Opinion: The Foster's Awards – The Ones That Got Away

Foster's Award

You can’t please everyone. That’s the conclusion I come to almost every year when the Foster’s Award nominations are announced. This year's shortlist is no exception. Despite choosing seven of the best acts in Edinburgh there are a number of unfortunate omissions. I should imagine that everybody who has taken the trouble to read this far has got one favourite that the panel missed. Just plucked at random from Facebook, here's someone's top ten that bears little relation to the Foster's choices.

Seven is a bigger shortlist than usual (though the same number as last year) and the acts on the list are all undoubtedly great. But there were 647 eligible shows and this does not mean that the other 640 shows failed to raise smiles, entertain or stimulate. There were plenty of fabulous shows that have missed out. Comedy should not be about league tables, but at the same time it is one of the most competitive of professions with fantastic spoils for the victors, so it is inevitable there are winners and losers.

If you judge a show on its press plaudits, it is a surprise that Mr Swallow – The Musical didn’t make it. Every morning I seemed to power up my laptop and see another four star rave for Nick Mohammed's magnificently daft theatrical send-up. Yet Swallow didn't make it. On the other hand I didn’t see any mainstream reviews of John Robins, yet his show this year was one of the Fringe’s finest no-frills stand-up shows. I was surprised that Angela Barnes didn’t crop up on the Newcomers list. To me she’s the next Sarah Millican. Andrew Watts received some glowing reviews. One ex-panellist raved about Dr Professor Neal Portenza this year. Another was excited about Rob Auton. Josie Long's Cara Josephine was one of her strongest sets yet.

The biggest mystery, however, is Luisa Omielan. The comedy powerhouse made a splash two years ago on the Free Fringe with What Would Beyonce Do? and she was so busy touring the show around the world that she didn’t do a new show in Edinburgh last year. So her sequel, Am I Right Ladies?! was eagerly anticipated and didn’t disappoint, moving her story on. First time round she was lovesick and unsuccessful, now she is lovesick and successful. OK, there might have been a bit of overlap, but it was a relatively refined, reflective performance. Less Ibiza-on-a-Saturday night, a slight nudge more towards Bridget Christie territory. She didn't do enough for some people though. Someone – not a panellist – agreed with me that Omielan would be a star soon, but described her as an "ITV2 comedian" – surely the ultimate put-down. 

Omielan seems to have fallen foul of the perennial problem where the Foster’s panel goes for the cerebral rather than shows that punch you in the gut (I’ve been on the panel before so know this happens, but have no inside info on this year’s deliberations). Unashamedly crowdpleasing shows often have a difficult time with high-brow critics/judges. Some arena stars, such as John Bishop and Jason Manford have made it onto the list, though it is worth noting that in both those cases their shows had themes linking their one-liners together – Bishop's was about his mid-life crisis, Manford's was about urban myths. I guess in some ways the plethora of other awards mop up some of the acts that don't "fit" the Foster's template – Omielan is up for a Malcolm Hardee Award. But it's not the same.

The Guardian recently wrote about this two-tier comedy system and the nature of comedy snobbery, the old Stewart Lee v Michael McIntyre dichotomy. I consider myself to be a comedy snob who likes a complex joke that requires some concentration on the part of the audience. But on the other hand I was the philistine who fought tooth and nail to get Michael McIntyre a nomination in 2004. The Foster’s Awards are about top quality comedy and while it is impossible to find fault with the top seven names they have chosen there are others that deserve recognition. Maybe next year Foster’s should add a “One That Got Away” award. But then again, there will only be comedians who will feel they’ve even been overlooked for that….

 

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