Why we...do not tell people that we study at Cambridge

August 11, 2000

Cambridge students. They are appearing in How to Avoid Huge Ships, produced by Cambridge student James Williams, at the Edinburgh Fringe. Venue: The Gilded Balloon at 6pm, until August 28

More than enough has been written about Cambridge University's comedy heritage. Peter Cook, Stephen Fry, Simon Munnery, Bill Oddie and all the other comic figures who first appeared in Footlights productions cast an awesome shadow over people like us as we try and follow in their footsteps.

For 18 months I have been travelling down to London on a weekly basis to do open-mic spots at pubs and clubs with little success. It is getting quite expensive. When owners and organisers ask me where I am from, I never say that I am a Cambridge student, or that I am vice-president of Footlights.

There are some 20 Cambridge shows at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, many going under the name of comedy, and one is of course the Footlights tour show. This year's show is called Sensible Haircut and will rightfully be successful, featuring five of the most talented people in the university.

Our group, meanwhile, describes itself as "an Eat Your House Production", a title explained discreetly in press releases as "an independent company based in Cambridge". We do not mention Footlights, we do not mention the university.

But we are all active and proud Footlights members. The society's revues, weekly open-mic-style shows, workshops and productions provide an incomparable training ground for young people to perform in front of increasingly cynical audiences. We are also well aware that the Footlights name attracts attention.

So why not sell ourselves as a Cambridge show by Cambridge students from the Cambridge Footlights? I guess it is precisely because we want to stand out for reasons other than where we study. We do not want audiences with preconceptions, good or bad, about what they are going to see.

We set up this company ourselves, raised the money ourselves and want to be watched as ourselves. Some might argue that we are playing a risky game. Only time will tell whether we will be back next year under this or any other name.

* Interview by Helen Hague

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