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Comedian Olga Koch bringing her ‘roller coaster romcom’ of a show to Cambridge

A lot has happened in the world since the Cambridge Independent last spoke to Russian-born comedian Olga Koch in February 2020, but during that time the comic’s star has continued to rise and she’ll soon be visiting Cambridge once again.

Olga Koch. Picture: Rachel Sherlock
Olga Koch. Picture: Rachel Sherlock

Olga moved to the UK at 14, then to the US when she was 18 before returning to the UK in her early 20s. Speaking to her though, she definitely sounds more American than English – and she attributes that to her watching the sitcom Friends.

Her new performance piece is, aptly enough, titled Just Friends, and following success at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe the “roller coaster romcom” is coming to the Cambridge Junction on November 5. So can we expect fireworks? We caught up with Olga as she was on a train travelling to a gig in Glasgow to find out.

The former computer scientist, 30, reveals she had recently come back from Peru, where she had salmonella. “My last show [Homecoming] was about immigration and about the process of moving to the UK,” she says, “but obviously I didn’t take it to Edinburgh because of the pandemic.”

Just Friends has certainly made up for that this year, enjoying a sell-out run and receiving rave reviews. The Sunday Post, in a five-star review, called it “an unmissable show from a performer in top form”. How did Olga find the pandemic, professionally speaking?

“Obviously at first it was a shock, and then getting used to Zoom gigs was also an issue,” she replies, “but then I guess I felt like there was a new type of creativity that came with online stuff. I think there were upsides to it.”

The New York University alumna reveals that just days after we last spoke – in early 2020 – she quit her day job in the tech industry “in such a fanfare, it was like ‘See you never!’ It was over the top, like ‘I’m going to go be a star now!’ and then I had to get a new day job that August.”

Olga didn’t ever consider going back to the job she’d walked away from. “No, I couldn’t! I don’t think they’d have me back after the exit that I had... It [the pandemic] really humbles you; I don’t think I’ll ever truly feel fully like a comedian, just because it can be taken away from me at any point.”

Olga Koch. Picture: Rachel Sherlock
Olga Koch. Picture: Rachel Sherlock

Olga, an Edinburgh Comedy Awards nominee in 2018, says of Just Friends: “It was a show that I didn’t think that I would write. I thought that I would take a year off and then really funny, amusing, silly things kept happening in my real life.

“It was like a romcom, slash... I don’t even know what to call it, but unfolding of events in my life and I thought there was absolutely no way I couldn’t not talk about this on stage. At first it started just as me filling time and then when the narrative structure of life became so perfect I had to make it into a show.”

Olga’s first show was about her dad and Russia, the second one was about being a computer scientist and a comedian, before the third on immigration. “Then, after I was dried up of all of my USPs [unique selling points], I wrote a show about something that I actually wanted to write a show about,” she laughs.

Olga, who started her comedy career with sketch comedy at university, has appeared on television programmes such as Mock the Week, QI, and Late Night Mash. And yet she has in the past suffered with confidence issues. “I was talking about my insecurities at a new material gig once. I said I was quite insecure, and I’ve never seen an audience be so blank,” she recalls.

“Then a friend of mine came up to me afterwards and they were like, ‘What the hell was that? You know no one believes you?’. Only at that point, when someone called me out, I was like, ‘If I do have insecurities I don’t come across as such’, so my stage persona either hasn’t changed in order to accommodate that material or I just can’t be talking about that stuff because people won’t think it’s genuine.”

[Read more: Harriet Kemsley: ‘I had spelt cellulite right but island wrong – and I was 11’, Former BBC New Comedy Awards finalist Helen Bauer’s new show looks at self-esteem]

Olga Koch. Picture: Rachel Sherlock
Olga Koch. Picture: Rachel Sherlock

Olga will be appearing at the Junction’s J3 on Saturday, November 5. Tickets are £18, and £1 from every ticket will go to Stonewall’s Ukraine Projects, in aid of the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community. Visit junction.co.uk. For more on Olga, go to bit.ly/3CNgofx.

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