“Turn your phones off, please,” says Lloyd Griffith as he takes to the stage. He notices a man in the front row. “Oh, you've got two phones, I see. I used to have two phones. You know what my friends called me?”
The man looks up at him, shrugs his shoulders.
THE BETSY TROTWOOD
Lloyd Griffith is not a skinny man. Some – himself above all others, it would seem – would say that he is a fat man, and a lot of his routine focuses around that, like the bit about how he fights daily with a near-crippling addiction to kebabs. In fact, almost every other gag from Lloyd as he comperes the Beckett and Griffth night is a crack about his own gut.
And, well, fair enough
Beckett and Griffith, by the way, is a night that he runs with fellow comedian Rob Beckett, a South Londoner born with a wonderful sense of humour and too many teeth. Every month, comedians are invited into the basement below The Betsy Trotwood, a Farringdon Pub, to try out their untested Edinburgh Festival material on a semi-willing audience. The acoustics aren't bad but the ambience is marred a little by the fact trains seem to be running above our heads, making the 30 seats crammed into the room shake.
It's not all tiny basements and overhead railways, though – both of the boys are established full-time comedians in their own right (Lloyd even has a website, as does Rob), gigging on average four nights a week at a variety of pubs, clubs, and corporate venues. But this isn't as slick as their normal stuff.
"SLIP THEM SOME FIVERS"
“I haven't written everything down,” Lloyd said before the show as we did our best to guide the never-ending banter knocked back and forth between him and Rob into something that might constitute an interview, “I don't like to, in early stages. I just like to talk it out and see what happens, what fits well where. You have to adjust how you're funny, when you're on stage – even if something sounds funny in the pub with your mates, it might not work on stage. And vice versa.”
“I was on stage last week, and I remember thinking – bloody hell, they haven't laughed for 30 seconds. You need to let them know that there's treasure at the end of the rainbow,” he says, talking about a specific - and entirely true - story where he ended up singing God Save The Queen to prove his innocence at Heathrow Airport security. “But if that pot of gold isn't enough for them, you have to give them some little laughs too. Slip them some fivers along the way.”
Rob Beckett got thrown out of an art exam by "just tracing round his hand and handing in the paper"
"LLOYD PISSED HIMSELF"
The pair of them have been doing this sort of thing for years, and they've been friends for nearly three. We ask them if they've had any adventures together in that time.
“Not really,” said Lloyd.
“Lloyd pissed himself at Bestival once,” offered Rob. “He was asleep. We were sharing a tent. Then, later on, the tent blew away cause it was so windy, so we had to sleep in the car instead.”
“I washed the piss off myself first,” interjects Lloyd. “And I threw away the sleeping bag.”
LUKE'S FIRST NIGHT
Exciting stuff. A younger-looking man walked into the room, and shook Rob's hand; this is Luke, and it's Luke's first night on stage tonight. Ever. Rob met him in a comedy club a while back and asked him to come down. Immediately, we fucked up by saying we're covering the gig for an article, and the colour drains out of his face. We assured him that no matter what he does, we'll say he did really well.
In hindsight, let's just say he did really well.
Luke's brought along an LP for Rob called Laughing with the Greats, a selection of vintage audio recording of old-fashioned comics. Turns out that Rob collects them in his spare time.
“It's awesome, because you can find stuff from Richard Pryor, Woody Allen and all that you wouldn't get on DVD or on the internet. It's nowhere else but on these records. Plus, if I'm gigging somewhere out of the way like Chester then I can spend the afternoon going round second-hand record shops.”
First-timer Luke did pretty well, all things considering. He whooped a lot on stage, which added energy
We asked Lloyd if he's got any hidden talents. “Well, I'm a choral singer. I sing in concert halls and cathedrals and stuff like that, and tonight I'm in a basement in Farringdon.” He's not joking – he can indeed sing, and it's slightly unnerving when he breaks out a powerful singing voice that sounds alien to his normal one.
We wrap up as the gig's about to start; Lloyd comperes, and Rob (and a bunch of other comedians, including Hawaiian-shirted Tim Shishodia, laconic Paul McCaffrey, and etymology wizard Jessica Forteskew) performs. It's all very good, even though the gags are in their raw state.
We meet them again, after the show, when the pre-show nerves have disappeared completely and they enter a critical state, picking apart audience reactions and the rhythm of their jokes.
Are they dealing well their their new-found success after all their years of gigging for a pittance, just for exposure (Rob's worst experience: doing a last-minute set in a restaurant with no material other than toilet-based humour. “This bloke's trying to eat a fuckin' Chicken Chasseur, and I'm talking about having a shit”)?
“I thought comedy would be really glamorous and exciting,” says Rob, “but it's not. I just do a gig and go home and at the end of the day I still have to go to DFS and buy a sofa.”
So you can afford a sofa, at least, then?
“Well, on 4 years no interest, 8 quid a week, yeah. But I bet John Belushi didn't have to do this, when he was gigging. Bet he didn't have to buy his own sofas. Still. Didn't work out too well for him, anyway.”
What? Too soon?
Lloyd chipped in. “When you're first doing it, you can't sleep. I remember when I properly nailed my first gig -”
“He's still having trouble with self-confidence,” interrupted Rob, “he's such a modest young man.”
“- but yeah,” says Lloyd, almost ignoring him, “when I first got it right, when it came together, I couldn't sleep. I got up the next day, desperate to do it all again, and I was awful that night. But it's all about gigging, once you've got out there for your first time. It's all about gigging as much as you can.”
"I WAS GOING TO DIE"
Much of their comedy comes from stories about things that have happened to them. Is there anything that's off-limits for the stage, we ask?
“Well, this one time, I was in The Congo," Lloyd begins, "and I was sneaking in a satellite for my work because the last one had been stolen – which gives you an idea as to what sort of country the Congo is – and I ended up bribing the police to get anything done. I spent about $350 in bribes over the course of three days.
"In the hotel – and the door to my room had been kicked in so many times, it didn't lock properly, by the way – I ended up huddled on my bed, crying, and listening to Song 2 by Blur on the pause menu of FIFA on my DS because my phone was broken and my iPod ran out of charge and I needed something to block out the noise of gunshots in the city below me. I literally believed that I was going to die.
It's good, but I can't think of a punchline.”
Beckett and Griffith are performing again tomorrow night in Farringdon. Tickets £3