, A Class Act.
Things came to a head in a hotel room in South Africa in January 2020.
The working-class comic had achieved the middle-class lifestyle he’d strived for; he’d flown first-class to Cape Town to film a TV show – during a nationwide-sell-out tour. He had a happy home life with Lou, the love of his life, and their two daughters.
“But I was the unhappiest I have ever been,” he writes. “I woke up on January 5 in a five-star hotel room thinking it would be better and easier for everyone if I was dead.”
Today, the 35-year-old blames that meltdown on working too much coupled with severe self-doubt and anxiety.
“I thought I was a confident and well-balanced person, but I wasn’t. I was feeding off that drug of attention and applause and laughter from the gig. You chase it like a drug, but the reality is that being content is what you’re after, which comes from inside.”
He says he spoke to his wife and his manager and immediately sought help.
“I did some therapy to calm my brain down. I wouldn’t say I had a breakdown as that would be unfair to people who have had them but I was heading that way. The timing of getting therapy and the pandemic and my gigs stopping was lucky. It gave me the breathing space that you can’t always take if you’ve got a busy schedule.”
The memoir is funny and thought-provoking. It charts his London upbringing as one of five sons whose parents Susan and van-driver-turned-cabbie Dave may, at times, have been short of money but were never short on love.
There are stories of how his roots have affected his life as he finds himself in a world of posh people, from the privately educated comedians at Edinburgh Fringe to Jimmy Carr’s “house party” where Beckett arrived with a blue off-licence bag containing a bottle of tequila (it was a Mexican-themed party) and some cans of lager, only to be shown through the grand house to the garden where the likes of Sir Elton John, Princess Beatrice, Kourtney Kardashian and other A-listers were congregating.
The stories are funny, but there is also pathos, given that confidence and self-doubt were always an issue when he was growing up, along with poor body image and a teacher who told a young Beckett that he’d never be a high-flier.
“I was a very nervous, awkward child. Weirdly, I’ve never really cared what anyone ever thought of me, I’ve only ever cared of what I thought of myself – and unfortunately I didn’t think much of myself. It was an internalised thing.”
Yet his surroundings always sparked humour.
“I’m from a naturally funny area where everyone was funny. Being working class, so many funny people I knew didn’t think they can be a comedian. But my Aunty Tina is funnier than some of the people I’ve done Mock The Week with.”
Rob Beckett – A Class Act, HarperCollins, £20
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