Escaping Hell or Being Sucked Into The ‘Parenting Hell’ of Josh Widdicombe and Rob Beckett?

My review of the mad parenting world revealed in this podcast by two top British comedians.

Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

It was a Sunday morning and I snuck out of the front door to get into my car and head out alone.

Escaping my madhouse that is filled with too many children and pets is no easy task. But, today I had the excuse of needing to do some food shopping.

I was looking forward to driving alone and listening to a favorite podcast undisturbed. I have a few favorites, as it happens, with some educational, some motivational, and some that just give me some good old potty-mouthed banter to exercise those deep belly laughter muscles (my main form of ab exercise). The latter was just the ticket this morning!

I set off driving away from the house with Josh Widdicombe and Rob Beckett’s ridiculous and comedic banter filling the car. I was instantly drawn into the totally relatable story of Rob’s five-year-old daughter performing a very devious trick to fake having eaten her sandwich, and being rewarded with her ‘after-sandwich’ Lolly. The image of Rob’s poor younger daughter trying to make her way through her own sandwiches, which now contained her sister’s sandwiches cunningly hidden inside them, made me laugh out loud.

Fortunately, years of parenting have made me immune to feeling concerned that anyone might be led to think I am completely mad when I randomly laugh out loud to myself. Of course, I was sitting in a moving car with the windows closed, so it was unlikely anyone would notice, but there were plenty of times that I went for walks alone during the lockdowns, with Rob and Josh’s podcast playing through my earphones, and the loud laughs escaped before I could stop them. The other solo lockdown walkers may well have wondered what was going on, but hey, there was much worse suffering during that time than one lone adult laughing seemingly at nothing!

I took the road that wove among the green hills for six miles from the edge of Dartmoor into the town of Totnes. It’s an area that Josh himself knows well since he hails from these parts. In fact, it’s almost worrying how many parallels my own life has with Josh’s: my younger daughter’s best friend from primary school living in the same village that Josh grew up in; knowing all the places he describes when sharing tales of his childhood; understanding his parents’ pain, and joy, of bringing kids up on the rural moorland, and having spent my university years living in the exact area of London where Josh now lives. But, he doesn’t know that… nor does he know me… or that I even exist for that matter.

Rob started discussing his most pressing problem at the moment — the fact that his daughters walked into his bedroom one time to find him half hanging out from under the duvet, his bare butt exposed to their innocent young eyes. As I wove my way down this six-mile stretch, alongside the fast-flowing River Dart and the old Dart Valley steam railway, the beauty of the scenery passed me by, for I was truly drawn into the world of Rob and Josh discussing the problems of having to wear garments in bed for the sake of apparent decency (we are a prudish lot in the UK compared to many other European nations). I struggled to relate to the constrictions that underwear causes for male genitalia, but completely related to the dislike of elastic around the waist.

‘Thank goodness for feminine hips that hold loose-waisted pyjama bottoms,’ I thought, relishing in my good fortune while simultaneously feeling pity for these two men, seemingly ignorant to their disadvantage in this department. They were still going on about the same first-world privileged male problems four miles later, as I descended the hill into the village of Dartington, and took the road from there into the center of Totnes.

‘Are they intentionally getting lost in mundane affairs as a branding strategy?’ I wondered. ‘Or are they just ranting on, oblivious to the listeners?’

What the ‘brand’ might be, I am not completely sure, but I guess something along the lines of thirty-something dads of very young children, showing us behind the scenes of their worlds, and of the celebrities they would interview. And, I guess, behind the scenes is where one finds humor in the sublime everyday family life.

We see behind the scenes of a privileged few — ordinary people who made it in the public eye — dealing with the same old stuff that we all deal with, regardless of how famous, successful or wealthy they might be.

Of course, their own personalities define their brands too, and part of the hilarity of Rob’s world is the fact that he can’t ever seem to shake his working class mindset and overall impression, while his girls are experiencing a definitively middle class upbringing. He occasionally alludes to the fact that he still seems to be the underdog in the family, even treated as working class trash by his daughters.

Josh, on the other hand, had a more privileged background in which, as he describes, everyone seemed to own horses (his family included). Probably the case in the village in which he grew up, although not necessarily the case for Dartmoor en masse (as observed by a Dartmoor resident with no horses). His personality is more defined by his love of football and his general nerdiness (sorry Josh).

The hilarity of the mundane situations that they describe is accentuated by these rather boringly regular British stereotypes; the vision of Rob hiding under a pile of clean laundry, just to get some peace from his family during lockdown, had me in stitches. Other aspects of it are almost painful, however. Being gleefully with the baby and toddler years behind me (my youngest is now eight), reminders from this time are not exactly pleasant.

I soothe myself from these moments by reminding myself that it’s all over, and I only need feel compassion for those still enduring these times. Rob and Josh included. And then I continue to listen, feeling smug.

The history of my indulgence in ‘Parenting Hell’

Back in April 2020, soon after the world sunk into lockdowns, my sister, our dad, and I created a WhatsApp chat to have some fun banter and compare our lockdown experiences. My sister, who was all the way over in the Philippines at the time (not a fun place to be locked down), told us that she had started listening to their new podcast, then called ‘Lockdown Parenting Hell’.

I tuned in and it quickly became a favorite to be played in the kitchen — my girls loving it as much as I did. Here, it has to be noted that the language is often very inappropriate for the younger listeners, but my teenagers had heard it all before, so I didn’t worry. To be honest, British comedy just wouldn’t be the same without the expletives — especially comedy surrounding lockdown and parenting.

The best thing about the podcast was hearing celebrities, some whom we already were familiar with and some not, sharing their experiences and struggles in the then-current climate. Which, if you can possibly cast your mind back that far, was pretty intense with all the homeschooling, ‘PE with Joe Wicks’, and navigating Zoom meetings (which, incidentally, kept on crashing). You know it!

Being able to laugh with them, and at the madness of it all, was one of the biggest reliefs through those months.

As the lockdowns began to ease, the themes began to get a bit old, and the topics began to digress into other quite random areas, besides parenting, with much of the comedic value being in the fact that they were so random and unplanned. I will admit that the urge to listen decreased along with the feeling of ‘we’re all in this s#*t together’ being replaced by getting on with life. But it was still very amusing to hear about the (mis) adventures of Rob, Josh, and the celebrities that they interviewed, and continues to be to this day.

Now that lockdown is starting to feel like a thing from the past, the podcast has changed its name to ‘Josh Widdicombe and Rob Beckett’s Parenting Hell’ and continues to attract listeners. Rob and Josh have both also recently released debut books, and so the podcast is certainly a great way to be plugging them. And, while the relief that it provided during lockdown is no longer there, I still find it a wonderful bit of light distraction and amusement in the ongoing, gruelling life of a parent.

Who is it for?

Anyone who can relate to parenting of any sort. Non Brits may miss some of the references. Likewise, if you are not a Brit, you will either love or hate the crass British humor, so take it with a pinch of salt.

All in all, highly recommended.

Tune in on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Check out Josh Widdicombe’s debut book Watching Neighbors Twice A Day and Rob Beckett’s book A Class Act.

In case you’re wondering, I am not affiliated in the slightest with the podcast, or with either Rob or Josh — I just felt genuinely inspired to write this. But I wouldn’t say no to a bit of exposure on their channels by writing this!

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