Opinion: Who Will Win The Foster's Award?

The Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award winner is announced at lunchtime today in a ceremony starting at 12.30pm, so I guess I’d better have a crack at picking a winner. I suggested five nominees earlier in the week and got four of them right. Picking an outright winner is a tougher call altogether, but here goes.

Sara Pascoe has been my front runner since before the festival actually began. I thought she would pick up a nomination last year, but felt she was slightly barged out of the way by the Bridget Christie juggernaut. Good heavens, we can’t have more than one funny feminist on the list can we? So looking for a narrative arc this could go either way. Pascoe could win and we could have “Feminism Rules – Again” headlines or she could lose and there would be complaints that Christie’s victory means that that box has now been ticked. 

There is also the issue that Pascoe has been a favourite since the start. Again, this feels like an action replay of Christie last year. But then I doubt if the judges will be bothered about that. If anything she has been a benchmark to beat and that could work in her favour. I’ve seen very few eligible better shows.

Except, perhaps, James Acaster. This was another show I saw early on, having already been impressed by it at Latitude. Acaster seems slightly esoteric with his jerky manner and verbal precision but he stormed it in front of a huge crowd at Latitude and also entertained a noticeably mainstream audience in the Cabaret Bar in Edinburgh. It’s a really intelligent show that demands some concentration from fans but pays huge dividends. I had a stinking bout of Fringe flu when I saw it and think I missed a few nuances, but still felt it was fabulous. Acaster has been nominated in the last two years, but this is definitely his best show yet. The judges will have seen every nominee twice now and I wonder if seeing Acaster’s show a second time could make them appreciate it even more.

What Acaster has done in 2014 is refined his process and I think 2013’s Best Newcomer John Kearns has done the same. Last year’s show seems scattershot by comparison, though some might argue that he put more into it and that this is more of a rushed second album, stripped down out of necessity rather than design. The judges, however, could well go for this because it is a combination of laugh-out-loud gags and meta-comedy. And there’s nothing people who think about comedy like more than a bit of meta comedy. And Best Newcomer to winner of main award would be a nice story…

I was surprised to see Alex Horne on the list, but delighted. I’ve pretty much had him in my top five every year I’ve been on the panel and he’s been on the Fringe, but he's never made it onto the main list. His show this year is an absolute humdinger and to say too much about it would spoil the surprise for any who is going to see it – and that should be everyone. It reminds me of Boothby Graffoe’s elaborate Fringe-nominated show about 20 years ago – that’s how old I am. And Tim Key got his first break playing Horne’s sidekick in a show about a decade ago, so it would be nice for Horne to get some major recognition too.

Liam Williams has stepped up to the main award list after last year’s Best Newcomer nomination and, while I’m quite happy to see him on the list I felt that last year’s show had more impact. But then that’s the shock of the new for you. Williams certainly has a distinctive voice, both metaphorically and literally, and it’s perfectly possible that judges who did not see last year’s solo debut will have him down as their winner.

I wasn’t surprised to see Romesh Ranganathan down on the list. He’s great, but he does feel like the token mainstream stand-up. His grumpiness shtick looks effortless, but it obviously really hard work getting that irritated every night. Particularly when your wife has just given birth and you are probably happier than ever. But, as I said, while the Foster’s panel is always happy to put a mainstream comedian on the shortlist (see Peter Kay, Jason Manford, John Bishop) they rarely award them the main prize. Ranganathan hardly needs it anyway. He’s already a TV regular and will no doubt be fronting his own TV format soon.

Which brings me to Sam Simmons. The Australian absurdist has been nominated before and I was surprised to see him nominated again. Death of a Sails Man, about one man alone at sea, has more of a coherent plot than his previous shows – it feels like it was inspired by the Robert Redford movie All Is Lost. Simmons goes increasingly mad during the hour which is some feat, as he seems pretty mad at the start. The first time you see him you may well be blown away, but for me this was too close to old Simmons shows and also old Mighty Boosh shows. Madcap fun but while Simmons is a unique performer this somehow lacked the originality to be a winner.

So where does that leave us? I thought it would be between Pascoe and Acaster at the start and I’ve seen little to change my mind. Except, possibly, just possibly, Alex Horne.


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