I suddenly thought I could make it all stop
COMIC ACTOR ROBERT WEBB TALKS TO KATE WHITING ABOUT EVERYTHING FROM CONSIDERING SUICIDE AFTER HIS MUM DIED, TO DRINKING TOO MUCH
“ALL comedians secretly want to make themselves useful,” says Robert Webb, star of Peep Show and one half of double act Mitchell and Webb, “because we don’t really believe that making people laugh is any kind of noble calling.
“So every now and again, you will get someone of a certain age, who has been funny for a while, who suddenly decides, ‘ Hang on, I can do something a bit more useful than this’.”
Robert is talking about writing his searingly honest autobiography, How Not To Be A Boy, in which he describes how his childhood was shaped by fear of his dad, his mum’s death and his teenage suicidal thoughts.
As you’d expect, How Not To Be A Boy is funny – “I haven’t grown out of that phase of wanting to make people laugh,” he says – but also extremely poignant.
The hardest chapter to write was at the literal heart of the book, called Boys Don’t Cry, which deals with his mum’s death from breast cancer when he was 17 and his subsequent suicidal thoughts.
“When you’re taking the reader into the bedroom where your mother just died, it would be inappropriate to start making jokes.”
In a diary entry dated June 12, 1990, the young Robert, finding it impossible to revise for A- Levels, muses on ending his life by taking an overdose of painkillers.
“I suddenly thought I could make it all stop and I cried for about an hour and wrote the note.”
The following day, the note lies “in a million pieces” in the bin and the entry concludes: “Get a grip, boy.”
He says it was the thought of what his death would do “to everyone else” that stopped him.
He hopes the book will help others in a similar position “notice that they’re not alone”.
Robert’s complex relationship with his dad, who split from his mum when he was just five, figures heavily in the book; from the fear of him he had as a child, to living with him again after his mum died. His dad died in 2013 and Robert says he couldn’t have written the book while he was alive.
The memoir starts with what Robert calls the overture, which cleverly segues from him rewriting the lyrics to Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up for a school dance sketch, to performing his 2009 comedy version of Flashdance, which won him Let’s Dance For Comic Relief.
He reveals how, back home that night, his wife Abigail pregnant with their first daughter, he sat “in our little garden” and drank “another two bottles of red wine” and smoked “about thirty Marlboro Lights”.
Of his drinking, he says: “I was never horribly aggressive but you do become slightly more short- tempered and a bit more chippy and just a boring d** k to live with. So, I just have to keep an eye on that and I drink a lot less now.”
Robert married Abbie, a fellow comic, in 2007 and they have two daughters.
He says their marriage was never seriously on the rocks.
“There were times we would have an argument and she would start looking for her passport and say, ‘ That’s it, I’m going to Mexico’.
But it was just never going to happen, it was that kind of row and we don’t really have those rows any more.”
Admitting gender stereotyping is “a preoccupation of mine”, he’s conscious of wanting to model what being a good husband and dad should be to his daughters.
“I know they have got their eye on me and the way I model being a man in a domestic setting is critical really.
“I get this stuff wrong all the time.”
How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb, is published in hardback by Canongate, priced £ 16.99.
Robert Webb’s easy smile hides troubles that he reveals in his new book, below right