ON the biography page of Simon Evans’s website, under the heading “various”, is this interesting little sentence: “Previous skills include juggling, law and writing erotic fiction.”
So which of these three diverse pursuits was he best at? “Probably the erotic fiction,” he answers swiftly, “though there isn’t so much demand for it now. People used to buy magazines but now they can get everything free of charge on the internet, and erotic fiction is withering on the vine.”
What of his legal skills? Evans – guest speaker at the 2012 Scottish Legal Awards later this month – did a law degree at the University of Southampton, but is candid about his lack of talent: “I never showed much promise; within a month of the course starting, I knew I would never become a lawyer. I just didn’t fit in when my friends on the course were all cosying up to Freshfields and Slaughter & May.”
The initial attraction, as so often, was law as represented on TV: “I wanted to be a barrister and thought it would be all Rumpole of the Bailey, very erudite and witty with lots of wine bars – but it wasn’t. Yet becoming a stand-up delivered what I wanted as a barrister – standing there and making my case.”
Evans says he felt isolated on his course, not just because he didn’t much like law, but because he was a state school boy, the first person in his family to go to university and one of only a handful of the 100 or so in the Law Faculty who wasn’t from the independent school sector.
So if he felt so left out, why didn’t he pack it in? “I didn’t feel confident enough to say ‘I’ve got it wrong’, and I was so far out of my comfort zone that I clung to it for fear of being kicked out altogether. In the end, I got my law degree although I was a bit cheeky with how I ‘researched’ my dissertation and got a 2:2, which flattered me.”
With law ruled out, Evans left uni with “just a vague idea” that he wanted to write. “I loved Alan Coren and wanted to be a columnist who was brilliantly funny with a good life and long lunches with plenty of el vino.” That didn’t transpire, but he did take a journalism course – and wrote erotic fiction: “I tried all the avenues as a writer and I read in a book that Malcolm McLaren had written porno before making it with the Sex Pistols, so I thought I’d give it a go and I got commissioned, and it kept me in regular work for a while.”
While Evans wrote dirty stories, some of his pals had followed their dream into the law – but the comedian now realises a barrister’s life is not all conviviality and G&Ts.
Life is pretty tough for criminal barristers,” he says. “When I meet my friend for a drink, he often has to leave, go and collect papers from his office and have them read for a case the next morning. It’s not one of the jobs you can contain, it keeps breaking its banks and it’s certainly not very family-friendly – but then neither is stand-up comedy.”
With children aged seven and four, Evans tries not to travel too much, but his career does take him away. He has played the big music festivals, including T in the Park, and the major comedy festivals – including, of course, Edinburgh Fringe, where he got his big break, coming second in the Open Mic final to Paul Foot in 1997.
“Peter Kay won So You Think You’re Funny that year and he became a superstar. Paul and I aren’t really all that famous …”
Evans is being modest here; his small, piggy eyes (subject of one of his key routines) are becoming much more widely-known and he has appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, on many panel games and frequently on Radio 4 shows including The News Quiz.
He is also a veteran of the corporate circuit and has played to largely legal audiences a number of times. How does he find lawyers as an audience? “They are pretty good – intelligent and usually not too drunk. They have seen the less savoury side of life and are not clinging to delusions; I prefer my audiences to have a few dents and scratches.”
Evans is a writer of amusing material for others – shows such as Eight Out of Ten Cats and Argumental and sometimes for other comedians. What does he prefer? “Definitely doing it myself,” he says. “Writing for other people is fine because the money is pretty good, there is usually a specific brief and you can do it from home – but I get disappointed sometimes when I hear a comedian using my lines and think, ‘I could have got the laugh for that’.
“With some material, it is not like just writing a joke – it is brewing inside and you mine its potential over a period of time. If you want to make a go of it in the long-term, you don’t give away too much stuff.”
l Simon Evans is guest speaker at the Scott+Co Scottish Legal Awards 2012. More than 450 members of the profession will attend the event on 29 March at the EICC. To book a table, go to www.thelegalawards.com or contact Isla Munro, KDMedia, on 0131-337 6232 or firstname.lastname@example.org