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Have you heard the one about Dragons' Den?

Evan Davis | 07:43 UK time, Friday, 27 February 2009

For me, the idea of standing in front of an audience of several hundred people, each of whom keenly expects you to make them laugh out loud, was pretty close to a nightmare. Not very different in fact, to standing in front of an audience only to remember that you haven't got any clothes on.

But sometimes it's good to dare yourself to do the unthinkable.

And rather than stand in front of an audience with no clothes on, I decided to have a go at stand-up comedy. It was Comic Relief that offered me the chance.

I've previously told friends that if I ever volunteer for any telethon duties alongside news presenters (dressing up in tights on Children in Need or whatever) they should shoot me.

But on this occasion, I was being offered the chance to collaborate with the properly funny Paul Merton. He was to be my coach. And I would be doing it alongside fellow Radio 4 presenters, Libby Purves, Peter White and Laurie Taylor.

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With or without comic geniuses at our side, for the four of us amateurs engaging in this charity-supporting exercise, it seemed like a highly risky venture.

Evan on stageWe would each have to write our own material (and what hard work that is). And at the end of it all, we'd perform at a comedy club in trendy Shoreditch.

Comic Relief of course couldn't lose. If we were funny, that would make people laugh. If we weren't funny? Well, that would probably make people laugh as well.

Now I can broadcast to an audience of several million people on the Today programme. I can talk about the day's news.

But on radio, believe it or not, we have notes and scripts. And while we might ad lib the odd wryly amusing asides, they come at the frequency of a suburban bus. About one every 90 minutes.

It's a big jump to get from there to a comedy club.

Paul Merton quickly broke some bad news to me: I needed to have jokes... not the occasional quip. I needed proper punchlines.

And I couldn't have notes.

Being funny, it turns out, is like being a bank. It's a confidence trick. As long as everyone believes in you, you are fine.

But as soon as you look like you're in trouble, you're really in trouble. The laughter will disappear as fast as money out the door of Northern Rock.

So Paul gave me the key tip. Get an early laugh to loosen everyone up.

The hardest part is thinking of the funny lines. It's much harder work than you'd imagine. You inevitably end up being a bit egotistical and talking about yourself rather a lot.

As a (former) economics journalist, I could do a little bit on economics. But my efforts were a bit feeble. (What's Alistair Darling's biggest problem? Unlike other chancellors, he can't blame his predecessor for everything.)

Unfortunately, in economics there is more to cry about than laugh about at the moment.

But as the presenter of the programme Dragons' Den, I thought I must be able to get a joke or two out of that. After all, this is the country that invented the hovercraft, the jet engine and the antibiotic.

On Dragons Den we've continued the tradition with the one handed glove (beaten to a patent by a one-handed mitten); and the fruit blender with broadband connection.

OK, I had to employ some comic timing and extreme exaggeration... but I knew I could make these ideas sound funny.

Well, the big night where all our work was to be tested came along this week.

The Radio 4 presenters trying their hand at stand-up comedyThe closer it got, the more nervous I became. You see, when comedy goes wrong, it goes far more wrong than the other arts. If we just had to sing or dance, the worst that could happen is that we do it badly for five minutes and then walk off to polite applause.

Comedy is a participation sport though... you need the audience to react continually. You don't wait until you've finished to see whether they liked you or not.

And in the run up to the event, it's amazing how unfunny I felt. People would talk to me encouragingly, undoubtedly expecting a quick and witty response. All they got was a glum looking wreck.

In the event though, it went well.

The crowd laughed in all the right places... and even in some of the wrong ones. They even giggled a bit at the comment about Alistair Darling.

I left the stage feeling elated, and listened to my three colleagues who were all more ambitious and funny than me (a bit annoying that, as we have to raise money for charity somehow and we now face a vote by Radio 4 listeners to choose the best of us).

But none of that matters.

Comic Relief has got some free comedy, and for those of us performing it went ok. What a relief.

Performing their first ever stand up gig alongside Evan will be Libby Purves, Laurie Taylor and Peter White, with their mentors, Milton Jones, Shappi Khorsandi and Josie Long.

Comic Relief - Stand up With The Stars can be heard on Sunday 1st and Sunday 8th March at 1.30pm on BBC Radio 4. Listeners can vote for their favourite performance after the first show and proceeds will go to Comic Relief. The winner will be announced on The Now Show on Red Nose Day (Friday 13th March) at 6.30pm on BBC Radio 4.

(Evan's one-liner on the Today programme:

How do you tell when a politician is telling the truth on the Today programme? Nobody knows - it's never been tried.)


  • Comment number 1.

    Welcome back Evan from everyone at tog 2 at EDB. It was fun while it lasted. But don't leave it so long next time!

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Evan,

    Good luck with the Stand Up. It really is promoting the "Do Something Funny for Money" message that Comic Relief is trying to get across!

    Hopefully it will be broadcast on the night of Comic Relief as well as on the radio as it would be good to "see" how you get on as much as hear.

    Although, I am surpirsed by the choice of Paul Merton as mentor. Given the Harry & Paul show late last year, I would have expected Paul Whitehouse to offer some pearls of wisdom given that he lampooned you on the show :o)

    Anyway, have fun.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hello Evan - As an enthusiastic groupie of yours, I'm thrilled to palpitating as the first Comic Relief approaches - Jolly Good Luck!

    (Today one-liner made me Giggle hugely)!

  • Comment number 4.

    A Tantalising Dip into what lies ahead - slightly disappointed at, "Iiiit's Evan Davis!" And it wasn't.

    Sounded good fun and you're all exceeding brave. Shan't miss next week's Thrilling Denouement.

  • Comment number 5.

    Well done for having a crack at comedy. From the snatches on R4 yesterday you've clearly got potential. And surely you could have done a whole hilarious Edinburgh Festival show based on your wealth of inside knowledge of the Beeb. The only trouble is I suppose you'd never be allowed inside Broadcasting House again.

  • Comment number 6.


    Hearing your first attempt I thought this was going to be a real slow motion car crash....

    So your bravery [and especially that of Libby Purves, who I wouldn't exactly have said has 'funny bones' on Midweek..] is very much to be admired..

  • Comment number 7.

    Personally I prefer the Evan Davis blog on Nick Robinson's Blog as told to thatotherguy (if you follow). But what do I know.

    That is, however, a seriously funny one liner from Andy Burnham...

    "If you can remember the'll be dead soon."

    I just hope that Gordon has a sense of humour.

    I suspect not.

  • Comment number 8.

    Evan Davis does stand-up as told to thatotherguy


    Health Secretary Alan Johnson came into the Today studio the other day to talk about the NHS Charter.

    His welcoming smile and cheery face reminded me of another evening out in Shoreditch.

    A 'come as you really are' fancy dress party.

    It was the first time I ever saw a straight man wearing retro sixties hot pants and thigh high red leather boots.

    Happy Days.

    Seeing Alan also reminded me that nature's natural chauffeurs have to find alternative careers these days.

    Those City boys actually like to drive their own toys.

    It's the only fast lane left to them.

    I was in the City for the ITV results and lunch with their star non exec Slim Jim Crosby.

    Sir James told me about the sparkling ITV business model;

    the company's strong financial performance;

    and unbeatable creative output.

    He also told me what a talented, thrusting young man Michael Grade is.

    It all sounded quite the thing to me.

    There was just one problem.

    The guy on the galley cleaning windows behind Jimbo's head.

    Mouthing obscenities about bankers.

    And rubbing his shammy harder and harder and harder.

    In all the wrong places.

    Do you know I could have sworn I'd seen his friendly, cheery smile somewhere before.

    Now where could it have been?

    I'm Evan Davis. Good night!

  • Comment number 9.


  • Comment number 10.

    this was absolutely brilliant. I heard it on radio & have just watched on YouTube. Evan, you're a natural! obviously being tutored by the best - Paul Merton - was a huge help, and shows in your delivery.

    so, why not give up your day job? just think, all that lying in in the morning.

    for the very first time - because I'm an intellectual snob and dislike popular culture (hello Ms Toksvig) - I am actually going to vote on that Comic Relief number. Possibly many times!

    marvellous. thanks again, Mr Davis.

  • Comment number 11.

    Eventhough ,I am educated,worked for 27 years in a public limited company,attended many seminars,debates,actively involved business promotional schemes,arranged dealers meet in many parts of India.I have not given much thought,while audience,passerby,of laughing at the time of any vital matters.
    Now a days, i have more than 700 friends in many social websites,spending more hours by chatting.Many friends from a world famous social website,have commented me as a very good provider of knowledge,comic words,and be a fun to them.Initally, i got some second opinion of their words,but coming to know that,i am providing interesting things to them.
    I am fully satisfied and enjoyed of their sayings.
    Here,my friend Mr.Evan Davis also received appreciation from gathered people by laughing loudly.
    Not very much difference between Smile and Laugh.
    Thanks to Mr.Evan Davis article.

  • Comment number 12.

    Now, I am listening of Mr.Paul Mertons words with others from audio records.
    Really,he opined that ,we have to enjoy both good and bad jokes.
    Laughter is a better medicine to us.
    This article is quite interesting ,made me to smile,while typing these words for publication.
    These are all very good intelligent moves to people to go further by available fun for easy,stress free going.


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