Opinion: Awards – Who Needs Them?

fosters award

The Edinburgh Fringe 2013 is one week old and already there is talk of awards contenders. I won't name any here and make some people giddy with anticipation and others feel like packing their bags. Needless to say, most people doing a comedy show in Edinburgh will not win a Foster's Comedy Award or even be in the running. Of course awards matter, of course they will make your mum proud, but don't get too downhearted. I've been thinking about successful comedians and while the Edinburgh Comedy Award obviously gives talented performers a kick-start and gets them noticed, there are plenty of comedians who never had a sniff of an Edinburgh Award and haven't done too badly.

Take Russell Brand for instance. He appeared here when I was probably on the Awards panel, but I don't recall him getting much of a look-in in meetings. In fact, as Gilded Balloon boss Karen Koren tells me at every opportunity, she and I were judges when he was in the final of the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year Competition. He didn't win that either. Maybe he was slightly distracted. Arthur Smith recalls that he used his dressing room for an assignation with a woman. I'm not sure if that was before or after his brief set. Possibly both, knowing Brand.

Ricky Gervais seems to have done pretty well without Edinburgh accolades too. As far as I can remember he never did a full run here and certainly not with a full show. He has done a few big gigs here, most famously playing Edinburgh Castle in 2007 and getting slagged off for taking business away from smaller gigs, but back in 2001, however,  just after The Office had started on BBC2, he was one of those smaller gigs. He played a short set in a short run as part of a package show called Rubberneckers with Jimmy Carr, Stephen Merchant and Robin Ince at the Cafe Royal. This venue is not to be confused with the grand Cafe Royal in London. This is a pub round the back of Prince's Street. I can't recall any of his gags but I do remember him wearing a dark pin-striped suit.

There are other household names who have slipped through the net too. I'm not sure if the Edinburgh Fringe was ever on Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer's radar when they were building up a cult following at the Goldsmith's Tavern in New Cross in the late 1980s. After they made it big on Channel 4 they did venture north for an alcohol-fuelled lap of honour, but never did the whole run. There is a rumour that a solo Vic may have been involved in Malcolm Hardee's anarchic visits at some point in his pre-fame days, as Hardee did "manage" him for a while, but it is fair to say that Reeves never troubled the Perrier panel. Nor did David Baddiel – back with an acclaimed show this year but too big to be eligible this time round.

In fact if you want a TV career don't worry too much about being passed over by the panel when you come back year after year and do a full show. Miranda Hart regularly appeared on the Fringe without picking up a nomination. Ditto Count Arthur Strong. Miranda's shows were funny, shambolic affairs which one can now see as the roots of her knockabout TV success, but the panel can sometimes prefer something a little more cerebral. Yet just to prove that there are no hard and fast rules cerebral acts don't always impress the judges as much as they impress TV bosses either. The smart sketch comedy of Mitchell and Webb was picked up by television without being picked out by the Comedy Awards committee. 

So, as the next two weeks race by in a blur of booze and laughter and you find yourself returning home without a trophy tucked into your bag, don't stress out too much. Of course it would be brilliant to win a Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award. Of course it would help your career and give you a warm cosy glow. It may even boost your sex life. Frank Skinner celebrated his win with a woman on Arthur's Seat. But Russell, Ricky and Miranda are among those that have lots of trophies on their mantelpiece but none from Edinburgh. If you don't win you are still in good company. 

 

 

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