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Five years ago
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Footlights in ``Good For You''

As I have suggested before Cambridge Footlights is one of those great British comedy institutions, and we owe them generous helpings of thanks for having produced such spectacular people as Douglas Adams, Alexander Armstrong, Ben Miller, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Peter Cook, Hugh Dennis, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, David Mitchell, Robert Webb, John Oliver and Sandi Toksvig (and lots of other people). Well, ``produced'' might be the wrong word. Fostered? Driven to excellence?

At any rate, with such a splendid history and exalted associations comes expectations of truly extraordinary proportions. This makes it easier to stand out (not to mention sell out -- the tickets, I mean) at a place like the Edinburgh Fringe, but it also means that people like me will show up expecting to see the new David Mitchell, the new Emma Thompson or (heaven forbid) the new Stephen Fry. And that is all really quite an unreasonable way of treating a bunch of (mainly) undergraduates. The finesse and perfect timing we (or I, at any rate) associate with the names listed above are probably due in large part to practice and experience and all those other dreary things that doth a professional make.

I meditated on this on my way back home after the show because, to tell the stark horrible truth, I was a little disappointed. And that isn't quite fair. I laughed quite a bit. They entertained me. They definitely felt like Footlights (and that is odd considering I have never seen Footlights perform before, but they did exactly the thing that my mind considers the common factor in all the names I mentioned -- that is to say they confirmed the Footlightness of it all and now I am thinking that there is a distinct difference in how those comedians from Cambridge act and write and the stuff produced by the Oxford people (like Rowan Atkinson, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Richard Curtis) and now I am thinking even more that true magic happens when the two meet up and have a massive comedy encounter, but I should probably stop thinking and start reviewing again, so where was I?).

At any rate. They took the commonplace to the absurd place, made the annoying funny and parodied life as we know it. And that is something I enjoy immensely. Unfortunately they also occasionally took everything a little too far (one iteration too many of a joke, a little over the top parody...) or made it a little unsubtle. And this is what I was thinking of as I walked home, and as I tried to explain it to Tor (I think my words were something to the effect that it is like watching the Footlights classics but without them being quite done yet), I remembered this sketch from the early days of our heroes:



It is funny, of course, but it is none of the participants at their best.

And so, while I have great hopes for the people we saw today (especially James Moran, who was splendid), if they were wines I'd say they could do with a couple more years in the cellar.

Comments

Barely out of short trousers. And only a few of them will be famous one day; Cleese, Adams, Fry etc. must have had dozens of Footlights contemporaries you've never heard of. You shouldn't expect too much of them.

That said, they are quite good. If you end up doing your postdoc in Cambridge you should definitely try and to along to some of their shows. Somehow I imagine you'd like going to the theatre at 11pm for an hour-long show.
Camilla,  15.08.10 11:04

Both as regards expectations and my attitude to 11pm shows.
Camilla,  14.09.10 22:50

as a comparison, anyway:

here is the Footlights review of 1982, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie's last year at Cambridge:


The Cellar Tapes:

Camilla,  14.09.10 23:19

I am currently reading The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry, and he makes much of exactly the point I made in this article: that there is a palpable difference between Cambridge and Oxford comedians. So it isn't just me.
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