I sud­denly thought I could make it all stop


Solihull News - - BOOKCASE -

“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

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