Ryan Ammar: From student life in Timaru to comedy in Cambridge

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Ryan Ammar: From student life in Timaru to comedy in Cambridge

Our columnist Ngaire Ackerley gets an exclusive interview with Ryan Ammar, a Kiwi who was recently named one of the “Most impressive students at Cambridge University” by Business Insider.



Image copyright of Chris Rowlands Photography.

 Hailing from Timaru, Ryan Ammar has quickly embraced the comedy scene in the UK.

Ammar’s real talent lies in his play writing and comedy acts while he studies English Literature at Cambridge University. If that isn’t enough, he is the Vice-President of the ‘Cambridge Footlights’, is involved with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has even had his work shortlisted for the Harry Porter Prize.

Our columnist, Ngaire Ackerley, interviewed Ryan to find out more.

So you’re attending Cambridge University on a scholarship, was that difficult to achieve?

I applied for the Girdlers’ Scholarship at the end of my final year at Timaru Boys’ High School. I actually didn’t realise the scholarship existed until one of my teachers pointed it out to me and mentioned I might think about applying. The application process itself was pretty rigorous. The first step was long written application and a few personal essays, a shortlist of eight applicants was then announced, we were interviewed, and I received a phone call a few days later letting me know that I’d been selected. While the process was certainly difficult and I put a lot of work into it, I was very lucky indeed to be awarded the scholarship – the other candidates were outstanding.

Can you tell us a bit about the Cambridge Footlights?

The Footlights are Cambridge University’s resident student comedy club which has a proud history of producing some of the UK’s finest comedic talent: Stephen Fry, David Mitchell, Emma Thompson are just a few ex-Footlights. The club puts on three major shows per year, as well as variety comedy show every week. The great thing about the Footlights is our ability to experiment and perform on a regular basis.

Are you involved in any other groups/networks in the UK or NZ?

I was a member of the Cambridge University Blues Tennis Team in my first year, which I had to give up in order to fit in comedy and the hefty academic workload. It was a pretty tough decision, tennis has always been a great love, and beating Oxford at the end of my first year was deeply satisfying indeed…

How do you feel about being named one of the ‘Most impressive students at Cambridge University’?

I mean, it’s lovely and an honour, but it’s simply not the case. Cambridge University is filled with impressive students, and so reducing it to sixteen is not really accurate or representative. But, like I said, it is still pretty cool.

‘The Golden Fleece’ was short listed for the Harry Porter Prize, can you tell us about that?

The Harry Porter Prize is a prize run by the Footlights given to a one-hour comedic play. My entry, The Golden Fleece, was about a Central Otago sheep farmer and his quest to win ‘The Golden Fleece’, and was very silly indeed. A highlight was seeing the actors battling away to master the Kiwi accent.

What piece of work are you most proud of?

I’m probably most proud of my theatrical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot. It was my favourite children’s book as a child, and I rather presumptuously thought I’d try adapting it to stage. It was initially performed in Cambridge and did quite well (much to my surprise); it then transferred to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it was again well received.

You’re touring with Footlight’s flagship show in the coming months, can you give us a clue what to expect?

The show actually opened on June 10th, and went rather nicely (not to jinx things). It’s currently in the form of an hour-and-a-half sketch show, but will be trimmed down to an hour before it hits the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and we take in the America. It’s a combination of sketches, songs, and monologues (and New Zealand even gets a mention).

What are the best things about being at Cambridge/being in the UK?

Opportunities just like the Footlights which you just can’t find in NZ.

Do you have plans to stay in the UK or head back to the homeland?

At the moment I plan to stay in the UK, certainly until the Tour Show ends in October. Though NZ will always be my home, and I can say with little doubt that I’ll end up back there to live at some point in my life.

What do you miss the most from New Zealand, sheep?

Ha, sheep are pretty great. Family and friends, of course. Otherwise, it’s got to be Pineapple Lumps (though mum sends me a packet or two every few months).

Can you leave us with a joke?

What do you call a man with no shins? Tony. (Terrible stuff).

The Footlights Tour is currently on at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge until June 21st, so if you’re after a bit of a Kiwi laugh, check it out! 

Ngaire Ackerley is a New Zealand travel/wildlife photographer and travel writer. She is available for freelance projects. Her work can be found online at http://designack.com and http://kiwifootprints.com.