Overheard in Cambridge

24 January 2013

Ruth Taylor explores whether the Facebook sensation, “Overheard In Cambridge” is a witty pastime or a try-hard fad

I feel no embarrassment in confessing that I am a horrendous procrastinator. The day before a deadline, I am perfectly capable of filling an entire afternoon achieving the precise sum of nothing.

Memorably, I once put off an essay to read an article entitled ‘Procrastination and how to avoid it’. The irony was not lost on me. With the spirit of one steeped deeply in denial, I mentally shrugged, and, guiltlessly accepting that I exactly fitted the descriptions given in the article, continued to ponder the pressing matter of whether a side or middle parting made my nose look bigger.

But, when the Wi-Fi is turned on, it becomes a whole new ball game. The bountiful wealth of useless information provided by the World Wide Web increases the material for the avid procrastinator exponentially.

‘Overheard at Cambridge’ is right up there with the best. In terms of the laughs-per-length-of-visit ratio, it’s as good as the ‘Things that look like Hitler’ site, the Facebook group ‘The hilarity of Harry Potter quotes when changing ‘wand’ to ‘willy” and AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com.

The webpage provides a quick-fix of humour that suits all means: from the casual Facebook browser to the hardcore procrastinator. A fact attested to by the seven and a half thousand group members. But why is it quite so popular?

First and foremost it is because it centres on a theme that unites us all, recognising the average Cambridge student’s proficient capability and infinite tendency to say brilliantly stupid things. In this way it fits with the enduring rule of comedy: for things to be funny they have to relate to their audience.

Which one of us hasn’t been amused by the endearing ignorance of tourists, who hang on the every word of their tour guides, lapping up such tit bits as “Jesus was an alumni of Jesus College.” Or tickled pink by the prospect of hearing a Magdalene College porter say “I tell you what, if I put my toupee on, you’d go phwoar!”

Combining this humour with the added enjoyment of trying to guess whether a certain quote was by someone you know explains the amount of traffic the page gets. A quick visit to the site can very easily become a trawl through weeks’ worth of posts.

What’s more, whilst there are a fair few posts that fail to hit the mark, the majority have the ability to really raise a smile. Special credit needs to go to anyone who contributed to the recent deluge of Lord of the Rings punnery that hit the group in late November.

What started out as a standard ‘Overheard’ post quickly escalated into a Tolkien inspired contest of comedic one-upmanship that was hard to miss. A personal favourite was the following: `it’s been a lonely few nights. I resorted to constructing a girlfriend out of plastic, she’s my Lego lass.’

Facebook’s system of likes provides an added facet to this stream of witty snippets. The funnier something is to the baying virtual public the more ‘likes’ it will inevitably get. It’s the ultimate in comedic democracy. Certain posts that particularly tickle have been known to amass over 500. It’s like a clap-o-meter for the silicon age.

‘Try-hard’ some of it may be, but a ‘fad’ the page certainly is not, having been going strong since 2009. As long as there are essays that need to be written, my appetite for procrastination will keep me firmly hooked to the quick-fix of Cambridge-oriented humour that the group provides. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the group provides a service in bringing together little bits of humour that make daily life at university tick along that little bit easier.