"... there is nothing quite like the buzz of being onstage"Izzy Lewis

I would never have thought that Conor Maynard’s music would have the ability to make me feel anything other than nausea. And yet, when I hear the spikey, tuneless beats of his seminal piece Can’t Say No, I can’t help but feel nostalgic. It takes me back to Easter term of first year, performing a sketch to this tune, in a sweaty, packed-out Corpus Playroom. It was part of a sketch show called Queue, which, after three years of performing comedy, is still one of my proudest achievements. 

Love Letters to Cambridge

These are tough and uncertain times for us all, and a lot of us are left with little closure. Varsity are launching this series to give a platform to students reflecting on the parts of Cambridge they'll miss the most, and to gain some closure through writing. Just email our Features team with a 150-word pitch with your idea!

The Cambridge Footlights is one of those societies you often hear about before joining the University. Performing in my first smoker was surreal and instantly addictive. While the society’s alumni are esteemed, there are forty nobodies for every A-Lister who came out of Footlights, and this thought buoyed me as a fresher. In my head, either I would be the next Emma Thompson, or would have at least met the next Emma Thompson, and that was good enough for me. Now that I’m a finalist, I’m over this idea, and will be incredibly sad if I don’t become very famous, very quickly.

The society itself has recently undergone drastic changes, and the drive for a more accessible comedy scene has underpinned much of this cohort’s experience. As I’ve got the chance to meet more people, and even been on the committee myself, I’ve realised just how expansive comedy can and should be. One of the real privileges of my time here has been the chance to work with and learn from peers that are actively challenging archaic versions of comedy, by creating space for anyone who is funny, regardless of their background. 

"One of the real privileges of my time here has been the chance to work with and learn from peers that are actively challenging archaic versions of comedy, by creating space for anyone who is funny, regardless of their background."Jade Franks

Comedy is more challenging than I could have ever anticipated, and I quickly realised there is more to it than being the funniest (read: loudest) person at pre’s. It takes genuine skill and an abhorrent amount of snacks to write a sketch show; there is a bizarre and wonderful shared ability among Cambridge comedians to think and overthink everything in the most minute depth, even on things as small as the punchline of a sketch about bread rolls on Bake Off (after hours of discussion, we stuck with the first suggestion). Nothing's ever done half-heartedly, and for some strange reason, I know I’ll miss the painfully late nights spent trying to finesse a show’s ending or debating whether a joke about a fish named Russell Crowe would be too niche (spoiler alert, it was). 

"...I quickly realised there is more to [comedy] than being the funniest (read: loudest) person at pre’s."

And this shared spirit flourishes beyond the sticky walls of the ADC or Pembroke New Cellars. Every year, the comedy scene stretches from Cambridge far up north to Edinburgh, for the annual Fringe Festival, which is basically Cambridge without the academic work, so pretty much Cambridge as usual for most in the comedy scene. I have been lucky enough to go every year to this sort of “Parents Get Lost” for the twenty-year-old wannabe comedian, and the experience is incomparably electric and soul-destroying in equal measure.

My memories of the Fringe are chaotic and joyous. From directing an 11 am stand-up hour about economics, to getting trapped with three friends in a ninety-minute original musical about a student’s love affair with their all-singing robot; being rescued from the toilets of the student sketch-off having drunk one too many glasses of Sainsbury’s house white to crying about boys while drinking overpriced mojitos in Bristo Square – Fringe is more about the mad friendships you make or cement than the shows you are doing.

Being able to create shows that laugh at the world around us with such a strong community of people also teaches you the most important skill of all: being able to laugh at yourself – a trend which I think gained most traction with Theresa May dancing into the Conservative party conference in 2018. In Lent 2020, I was lucky enough to perform a solo hour about growing up and coming out. While it was incredibly self-indulgent, there is nothing quite like the buzz of being onstage, when a joke lands as you’d hoped it would and you can pretend that you’ve moved on from all of your childhood bullying, because 80 people laughed as you recounted it. Comedy has made me resilient, and I now know that any time someone breaks my heart, they are simply providing ample material for my next show. 


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Mountain View

To the Iris cafe

With social distancing in full force, it feels like we need comedy more than ever, because laughter is something that brings us together (I copied this from Pinterest). Moments like the finale of October’s Two by Two: Here We Go Again, where a sold out ADC crowd sang and danced to ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’, are the kind of moments that are seared into my memory with a feeling of true escapism that only the silliest comedy can achieve. That’s why a show like Queue sticks, because what is sillier than performing a carefully-choreographed routine to Conor Maynard with four of your best friends, to an audience of more close – or drunk – friends?  

I’m sure that next year’s Footlights smokers will be inundated with skits about self-isolation and social distancing, and I am sorry that I won’t be there to see them. Farewell to the world of Cambridge comedy, it’s been a right laugh.

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