By Annette Slattery.
In the lead up to the Adelaide and Melbourne runs of Robert Lloyd’s new show “Who Me?”, he sits down with Annette Slattery and talks about fear, obsession, inspiration, Sherlock Holmes and, of course, Doctor Who and those bloody David Tennant comparisons!
Others have described him as a David Tennant look alike and many expected him to do a show about Doctor Who before now. So in asking Robert Lloyd where the idea for the show “Who Me?” came from, you could be forgiven for expecting an obvious answer.
“Who me?” came about as an accident.
Ok, not so obvious then.
To understand the course of this happy accident we have to go back several years to a chance meeting during the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Having a drunken night out on birthday celebrations Lloyd bumped into Sarah Bennetto. Bennetto invited Lloyd to appear in her festival show Storyteller’s Club and, with very little stand up experience, Lloyd accepted. Unsure about how to approach the task he turned to a long time obsession for inspiration.
I came out and acted out “Scandal in Bohemia” which is one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories…it was a little bit funny doing little asides about it, so the comedy crowd were a bit confused about what was going on , I was very nervous and it was very exciting.
It was director and collaborator Scott Gooding who saw the idea’s potential that night.
Lloyd and Gooding first encountered each other at ‘Doctor Who Nights’, nights which involved a bunch of self confessed Doctor Who geeks getting together and spending time together watching Doctor Who. After Lloyd spent a week ‘Doctor Who flirting’ with fellow comedian Ben McKenzie in Adelaide he was given the official invitation to the revered sanctum.
Scott and I, originally (he’s gonna hate me for telling you this) but originally it was a very prickly relationship. He was the only one there who was always very bitchy and short with me and always cut me down…I found out he was jealous cos he was Ben’s first wife. But then I showed up on the scene and then I was the mistress, I was the other woman, When I arrived Ben and I shared pizzas together, drinks together. So Scott was very jealous of this. So once I snapped back at him and then he went ‘ok’ and then we became friends.
When I wanted to do my first show I always wanted to work with Scott just because I trust him and he pushes me and challenges me and we’ve got a great working relationship. We’ve been working out of each other’s pockets for the last two years and we’ve never had an argument or a disagreement. I trust him implicitly with where he wants to take my show; he lets me make a fool of myself in rehearsals and go a bit too far. We complement each other really well.
So together Lloyd and Gooding developed and launched “A Study in Scarlet” at Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2010.
A Study in Scarlet came about because I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes ever since I was in high school. He’s been one of my longest obsessions.
I just wanted to tell the whole story in an hour. ‘Cos that’s where I come from, I come from an acting background. And I wanted to work on characterisations and me performing as many characters on stage by myself. But Scott was the one who encouraged me to talk about my experiences
That show was a mixture of me acting out the first story and also telling stories of my obsession with Sherlock Holmes. When the show finished we got a lot of great press and a lot of people wanted to hear about my stories and I’ve never been interested in that because I see stand-ups and some of my favourite comedians and they’ve got fascinating stories, interesting stories and I never thought my stories were that interesting or that anyone would be interested in hearing. So when we started working on the Doctor Who stuff I never thought there was enough for an hour show
There was a line in the opening of [“A Study in Scarlet”] when I said “before driving, before sex, before comedy, even before Dr Who, in my life there was always Holmes”. So after we finished that show pretty much the first thing everyone came up to me and said was “so are you gonna do Doctor Who next?”
I never intended to do a Dr Who show. There’s been ideas in my head and I’ve been working on a radio play about Dr Who but that’s a serious Dr Who audio play.
I’ve been coming up with ideas and I’ve been developing routines to deal with the constant regular questions I get ever since Tennant took over.
Lloyd has been continually compared with Scottish actor David Tennant, particularly after Tennant took over the high profile role of the tenth Doctor. It was kind of cool at the start, Lloyd says about the comparison. The first time I saw an image of Tennant…was a headshot that they used, and just from the angle it looked like [he was] a lot more round faced. But then I saw Casanova and I went “that’s a bit weird’ and then I saw Blackpool, which was amazing, and I went “that’s a bit weird’.
Then Tennant took over the Doctor for the first time. At the start it was pretty cool, says Lloyd. We were promoting “Hound of the Baskervilles” which was The Hound’ss first show and we were handing out flyers…and people were coming up “Oh my god you’re the new Dr Who, I’ll come see the show just cos you look like “Doctor Who”.
Awesome! Cool! Yeah I don’t care, I’ll haul myself out for that, it’s not a problem, and I was excited ok. A guy who kinda looks like me getting the doctor.
But it’s got to the point now that Tennant’s moved on and I’m still getting people saying it, It’s just a weird beast that I’ve had to deal with, it’s such a small bubble of a community…Doctor Who’s been such a big part of my life and the Tennant stuff has only been a small part of it.
My favourite people in the world come up to me and go ‘you look nothing like him’…and that’s why I married my wife…one of many reasons…she doesn’t like the way that David Tennant looks…she goes “you’re far more attractive than David Tennant, he looks like a weasel”. And I just go “I like this girl, I like her a lot”.
Both “A Study in Scarlet” and “Who Me” emerged from Lloyd’s obsessive nature, which he can trace back to childhood.
My favourite…source of inspiration was my aunt who lived with my dad’s parents, my grandparents on my dad’s side. They lived in Sydney, so every time we went to Sydney it was always a treat, we always went to the movies there…and we got to go see live shows as well, I got to see my first professional play, but what my aunt had (she was a theatre lover as well) she had a big book of who’s who of actors and so it had actors from A-Z. It was released in the eighties so it only went up to a certain point, but any actor I wanted to look up I’d turn to their page and they’d have a big chunk of all of their movies and a big autobiography about them and so that’s where I could find out about actors I adore now like John Hurt, Roddy McDowell, Alec Guinness, all these obscure actors, that was it you had to go look through books or magazines, or talk to people.
It’s that whole Indiana Jones thing, it’s the whole romantic view of you as an obsessive nerd going out and hunting it down and finding this rare thing and going to a second hand bookshop or going to a library and finding a rare autobiography or biography, of the people, and you can still do that to an extent now, cos we get a very limited release of DVD’s and books out here so it’s good to still go find extremely rare DVD’s that aren’t even released here anymore or were released for a couple of weeks
Or rare books…I’ve found so much stuff about little obsessions of mine…like rare video or DVD copies of Sherlock Holmes interpretations that I can’t get here, I’ve got online really cheaply, books on my favourite silent movie actors I’ve been able to get online that I can’t get here or they’re too expensive here, so the element is there but it’s not as hands on. It is a little bit cheap just clicking a button here and there and you get it in a couple of weeks…I much prefer the good old days of making phone calls…going down and picking up the big VHS copy tapes, and the massive books…
If I’m stuck on one thing I stay with it…explore it as much as I can; read everything I have and go ok good, it shifts from one thing to another, especially now in the era of the DVD box set.
From 2006 – 2010 Lloyd worked in comedy trio “The Hound’s” with Adam McKenzie and Teagan Higganbotham. I asked him if he was going to work with them again.
I not sure…I’m really excited by the fact that Adam and Teagues are doing stuff. (Higganbotham and McKenzie are still working together, under the name “Watson”.)
Anything’s possible, adds Lloyd, it’s just I’m at the point now where I was so stuck in a way of performing for ten years, working with groups and I’m really enjoying the fact that I’m 33 and I’m doing shows that I have no idea what’s gonna happen. I’m really taking risks. For most of this year, for eight months I’ve been absolutely terrified about Who Me. Going to rehearsals has been exciting it’ s been exhilarating and Scott’s been great but just been sick with fear not knowing. What’s gonna work. Is it gonna be funny? Is it gonna be interesting? Are people gonna be enjoying it?…Is it gonna be a good tribute to this obsession of mine? Is it self-indulgent? Is it too self indulgent? Is it not self indulgent enough? Is it interesting? Is it too cut up? All these paranoias and fears we get as performers. I haven’t really been used to it cos I’ve been doing improvisation for most of my life, I get up on a stage and I know what to do and there’s no fear there. When I went to Uni …I discovered improvisation and that’s when I was hooked and I decided that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life…out of all my subjects at my Uni [improvisation] was the one that I got my highest mark for where other students just passed by… so I was fully aware that I was a freak who actually enjoyed getting up on stage with nothing whereas everyone else preferred their scripts and their rehearsals and their character development…Standing up on a stage with script that I’ve written and worked on and developed, that’s more risky for me.
Improvisation is something that Lloyd has become well known for, since his earliest days in Melbourne.
I’d been doing stuff with Impro Melbourne for a little bit…I was in my twenties and I’d just moved to Melbourne and I was young and I was impatient and I wanted everything to happen now, says Lloyd, admitting that his headstrong attitude led to a clash between himself and other performers. By the end of my time there I was kind of blacklisted
After helping out at the Comic’s Lounge Impro night he was offered the chance to run that.
We invited like comedians just to come down and we’d hang out for two hours and we’d do workshops and improvisations and we’d do a show for two hours and it just grew. ,
Lawrence Leung came down; Andy McClelland was one of our regulars; Charlie Pickering. So these high calibre performers, it was their chance to come down on a Sunday afternoon and just jam and just experiment and explore things they normally wouldn’t get to do with their stand up.
After building up an ensemble which included the likes of Adam Vincent, Madeline West and Cameron Knight “The Crew” became “legitimate” in 2003.
I look upon that time very fondly, it was one of the favourite times of my life…I ran my own company the way I wanted to with performers I wanted to be involved…The friendships and the skill and the performers and the atmosphere and the attitude and the company nature we had was always a highlight for me.
I asked him if Comedy is Art.
I think so, very much so, and some of the greatest comedians who I worship with a passion are pure artists.
He lists some of his greatest heroes as:
Comedy wise, old school, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, I love Harold Lloyd…Jack Benny I adore…Jacques Tati, he’s like the comedians comedian with his physical comedy in a sound era…One of my favourite comedians recently is Dave Gorman. Dave Gorman is a huge influence on me over the last couple of years…I like him when he talks openly about his obsession and his storytelling skills are just phenomenal.
A less public aspect to Lloyd’s life has been his teaching career. Teaching high school drama in Dandenong, this profession has run concurrent with his time with The Crew, through working with the Hounds and into his solo career. And it’s a role which Lloyd treats with the respect it deserves.
One of my key points when I got into teaching was to be the type of drama teacher I wanted to have when I was in High school, says Lloyd, referring to the parade of part time Drama teachers he was subjected to in his high school.
One rule I always set myself was that when I’m at school it’s their time. A lot of Drama teachers and people I’ve seen like to get up and say well this is how I do it…School is for them and my stage is my time…And then Summer Heights High came out so I made a point of never getting a comparison with Mr G.
I’m getting back into directing school productions… some of my proudest moments were to sit back in the audience and watch these students perform serious, legitimate, adult plays, not your high school plays which I detest.
I asked Lloyd what was on the horizon for him.
2013 is the big year because that’s the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who so we’d love to take it on tour and take it overseas, there’s a lot of life in this show.
And what about that third piece in the trilogy he hints at at the end of “Who Me”.
Can’t tell you but I’m glad you asked, It’s gonna be awesome though, it’s gonna be pretty fun.
Robert Lloyd will be performing “Who Me” as part of the Adelaide Fringe at Jahz from the 6th – 17th March. See www.adelaidefringe.com.au for details.
He will also be performing “Who Me” as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at St Ali Cafe from the 10th – 21st April. See www.comedyfestival.com.au for details.