Culture Column 1: Joe Bates

JOE BATES isn’t quite the comedian he’d hoped in the first of our Culture Column series.

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The first of our culture-focused Guest columns goes to Tab stalwart and Culture Editor Joe Bates. If you’ve got an idea for the column, email a pitch to [email protected].

I’ve always wanted to try stand-up. I mean, it looks so easy. You stand up, you tell jokes – how hard can it be? I’m a cocky shit, so I don’t really have an issue with nerves, and I’ve always enjoyed public speaking.

But I’m not as stupid as all that. I know it must be hard. Everyone always says ‘It’s the scariest thing in the world’. But to me, that’s like a red flag to a bull. The higher the risk, the higher the prize. And of course, auditioning for a smoker doesn’t cost you anything…

All that said, it took me long enough to put myself up to the task. I was definitely more scared than I thought I should be. There was something somehow magical about comedy. Comedians are like a magician’s hat – you can look up close and find nothing strange. But suddenly, with what seems like perfect ease, the comedic rabbit is pulled out of the hat.

Eventually, after more than a few drinks, I found the balls to apply for an audition. I pulled together a set with more tenuous, unfunny metaphors than this article’s third paragraph, and strode boldly off to audition for the Newnham Smoker.

I won’t take you through the details of my audition. It was cruel enough to inflict those unfunny four minutes on the two people in the room. Needless to say, they were lovely and the process, despite its natural obstacles, was surprisingly pleasant.

Because my failed audition taught me two things of use. Firstly: I’m not funny. It’s not that I’m dull, I just can’t quite make people laugh. I won’t stop trying, but it’s good to know where I stand.

Secondly: I’m wilfully ignorant of my own shortcomings. I really, really want to be good at the things I haven’t yet tried. This has its downsides – I worry I come across as brash, and that I don’t give my friends’ achievements as much respect as they deserve.

But it does make me do stupid things, and for that I am glad. Because Cambridge is a place where you can try out an absurd number of things. The culture scene in this university is much more open that I sometimes give it credit for, and I’d never have got involved if it weren’t for a streak of foolhardiness.

So if you’ve always wanted to try to make people laugh (or cry – that might be easier), then give it a go. You’re unlikely to be a terrible as me.