Some laughing matter: How to get started in comedy at university


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The Independent Online

University isn't all drinking, parties, and training for a "highly skilled" future career. For some, the experiences and the opportunities that student life offers can take them in unexpected directions, even forging whole new careers entirely.

We’ve all heard stories of bands getting together and finding their musical voice in higher education, but many comedians start out at university too. The most obvious and successful example is the Footlights Dramatic Club at Cambridge, followed by Oxford’s Revue, whose past members read like a who’s-who of British comedy. From Mitchell and Webb to Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese to Stephen Fry, Al Murray to Rowan Atkinson; a healthy selection of well-known actors and comedians who ultimately made millions in their careers, and it all started at university.

Thankfully there are plenty of chances too, even for those not enrolled at Oxbridge. Comedy is booming, with clubs, pub comedy nights, and open mic spots right across the UK.

Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice any aspiring comic – performer, writer or both – can receive is to devour as much comedy as possible, in as wide a spectrum of mediums and genres. Lists of the greatest comedy films of all time are regularly published both in the UK and US, and with services like Netflix and Lovefilm, not to mention ever-increasing DVD availability, experiencing the best in film and television from across the world, and classics from decades past, has literally never been easier.

Comedy is booming online, too. There are websites that dedicate themselves to producing or hosting funny content, sites that meticulously document comedy – both live and on television – and others that facilitate connections between aspiring comics. Aaron Brown, the editor of the UK's largest comedy reference website, the British Comedy Guide, says: "University is a hotbed for forming new ideas, and being forced to see the funny side. Stand-up comedy has never been so high profile in Britain as it is today, and many young people are taking advantage of and inspiration from that.”

The British Comedy Guide is the UK’s most-visited comedy reference website, packed with information about TV and film past and present, burgeoning tips and articles for performers and writers, and busy forums to discuss the craft with like-minded people. Meanwhile, Chortle has its own forums and runs an annual Student Comedy Award, with a final at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Comedian Rio Bauer, the 2013 Chortle Student Comedy winner, says she found it quite easy to get a start in comedy.

“When I moved to Manchester for University, I knew no one there and had no clue where to start with the comedy scene," she said. "So I looked around online to get an idea of what sort of gigs were about, and then found out about the Chortle Student Comedy competition.”

“If you are starting out in comedy and are looking gigs to practice on I'd avoid the student union comedy night," she advises. "Most student unions, including my own, run comedy nights, but personally I find performing to an audience of strangers compared to performing to an audience of your peers are two completely different things.”

Her final pearl of wisdom for budding comedians is to stick with your gut and go with the material you believe is good; “It doesn't matter how weird or anti-comedy that material may be because in comparison if you keep trying to work material you feel no connection to you aren't going to improve.”

Students looking for open mic opportunities, or just to take in a few performances, around the capital should check out London Is Funny, while those in the north of England may find lots of information about the region’s comedy scene from Giggle Beats. Many campuses and unions also hold regular comedy nights with open mic spots available. Even the world famous Comedy Store offers regular chances for newcomers to make it onto stage, at both its Manchester and central London venues.