It is very difficult to be funny as a sportsman – intentionally, anyway. Sure, there are many incidents where athletes’ petulance, self-obssession or boneheadedness renders them hilarious, but generally the nature of the profession does not lend itself to laughs.
Unless, of course, you are a veteran in an exhibition match, where the unwritten rule is to be wacky. And even then, the “humour” is more cringeworthy than belly-laugh-inducing.
So it was with great trepidation that we sat down to watch Andy Murray perform in a sketch for Stand Up To Cancer, Channel 4’s charity drive, on Friday night.
Murray wasn’t making jokes about cancer. (Are there any that are actually funny? If you Google “jokes about cancer” a large number appear, but they are as unfunny as … well, cancer.) He was merely appearing in a sketch during a show to raise money.
The distinction needs to be made, but it did not temper our dread of Britain’s best tennis player potentially make an arse of himself. We are veterans of way too many Children in Need and Sport Reliefs to expect anything other than a sympathetic smile and “oh well, it’s for a good cause” when it comes to sports stars doing “comedy”.
But Murray was actually funny. The premise was that he and Richard Ayoade, the comic actor and director, were holding auditions for Andy Murray: The Movie, with the tennis player cast as the “executive consultant producer of casting” and luminaries from Britney Spears to Cesc Fabregas as the hopefuls.
Tim Henman was one who went for the lead role and was told by Murray he was “flat, dull and unengaging – exactly what we are looking for” and he had definitely made the final two. “I’ve never made the final two,” he said. “The nation knows that,” Ayoade said.
The real highlights were when the editing failed to hide the fact that Murray was creasing up with laughter at the stars’ attempts to imitate the player – Pharrell Williams doing a Scottish accent had Murray sniggering, as did Jimmy Carr’s Roger Federer impression – and Ayoade’s digs. “Cry heroic, girly tears,” he told Michael Sheen as a pointer to acting out Murray losing at Wimbledon.
Later in the sketch Ayoade turned to Murray and said: “I know you are speaking, because this happens,” with an opening-and-closing hand gesture, “but what’s coming out is [in a cracking, groaning voice] ‘aooaooauua’.” Murray lost it (in a good way), before regaining his composure to answer: “I don’t like you.”
Ayoade replied: “I am attracted to you, but I don’t like you,” which was enough to get Murray guffawing even more.
It was yet further evidence that there is more to Murray than the hackneyed “dour Scot” tag he gets lumbered with (does anybody still think that, except bulldog-tattooed In-ger-lish clots who persist in resurrecting Murray’s joke about not supporting England at the 2006 World Cup?) and it showed that sometimes sportspeople can be funny. And good sports as well.Reuse content