People often (mistakenly) believe that both Oxford and Cambridge Universities are very serious, stuffy places that only produce serious, stuffy graduates who go on to have sensible, stable careers that are solid but not exactly a barrel of laughs. And while many serious academics, politicians, authors and more are indeed an educational product of the ‘Oxbridge System’ so are some of your – and the world’s – favorite funny people:
All of Monty Python
Although collectively they are a group of men who are credited with creating some of the most irreverent, silly, groundbreaking comedy of all time, all five of the original Pythons are products of the Oxbridge system.
Michael Palin and Terry Jones are Oxford lads. Palin attended Brasenose College to study modern history while Jones read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, but “strayed into history early on”, and that is the the degree with which he graduated.
The other three Pythons are Cambridge chaps. Graham Chapman actually went to Cambridge to study medicine at Emmanuel College and was set on becoming a doctor. Until, that is, he met a law student from Downing College, John Cleese, who persuaded him that the work they both did with the Cambridge Footlights theatrical club was a far more promising career path for them both.
Enlisting a slightly younger English student from Pembroke College, Eric Idle, to work with them, the trio left Cambridge after graduation to follow their comedic ambitions, teaming up a few years later with their Oxford counterparts, and a political science graduate and part time cartoonist from one of the US’s oldest liberal arts colleges, Occidental named Terry Gilliam, Britain’s most iconic comedy troupe was born.
Sacha Baron Cohen
Ali G. Borat. Brüno Gehard and several more very funny – and controversial – characters are all, of course, the creations of the very irreverent Sacha Baron Cohen. It surprises many then when they discover that back in the early nineties a young Sacha attended Christ’s College, Cambridge where he read history, graduating in 1993 with upper second class honours.
At the same time as Sacha was studying the serious stuff though he was also modeling part time (really) and was a member of the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club, which is where he discovered his true calling.
Whether you love him as the bumbling Mr Bean or prefer one – or all – of his quasi historical Blackadder characters, or just love his side splitting stand up, there is little doubt that Rowan Atkinson is one of the funniest, most versatile comedians of his generation.
But when he was a student at Oxford’s Queen’s College,his chosen course of study, an MSc in Electrical Engineering, was pretty serious stuff. After meeting a chap called Richard Curtis though, an English Language and Literature student at Christ Church, he was persuaded to join the Oxford University Dramatic Society and thus began not only a stellar comedy career but a writer/actor collaboration that is still going strong after more than 40 years. He also met two other Oxford chaps there, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry and their collaborations, especially on Blackadder, are now the stuff of legend as well.
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
Another of the pioneering satirical comedy acts of the Seventies was that of Pete and Dud – aka Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. And they, like the Pythons, were Oxbridge educated, Cook at Cambridge’s Pembroke College and Moore at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Dudley, who was rather shy due to his small stature (Moore was just 5’2″ tall), was rewarded with a scholarship to study music at Magdalen thanks to his prodigious musical talents and Cook read French and German at Pembroke with the intention of following his father into the very serious diplomatic service. Both however joined their schools’ various drama and music groups and happened to meet as student performers at the Edinburgh Festival. The rest, as they say, is comedic history, with the pair going on to become one of the funniest comedy duos of all time while also enjoying successful solo careers in TV and movies.