Patrick Sylla

Stand-up routines can often feel more daring than sketches, perhaps because they’re carried by a single voice and rely on a carefully-designed performance feeling spontaneous and unlaboured. It’s testament to the skill of the Footlight performers and directors Patrick Sylla and Hasan al-Habib that they’ve been able to pull off two one-hour late shows (performed twice in a four-day run) comprised only of this riskier material.

"In most of the sets, then, disarmingly accurate observations and easy conversational styles yield the most rewards."

In fact, it’s frequently the riskiest material which pays off the most. The biggest laughs in the showcase are drawn by the most honest, close-to-the-bone comments, and the most original takes. For example, Niamh Curran’s unflinchingly dark appraisal of kidnapping documentaries packs far more of a punch than Callie Vandewiele’s comparison of Cambridge to Hogwarts. It’s exciting to see student comedians pushing into new, unexpected territory, often with great flair and incisiveness. It would be wonderful to see them experiment with more daring and unclaimed subject matter in future shows.

Equally, though, familiar topics are often treated with skill. Quips about middle-classness aren’t new to Cambridge routines, but Joy Hunter’s dry commentary still manages to feel surprising and on-the-nose: indeed, Hunter’s set benefits the most from honest, personal reflections. Elliott Wright and the director-slash-comperes are not the first to perform self-deprecating bits about not getting enough sex; but their warmth, energy and ease mean these land successfully. These three are particularly fun to watch: they seem to really enjoy themselves onstage, and Wright’s opening routine, a consistently hilarious and punchy character study, sets the bar high for the rest of the show.

In most of the sets, then, disarmingly accurate observations and easy conversational styles yield the most rewards. But Alex Franklin’s closing routine: a tightly-scripted, impeccably delivered force of deadpan absurdism, proves an impressive alternative. Franklin’s set, heavy with one-liners, puns and cleverly-positioned payoffs, also demonstrates that subject matter doesn’t have to be relatable or even realistic to make an audience roar. But no matter how whacky his yarn gets- at one point in he describes having a drink with a bereaved mole- Franklin exhibits winning comic control. Fittingly for the final act of the night, he also ends on the strongest and funniest final punchline.


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The Footlights’ first ever stand up show is a decided success, and the level of talent and hard work on display is exciting. I’m sure that many of us in the audience are looking forward to seeing what these performers have to offer next, and particularly how their individually successful comic styles will continue to develop. Even though not all the material always got big laughs, The Stand Up Showcase has proved to be a big laugh-out-loud night.

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