Relentlessly grinning Londoner Rob Beckett could have ended up pursuing serious comedy.
He has more cause than most comics to be agitated by politics. The 28-year-old grew up the working class son of a taxi driver, who went from being skint and worrying about London’s soaring rents to being a regular on panel shows Mock The Week (on which he announced he had got married) and 8 Out Of 10 Cats.
Beckett still has worries of a political bent and is saddened there seems to be a class war in showbusiness, with posh boys taking over the stage. But he vows he will never do political comedy, and explains here about why he doesn’t care if his choice to be a crowd-pleaser means he’s sneered at by the likes of Stewart Lee and broadsheet critics for sticking to the lighter side.
Why I’ll Never Be In The Thick Of It by Rob Beckett
There’s obviously a need for political comedy, but it’s not something I’d want to do. A lot of political comedians just say ‘I hate Tories!’ and everyone cheers. That’s not funny, and what does it achieve? Just because you don’t like something, that shouldn’t get everyone cheering.
Sometimes on Mock The Week, political comedians just shout an opinion to get a round of applause. I sit there thinking, ‘That’s not comedy, that’s just people agreeing with you’. I take the mickey out of that attitude on the show and just yell, “Yeah, I hate Cameron!” Everyone cheers, thinking, ‘Yeah, that’s right’, and I have to point out, “That’s not a joke. No-one is being funny here”.
There are some brilliant political comedians. Matt Forde is one of the most talented comedians going, but he does comedy about politics as a whole, rather than just yell, “I tell you what I don’t like – Eton!”, just to get everyone going, “Waaay, yeah!”
I’d rather go, “You know what I hate? Coconut water.” I can’t help it if it’s not Labour or Conservative that winds me up. The only thing I can guarantee about my new show is that it’s not going to change your life.
So long as me and my family think it’s funny, and audiences keep turning up to laugh, I don’t need to be loved by The Guardian
I don’t know how to live my life, so I don’t see why I should tell anyone else how to live theirs. When I find out, then I’ll do a show about it. Until then, I’m the light relief. I can’t tell you how to make your life less tough, but I can take your mind off it.
There’s an issue in comedy where it’s easier to be seen as a cool, edgy comic who just wants to play to 300 people at The Soho Theatre and be well respected by other comedians. I don’t care about being well respected. So long as me and my family think it’s funny, and audiences keep turning up to laugh, I don’t need to be loved by The Guardian.
I’d rather aim to one day sell out the O2 Arena and put out my own DVD. You’re not really allowed to say that as a comedian, but I think it’s exciting to get as many people as possible to see what you can do. Imagine getting 15,000 people who’ve decided to come and see you talk for 90 minutes – what a feeling that is.
Where I do have a serious concern is that it’s getting harder and harder for working class people to break into comedy. I started out six years ago, doing comedy five nights a week while working in an office job paying £17,000 a year. That was hard enough, but the rents in London now are now astronomical.
There’s always been social barriers as well as financial ones if you’re working class. It’s hard to say to your parents, “Actually, I want to perform.” Mine were like, “You want to what?”
At least my parents were really supportive, and I’d rather have had that than be from a privileged background and not had family backing. I don’t want to have a chip on my shoulder, and I know comedians who went to private school whose parents said, “We’ve spent all this money on your education. We wanted a barrister.”
“I’ve got a stupid face, I’m silly and I get passionate about things that don’t matter”
The big advantage of being working class as a comedian is that my family instilled a major work ethic in me. Now that I’m doing OK, I don’t ever want to be skint again. I don’t want to have to sleep on the floor of the disabled toilet of a club before a gig in Reading because I’m totally knackered.
It’s easy to just get by as a comedian. You can lie on your sofa from Monday to Thursday, drive to Birmingham, work Friday to Sunday and come home after a few 20-minute gigs. You can earn £40,000 a year living that life forever.
I would have been happy with that when I started, as I just wanted to make a living. Then a year after I started, Manchester comedian Dan Nightingale told me after a gig, “Well done, son, you can make a living out of this.” That was so liberating, and I realised it was down to me to put in the effort.
I’m not the most talented comedian going, but I’ll never be beaten for hard work. If I don’t have a gig on, I’ll think, “Right, does my website need updating? Do I need new press photos done?” If a tour show isn’t selling, I’ll be right onto my agent asking, “We aren’t selling here, why aren’t I doing an interview for their local paper?” I’m on to it to the point of being told off for working too hard.
What I do on stage has always been accessible. I don’t write jokes to get a bigger audience, I just write what I think is funny. I’ve got a stupid face, I’m very silly and I get passionate about things that don’t really matter. I’m enthusiastic about life, and I think that comes across.
I don’t think that approach will change as I get more successful. I don’t have a crazy, drug-fuelled life. I talk about my family, being married and dealing with my in-laws. It might be private jets if you’re Floyd Mayweather, but if you’re a comedian in Britain then you still have to go to your in-laws for Easter and chat about some nonsense with your wife’s gran.
Besides, you never get rich if you’re working class. You have to sort everyone else out before you can sort yourself out. I can’t drive around in a Bentley while my mum is getting the bus to bingo.
Rob Beckett’s Mouth Of The South tour runs until May. See robbeckettcomedy.com for full details.