Cambridge Footlights

Congratulations! You’ve graduated, got your degree and are off into the so-called ‘real world’. But career and a happy fulfilling life aside, the real question is how can you turn all the stand-up, sketches and smokers into something people other than your long suffering friends want to see? Is there comedy after Cambridge?

Three ex-Footlights share their journey into awkward audiences, persevering through a pandemic and how to make the move from student comedian, to just comedian.

So what comedy did you do in Cambridge, and what have you been up to since?

Rhiannon Shaw (Footlights Presents: Bread, Footlights Spring Revue 2018: Judi’s 40th, Empty Nest):

I graduated in 2018. I’d been doing sketch and stand-up since my second year of undergrad and then found character comedy just before I did my Master’s — it felt like the right fit for me.

Ania Magliano (Footlights Stand-up Showcase 2019: Footlights Spring Revue 2019: Last Resort, Ania Magliano: Mysterious Girl):

I graduated in 2019 when everything was fine, and since then have moved to London to gig and later participate in the global pandemic. While I was at Cambridge I did a lot of comedy as well, and founded the female & non binary comedy collective Stockings.

Alex Franklin (Footlights at the Arts Theatre: Magpies Love Mirrors; The Footlights International Tour Show 2019: Look Alive!):

I graduated in 2019 with a degree in Natural Sciences, did a bunch of stuff with Footlights and also random bits of acting/ learning how to act — I also played League of Legends for Cambridge (there’s an article with me looking distraught after a harrowing loss somewhere online). Since uni I’ve been part of a sketch group called Chuck Salmon, and we’ve been bringing our narrative sketch show ‘Chuck Salmon: Pool Noodles’ to places around the UK; also I do some occasional stand-up/solo stuff every now and again.

What’s the biggest difference between Cambridge theatre and the real world?

Alex: It is much harder to find a rehearsal space in the real world without paying £20 an hour.

Rhiannon: Time and how that time feels. Never again will you and your pals all be so free to sit around in coffee shops banging out sketches, so use it wisely! Also in the real world you sometimes get paid, which is nice.

Ania Magliano

Ania: Looking back at the Cambridge scene, the funniest thing is how seriously we all took it.

“It is much harder to find a rehearsal space in the real world without paying £20 an hour”

How do you switch from a student audience to the general public?

Rhiannon: The general public are different. I wouldn’t say that they are less forgiving but dying on your arse in front of people old enough to be your parents/grandparents is a different emotion entirely.

Ania: Student audiences are incredibly giving and generous, and I don’t think I ever saw anyone bomb during uni unless they were actively being offensive. Also they’re more likely to relate and have the same sphere of references, so I’ve found it important to try and move beyond that so I don’t die on my arse when I gig somewhere like Newbury. My favourite gigs to do are definitely gigs with a younger and ideally queer crowd because they are, of course, my people.

Alex: I think you can be weirder in front of younger people, or at least you don’t have to lead them in as much. I feel like people who grew up in the Internet age are being bombarded with content so consistently that they often expect comedy to be made of completely ludicrous concepts held together tenuously by a single shoestring, whereas your parents probably still think Season 28 of the Simpsons is avant-garde.

What was your worst crowd/most embarrassing moment?

Rhiannon: I have a bit of audience participation in my show where I start flirting with an audience member. I thought it would be funny to pick on the Dad of someone I used to have a thing with. Needless to say, it wasn’t.

Ania: I was MCing a gig the other night where a member of the audience thought he could perform because he’d bought a ticket and was being an absolute wanker. He got so angry that I didn’t let him onstage that he asked for a refund for the whole night for him and his friend’s £78 worth of food and drink. The venue very kindly agreed to refund him, but then accidentally put it through as another charge, so charged him double. His Trip Advisor review was a thing to behold.

Chuck Salmon

Alex: I genuinely fell off the stage at the BBC Radio 4 New Comedy Award Heats, and all I can say is thank god it was only for the radio.

Has your style and material changed since graduating?

Alex: It’s got bigger I guess? I try more things now, I’ve started doing more musical comedy; aside from that though I’ve probably just got better at writing tighter sets and jokes.

Rhiannon: Yes and no. I still find the same things funny, but I change if I’m getting paid to write for a radio show or a panel show, for example. When I’m writing for other comedians you have to pick out their voice in among your ideas, which is fun.

Ania: I truly hope so!

“When I’m writing for other comedians you have to pick out their voice in among your ideas”

What top tip would you give to someone graduating this year?

Rhiannon: Don’t take a break like I did. Get your name out there and don’t lose the momentum from your uni days!

Ania: Everyone’s struggling to get gigs at the moment because of the uncertainty of COVID for venues and audiences, so don’t be put off if it feels like you’re not getting anywhere.

Rhiannon Shaw

Alex: Become a banker. Unless you want to do comedy, in which case start studying comedy properly. Also give me gigs.

What’s next for you?

Rhiannon: I’m writing, mainly! But I’m also doing my show Emptier Nest at the Camden Fringe — 8.30pm on Thursday 12th August at the Museum of Comedy. It’s a show about my life and all the people in it. It’s surreal and a bit dark, but all cool things are these days.


Mountain View

Bringing Cambridge Theatre closer to home

Ania: I’ve got a lot of work in progress shows coming up as I work towards my Edinburgh debut hopefully sometime in the next 40(?) years. The first batch of these is at the Camden Fringe at 2Northdown in Kings Cross. 7pm on the 11th, 13th and 14th of August.

Alex: Chuck Salmon: Pool Noodles is coming to Camden, 27th-29th August, and it’s going to be absolutely freakin’ amazing (it’s set in a world where lifeguards are treated like celebrities; like a superhero film if all the heroes were Aquaman)! Please come, we wish to see your lovely faces, and we love an audience that enjoys online reading. Also if you’re in Brighton, we’re doing a show for only one day on 11th August after a, dare I say it, successful run at Brighton Fringe, so please check us out!