Edinburgh Preview: Returning Champions

It’s hard to stay away from Edinburgh whether you are new to the comedy game or an old hand. This year there are a number of brilliant comedians coming back who have won the Edinburgh Comedy Award, best known as the Perrier but now sponsored by digital channel Dave. You can only win the top award once and there are certainly easier ways to make money, so why come back? It must be for the sheer fun and the incredible buzz of the Fringe.

Last year’s winner Rose Matafeo has not had the time to put together a new show but is doing a mini-lap of honour by bringing back her hit show Horndog for a brief run. It isn’t just one the best Edinburgh shows in recent years, it is, as far as I know but I’m happy to be proved wrong, the only prize-winning one to incorporate a ping pong table. 

2017 was a unique year, with two winners for the first time. Hannah Gadsby hasn't made it back this year, but joint winner John Robins has. The stand-up and Radio 5 broadcaster will be taking his latest show Hot Shame on tour from September – dates here – but first he will be at the Pleasance and possibly singing his praises for his hero Freddie Mercury.

2016’s winner Richard Gadd is also back. Although this year he has gone theatrical on us, fronting his self-penned play Baby Reindeer, “about obsession, delusion and the terrifying ramifications of a fleeting mistake.”

John Kearns, who won the award for Best Show in 2014 a year after winning the Best Newcomer prize (the only person to do this), is back with Double Take and Fade Away. Expect absurdism at its finest. 

There's no show from 2012's Doctor Brown, but he is present behind the scenes. He co-developed Courtney Pauroso's Gutterplum at Underbelly. We haven't seen it yet but if you like Brown's full-on style of clowning this should be at the top of your must-see list.

For fans of immersive comedy, however, your best bet is always 2011's Award winner Adam Riches. His latest show, The Beakington Town Hall Murders, combines murder mystery with audience interaction. Audience members might just end up as criminal suspects too.

2009 Award winner Tim Key is a regular face on television now but he clearly still has a soft spot for the Fringe. He is doing a two-week run which is bound to be full of surprises. All the brochure says about it is that it will feature new poems. 

2008 winner David O'Doherty wouldn't miss the Fringe for the world. His new show is called Ultrasound, which I have a feeling is the punchline to one of his old jokes. Sadly we won't be seeing 2007 Brendon Burns, who trail-blazing show tackled offence long before it was fashionable to tackle offence. Burns has recently announced that he is giving up stand-up.

Phil Nichol won the award in 2006 and is clearly a sucker for punishment as he keeps coming back. This year is his 29th year at the Fringe. Nichol is a bit of a comedy legend - fearless, in-your-face and always gut-wrenchingly funny. 

When Will Adamsdale won the Best Show Award in 2004 he was a genuine outsider, unknown until his masterly show Jackson's Way was championed by Stewart Lee. Adamsdale's works often straddles comedy and theatre and this year's piece, Facetime, is no exception. "Expect a tussle between the personal and the public that could comfortably sit on the pages of one of Arthur Miller’s early teenage plays!" says the blurb. 

The legend that is Daniel Kitson is back with not one but two shows. He announced his shows so late they aren't in the brochure but details are here. And there are some tickets available on the day so if you are lucky you can still get in to see one of the finest stand-ups of the modern era. 

When you look back to the last century however, there are not as many returning acts. Sadly some of the greats – Sean Hughes, Jeremy Hardy – are no longer with us. While others – Steve Coogan – haven't performed live onstage for years. And yet this is a year in which Edinburgh is uniquely playing host to four people who were involved in the very first Perrier Award winning show – The Cambridge Footlights, which won the award in 1981.

Emma Thompson, Penny Dwyer (who died in 2003) and Paul Shearer will not be performing in 2019. but Jan Ravens, who directed the gamechanging show, will be present for a run of Dead Ringers. Hugh Laurie, meanwhile, will be making a one-off appearance at The Pleasance as part of the TV Festival where he is receiving an Outstanding Achievement Award. And his erstwhile double act partner Stephen Fry is apearing at the posh International Festival with his new show Mythos. Surely someone is currently working out a way to get them onstage together at the same time.

And finally there is one other member of that original Footlights line-up making an emotional return to the Fringe. Tony Slattery was generally regarded as a comedy god when he was at his youthful peak. His quickfire mind on impro shows was a joy to behold. Slattery's mental health issues were recently covered in a major interview in the Guardian and afterwards the outpouring of love for him was not surprising but still astounding. Slattery makes a very welcome return to the Fringe in Slattery Will Get You Nowhere. 

 

*Footnote. As usually happens with round-ups like this, I expect I've left someone out, so please consider this a pre-emptive apology. 

 

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