Tarun Pass

Like many middle-class parents of a certain age, mine have a fondness for Radio 4, and we always had the 6.30 comedy on whilst eating dinner when I was younger. I loved programmes like That Mitchell and Webb Sound, Cabin Pressure, The Now Show, and The News Quiz. Of course, these are all written by or starring ex-Footlights, so it’s easy to see why I thought a Cambridge education was a sure-fire way into the comedy industry. This is, of course, untrue, but student comedy did, nonetheless, allow me to play my first gig to the sold out 228-seater ADC rather than a couple of disinterested pubgoers.

Despite my desire to be a comedian, I had never done any comedy before arriving at Cambridge. Some would say I haven’t done any since, but you can’t please everyone. The reason for this is that I am cripplingly shy, which always makes for an awkward chat with audience members in the bar after a show. People find it hard to understand how I can prance about on stage aggressively oversharing details from my sex life, yet simultaneously find it difficult to make eye contact with them in a one-on-one conversation. It’s even more awkward, however, when the shoe is on the other foot. People who know me well and then see me on stage feel like they’re watching some weird, twisted version of me. As one of them somewhat indelicately put it, ‘you’re so funny on stage, which is surprising given how you are in person.’

This seems to be quite a common dichotomy amongst comedians. Big names from Joan Rivers to Rhod Gilbert have admitted to suffering from shyness offstage. In 2014, as part of a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 500 or so comedians took a personality test, the results of which revealed that comedians are both introverted and extroverted, a dual trait that was not shared by any of the control groups. The same study also showed that comedians have a reduced ability to feel pleasure, find focusing difficult, and act impulsively. This all makes total sense to me. Comedians are generally outsiders and observers, but people come to comedy to feel included and uplifted. Nobody wants to hear about the exploits of the socially adept or successful, so the biggest mistake a comedian can make is to seem superior, but it is definitely a uniquely self-confident person who believes themselves funny enough to get on stage and ask an audience to pay for the pleasure of their company. 

“A stand-up set with no laughter isn’t comedy anymore; it’s a breakdown with an audience.”

Some have suggested that comedians use comedy to heal, and I would agree. I find performing terrifying, to the extent of vomiting before I go on stage. Equally, there’s a unique risk associated with comedy as an art form, in that a stand-up set with no laughter isn’t comedy anymore; it’s a breakdown with an audience. Antonin Artuad said that ‘no one has ever written, painted or sculpted, modelled, built or invented except literally to get out of hell,’ and at times when I’ve been clinically down in the dumps, comedy has helped me immensely.

There’s a curative benefit for the audience, too. In my mind, comedy is one of the most effective ways of discussing heavy issues, because just as applause is an audience’s way of expressing gratitude or enjoyment, laughter is an audience’s way of agreement or recognition. In that way, the audience can revel in the solidarity of collective laughter, and for a moment the sense of solitude is lifted. That’s why sitcoms such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Will Sharpe’s Flowers are achieving such popularity at the moment - people want to know they aren’t alone.


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Mountain View

Being part of CAST brought plenty of comedy, very few errors

The Lobster of Never Letting Go is my first full hour of stand-up, made up of autobiographical anecdotes and observations, and coloured by my own experience with mental illness. I’ve been working on the show non-stop for a few months now, but I feel that all my performing experience over the last year has led up to it. Footlights’ Smokers have been an invaluable way of testing material, but 5-minute sets don’t allow for a lot of nuance, so I’m enjoying the chance to play with longer narratives, without the pressure of ramming all my best jokes into a such a short set. Perhaps it’s horribly narcissistic to imagine that baring my soul on stage might promote discussion or alleviate some of the loneliness of mental illness. At the end of the day, this is only one performance, but it is still a comedy show, so I hope at the very least to send the audience home with a big old dose of the best medicine going: laughter. 

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