Fresh out of a Classics exam and intermittently babbling about Ancient Rome, Olly Jackson met me to talk about the biggest student comedy event of the year, the Oxford Revue and Friends at the Playhouse. Hosted by TV comedian Naz Osmanoglu, the Oxford Revue will be joined by the Cambridge Footlights and the Durham Revue in what promises to be a night of fast-paced sketch comedy.
Olly tells me that the evening will be a culmination of the Revue’s best work from throughout the year, so if you haven’t had the chance to make their termly Audreys, this is the perfect chance to see Oxford’s best comedy talent. New performers have already been through what he calls the “proving grounds” of the Audreys, and the material is mostly tried and tested, so neither audience nor performer is at risk of the dreaded deathly silence which can happen with less experienced comedians.
Ever the sadist, I ask Olly to share his worst comedy show anecdote with me: “It was very tragic, but it wasn’t really my fault—ball gigs are always rubbish! At one minute to midnight, in the middle of our set, someone announced that the fireworks were about to start, and literally everyone left, including the bar staff. We just carried on talking though, because we hoped it would confuse everyone when they returned in the middle of a different sketch.”
Unless something explosive happens during election night, the Revue will certainly have all eyes trained upon them this time though, having secured the best venue in Oxford for their show, as well as their professional comedian host. Olly attributes this to their reputation, which certainly allows them to draw in large audiences and play at big venues like the Playhouse.
Looking at their alumni list from the last 70 years, it’s not surprising: Rowan Atkinson, Michael Palin, Al Murray and Richard Curtis are just a few highlights from the ranks. Indeed, it’s a list rivalled only by the Cambridge Footlights (Hugh Laurie, Richard Ayoade, David Mitchell) who will be sharing the stage on Thursday. Rather disappointingly for this article, Olly insists that the two troupes keep the rivalry friendly: “We went to Cambridge for their Easter gig and we all got on really well backstage. It’s really good and useful to see other people doing sketch stuff”.
One of the advantages of working with other universities is escaping what he calls “the Oxford echo chamber”. Olly says it can be easy to fall back on tired Oxford tropes in sketch-writing: “I hate Oxford sketches, and I always refuse to do them. Sketches about tutes can be funny, but I always think that you can’t show it to anyone other than an Oxford audience.” Olly makes a point of “writing about really weird stuff, which is hopefully universally entertaining”.
As Oxford jokes are out of bounds, I ask Olly to explain the process of coming up with sketch ideas. “Ideas come when I’m just walking around, doing my life…but I also send and receive messages saying ‘wouldn’t it be funny if…?’, and then we will write the other person’s stuff”. This collaborative approach has led to more exciting, fast-paced style of sketch compared to what has been seen in Oxford previously. “All of the sketches are very, very short and punchy. Which is what I think they should be. I think ‘let’s just do the idea!”
The Oxford Revue and Friends will play for one night only on 8 June at the Oxford Playhouse. Tickets are still available on the Playhouse website: http://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/whats-on/all-shows/the-oxford-revue/4775.