Chat shows are, for me, the most hit-and-miss of TV genres. The classic style, as exemplified by Parkinson, risks being dry and worthy if the guests stick to close to the PR script their agent handed them, leaving you longing for an unguarded slip. At the other extreme, the ones based around an over-stretched joke (i.e. The Kumars) gets tedious very quickly, especially as the guest’s opportunity to chat becomes limited by such japes.

Likewise there is the issue of what to do if you invite a comedian on the show. They are there primarily to give laughs and riff off the other guests. Whatever they are promoting, if they are at all, is given less of a mention because the sell comes from them being funny. The Graham Norton Show handles this quite well, where quite often the comedian becomes a second, and less guarded, host. Less successful, in my opinion at handling this is The Jonathan Ross Show, where the comedian is side-lined for the most part.

But if the comedian is there just to bounce off other people, what happens when the entire guest list is comedians? Surely it would be chaos, the equivalent of otherwise funny people constantly yelling “my agent is better than yours!”. Yet, on Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled it’s not. For those unaware of the format, Alan Davies invites four comics, or as has been seen more in this second series, larger-than-life TV personalities who hack this kind of environment to sit round a table and just talk. The aim is for one of the conversations to produce a title for the episode, although that is often superfluous. The result is something that is often quite funny. There is no promotion, and supposedly no structure, although Davis’s introductions include clear jumping off points suggesting there is at least some design behind which anecdotes are told.

What is most interesting is that it is the lesser known names, or the ones not in the comedy industry at all, that are actually the funniest. Michael Ball, for example, stole the episode he was in under everyone else’s nose. Grace Dent admirably held her own against Johnny Vegas, one of life’s natural raconteurs. That is not to say there isn’t occasional miscasting – Janet Street-Porter failed to see the funny side of what was going off around her and just ranted about ramblers rights of way. But generally, the show is a delight. My favourite guest was Lizzie Roper, who told tow fantastic anecdotes. The first revolved around a practical joke involving a vibrator whilst she was in a play, whilst the second described her torment at the hands of a particularly vicious wild boar and a less than charming director.

This programme perhaps shows how best to handle the notoriously difficult issue of comics on chat shows, which is don’t leave them perched on the end of the sofa or in the green room. Just give them their own show. Trust me, it works. Most of the time.

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