Gigging for it

Students can be tough on young comics. Andrew Stone surveys this year's circuit
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The Independent Online
And then there was the one about the comedian who played a gig to Cambridge undergraduates who were too intelligent to laugh at his jokes.

Student audiences can be hard to please, as this year's best new comedian, Julian Barrett, knows. While still struggling as a comedian he often found himself at the mercy of packs of undergraduates. "I've had some bad gigs in my time, when I started off, especially. I was a bit nervous and everyone would sense that and just start shouting at me," he recalls.

The prospect of an extended tour of the country's universities, this time with the Newcastle Brown National Comedy Network, still induces a mixture of anticipation and panic, he says. "Student audiences can be unpredictable. In college it's harder than in a comedy club: students just end up in the union bar because they can't be bothered to go out. You end up with a weird mismatch of people, half of them cerebral literary types and the other half land managers or rugby boys going, "hmmm, what's all this rubbish?"

"I've been in the audience I'm now playing to, so I know what it's like to see someone's act fail. I was at this Lee Evans gig a couple of years ago. My mate told him to get off because his act was shit. His whole act just died, it was terrible."

Obsessed with comedy as a boy, Barrett started his own career doing an open mike spot while on a university exchange in Washington DC. After a long slog in London clubs and campuses honing his act, he won recognition in the Comedy Zone, a new talent showcase, and at last year's Edinburgh festival where he won the coveted Open Mike Award.

This year has seen him wowing audiences on BBC's Stand Up Show and, along with his fellow comedian Tim Hope, confusing them with a glorious spoof techno band. Called The Pod, it pokes fun at all the pseudo-spiritual codswallop embraced by technoheads and Internet geeks. It was such a success at this year's Edinburgh Festival that a radio show and record deal are in the offing.

The act is so convincingly po-faced that some dance aficionados never got the joke and a couple of DJs even threatened physical violence.

"You get quite a lot of division in the audience," smiles the softly spoken Barrett. "Some laugh, some ask, 'what is this?', others dance away absolutely oblivious to it all."

Watch out dance fans - the last laugh may be on you.

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