Heard the one about students doing a stand-up comedy routine as part of their exam? Well, that’s exactly what some Middlesex Theatre Arts students did at the Kings Head pub in Crouch End.
Thirty-seven students had to deliver a comedy routine in front of a packed crowd, including friends and families, in their final year performance for the Comedy Performance module.
Since the late 1970s Middlesex has offered a module in stand-up comedy – the first University in the country to allow students to write and perform stand-up within a degree.
And over the last 30 years, around 1,000 Middlesex students have braved the blaring lights and intimidating audience to perform stand-up as part of their studies at Middlesex. Famous Middlesex luminaries that passed through the King Head pub initiation include Alan Carr, Sally-Anne Hayward, Angie McEvoy and Dan Skinner.
All BA Theatre Arts students have the option to take the module in the final year and it’s compulsory for those taking Theatre Arts (Solo Performance). Even if a student picks the module, the daunting final performance on stage is not obligatory. Students can choose to take a written assessment, though that rarely gets taken up.
“The students have the option of alternative modes of assessment – so they could for example submit a written project. But they rarely take the alternative options, and nearly all of them choose to perform,” says Arthur Husk, the programme leader of BA Theatre Arts. “They understand they’ll be doing something they won’t normally do, and that’s part of the attraction.”
Middlesex students performed three successive nights this year at the Kings Head pub. On one of those nights, 21-year-old Sunny Patel was headlining: “There was so much pressure - I had my friends and families there and it was being assessed. But it all went well. I had the best buzz in a very long time.”
Sunny, who studied BTEC drama at college, has always been interested in acting and performance but wasn’t sure about the comedy module at first.
“I wasn’t really interested in comedy until I took the module. I wasn’t sure and had to be persuaded by friends, but I’m so glad I took it,” he says.
“It gave me a different view to performance. I’m used to acting, reading scripts and performing on stage and this was another type of performance. Initially, I thought it was about telling funny jokes. But it’s not that simple. I realised it was also about delivery and the performance –which is as important.”
The module allows students to develop a comprehensive conceptual understanding of performing comedy. Students then apply this understanding in a range of activities including critical writing, analytical reflection and performance.
“Initially, it was hard to justify it as part of an academic study. But the University pointed out the academic element of the module - the understanding of technical performance, processes and how to interact with the audience,” says Arthur.
Arthur feels the underlying techniques of audience interaction and public speaking are qualities that are in demand because they can be transferred into real life job situations.
“We have lots of evidence from former students that it stands out on their CV”, he says. “They get interviews simply because they’ve done stand-up comedy. Public speaking is a sought after quality and stand-up suggests that a person has a certain amount of confidence in front of an audience.”
Recent comedians, such as Michael Macintyre and even Middlesex’s own Alan Carr and Dan Skinner, have used stand-up as a gateway to go into presenting or acting. Sunny still harbours a desire to be an actor but would like to see where the comedy route takes him:
“As I’m doing Theatre Arts, my ultimate goal is still acting. But I’m also looking to take the comedy further. These days comedians start off in stand-up but then move on to other things. So it doesn’t deviate from my desire to perform.”
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