Student comedy in Oxford is a flourishing, yet often under-appreciated, part of the creative scene at the university. However, thanks to the Oxford Revue’s newest committee, comedy is well on its way back into the centre of the creative arts, beginning with the group’s first show (‘Audrey’) of 2017 on Tuesday evening. Olly Jackson and Kathy Maniura, two of the committee’s members, took the time to speak to me about what the upcoming show involves, the Revue’s new initiatives and the group’s plans for the future.
After hearing the two converse excitedly about various Audreys, past and future, my first question was why ‘Audrey’? As it happens, no one actually knows. ‘We should probably go through the archives and work it out’, said Jackson, after acknowledging that the shows had been named Audreys for as long as he could remember. Clearly, the term is so second-nature to those in the know that there had never been any thought of a re-brand. Does the name bear any resemblance to the content of the shows? Not usually, although Jackson was also quick to point out that for the first time, he would be opening the performance with an Audrey-related joke, so perhaps there is some creative scope in the name after all.
“thanks to the Oxford Revue’s newest committee, comedy is well on its way back into the centre of the creative arts”
What, then, is the theme of the show? Maniura took me through the process of the creation of such Audreys, and explained why this was different from the Revue’s previous acts. Rather than continuing the Revue’s previous identity as a tight group of experienced comedians promoting their own new material in the shows, this time, after a ‘non-pressurising’ audition process, the committee have worked closely with ‘newbies’ to nurture new talent in the comedy scene. This is then combined with small slots given over to the experienced hands on the committee to try out new material or comedic partnerships and see where the sparks fly. Such creative diversity, she explains, benefits everyone. Creating a whole show’s worth of new content in the manner of the polished performances they take to the Edinburgh Fringe every summer puts a lot of pressure on the more experienced comedians, often requiring them to stay firmly within their comfort zones when performing. Expanding the show to new talent, therefore, not only gives a platform to those who are at the beginning of their journey into comedy, but also allows those with experience to branch out into new areas of comedy and develop their potential. Maniura, who took up comedy after being cast as the ‘comic relief’ character in several plays, has been mostly involved in sketch-writing but is looking to try out some monologues in upcoming shows, whereas Jackson, who has done several successful shows with his sketch group ‘Three Men in a Boot’ in the past, is going to feature as a compere this time round. The compere role is another new – and important – addition to the show. An introductory spiel helps to warm up the audience and prepare them for the comedic variety acts which will follow, taking some of the pressure off the individual acts, while the role of compere is itself a difficult skill to master, and will therefore be a useful string to add to Jackson’s bow.
The new-look Oxford Revue, so it seems, is opening its doors and welcoming anyone with a comedic spark into their fold.
The benefits of promoting the group to new performers as well as old are clearly numerable, but I was still curious as to how and where the committee finds such undiscovered comedic talent when recruiting their ‘newbies’. According to both Jackson and Maniura, there are far more people than you might expect who are interested in comedy in all its forms, most of whom simply haven’t had a platform through which to perform and perfect their laughter-inducing skills yet. When the chance of a relaxed auditioning process for a small slot on the show appeared, therefore, many of them were keen to take advantage of the opportunity, which explains the larger-than-expected auditioning process. When it became clear that there was a lot of fresh comedic potential to be explored, Jackson and Maniura decided to try out Revue-run workshops, in order to develop ideas, create new partnerships and allow for instant feedback from those around them in a supportive atmosphere. A lot of the time, Maniura explains, someone will have come up with the idea for a sketch, but without an audience who can give instant feedback, it can be difficult to know how well it will actually work. In addition, she adds, ‘there is this myth that someone is either funny or not funny’, whereas in reality just one spark of creativity can be enough to develop an idea into a fully-fledged act. The workshops, then, are about building performance confidence, taking creative potential in new directions, and getting advice from those in the know about how to develop their acts. In addition to the workshops, the group aims to create a university-wide database of those who are interested in comedy in order to facilitate the meeting of like-minded people and the potential for new partnerships. Whereas in previous years, there has seemed to be something of a divide between the Oxford Revue and other comedy groups in the university such as the Imps, Maniura is keen to break down this barrier and make comedy accessible to all, adjusting the Revue’s ethos and making the group into an outlet for anyone interested in comedy, no matter what branch of the genre they prefer.
The new-look Oxford Revue, so it seems, is opening its doors and welcoming anyone with a comedic spark into their fold. The best chance to see comedy in all its forms, featuring both new and experienced acts, is in this Tuesday’s Audrey at the Old Fire Station. Failing that, however, they are also putting on a special Valentine’s Day show and are already putting together another performance at the end of this term, so keep an eye out for plenty more chances to see the emerging talent in Oxford’s comedy scene!