Edinburgh Comedy Award contenders for 2015

Sarah Callaghan. Picture: Toby Williams
Sarah Callaghan. Picture: Toby Williams
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The Edinburgh Comedy Award reveals its shortlist today. Who should be on it? Our critics Kate Copstick and Jay Richardson offer some thoughts

NICA Burns has always said her Comedy Awards are there, not just as prizes in a month-long “who’s best?” of comedy, but to get people talking about comedy. With a third of the entire Fringe brochure taken up by comedy and cyberspace digitally groaning under the mass of websites devoted to the funny stuff, I think we can say that, to some extent, their job is done.

Nish Kumar. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

Nish Kumar. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

In their wake have come prizes for everything from Funny Women to funny posters. And, judging by the plethora of “vote for me” postings on Facebook, the thirst for winning is unabated in the new generation of comics.

Of course the Edelmands and the Acasters and the Hesses were sold out virtually from day one but there doesn’t seem to be a particular buzz of excitement about any one show this year except possibly Richard Gadd’s phenomenally-audacious Waiting for Gaddot.

It would be great if the panel were brave enough to put it on the main list but I think it is a more likely contender for the Panel Prize. It is an old idea evolved and stretched further and more painfully than you could ever imagine. You want the envelope pushed? After this show the flap will never stick down again.

Sarah Callaghan (in her role as “the new Sarah Millican”) is almost certain to be on the Newcomer list probably with Adam Hess who packs more feelgood friendliness into his hour than seems possible even allowing for Einstein’s theory. His is a blockbusting debut, but I would dearly love to see George Egg up there with them. George’s show Anarchist Cook is absolutely glorious and although he has been going since the Queen Mum had her own hips, this is his first Edinburgh show.

James Acaster. Picture: Contributed

James Acaster. Picture: Contributed

In terms of the main award, if the judges don’t get all humphy about going too mainstream (and the labyrinthine reasoning that goes on in that judgely huddle has more circles than Dante could dream of), I think Tom Binns deserves a nomination. He is a comic who could have rested on laurels which sprouted long ago but he has kept on pushing and creating more funny.

If they don’t get box-ticky about the fact thet “we’ve had a clown” then Spencer Jones should most certainly be on the main list. His show is spellbinding, heart-warming and ridiculously funny.

Tim Renkow is on a different level this year and he would certainly be on my list although there are always some people who think a prize-winning act should be able to go direct to TV and TV is (sadly) not quite ready for Renkow. I have always believed that the winning show should be extraordinary and, down at the ­Underbelly. Jessie Cave is extraordinary. Maybe not quite “finished” enough for the prize but she should be in contention.

Ultimately it is all subjective. The judges are just a load of people who (on paper) know what they are talking about comedy-wise. It seems to me the big winner is ­Perrier, whose name – despite three changes of sponsor – comes up every time the awards are mentioned.KC

Felicity Ward. Picture: Jon Savage

Felicity Ward. Picture: Jon Savage

HEADING into the final half week or so of the Fringe, thoughts inevitably turn to nominations for the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award. Personal misgivings about the selection process and the cack-handed way in which the lager brand tries to insinuate itself into all of UK comedy are mollified somewhat by awareness that the panel has made some astute selections in recent years.

Last year’s best newcomer, Alex Edelman, has confirmed his debut’s promise with a slick but soulful story of reconnecting with his brothers that must surely make him an outside shot for the main title this time round.

Of this year’s crop of rookies, I find it difficult to look beyond Sarah Callaghan, who blew me away with her tour-de-force account of frustrated ambition. Another with future star stamped all over him is Phil Jerrod, his eloquent rants betraying a sharp comic mind.

In terms of original tales, I was richly amused and moved by both Johnny Pelham and Corey White, eschewing misery memoir for wonderfully funny storytelling, while the pick of new sketches I’ve seen this year has been the inventive absurdity of Daphne.

A quirk of the newcomer award is that familiar Fringe performers striking out solo and seasoned club comics also qualify. And so on that basis, Tom Parry’s joyously fun hour and Nick Cody’s more straightforward, but unquestionably impressive blokeish posturing, should also be up for consideration.

The main award is invariably trickier to call.

And in the absence of any one standout monster this year, I’ve cast envious eyes towards glowing mentions for the likes of Kieran Hodgson, Nish Kumar, Felicity Ward and Joe Lycett, hoping to catch them at some point later in their runs.

I suspect Richard Gadd might be too bleakly niche to triumph but I’d love to see the Scot add to his Amused Moose gong, his cult, live-meets-video, sex, drugs and violence romp once again setting the bar for free shows.

Another multimedia delight, and a show I enjoyed so much I wanted to see it again immediately, was Joseph Morpurgo’s Soothing Sounds For Baby, high-concept and ambitious but goofily accessible.

Elsewhere, Minor Delays were the best sketch outfit I encountered, ridiculously consistent and as solidly entertaining as anything out there.

Max and Ivan, Carl Donnelly and Sam Simmons met but didn’t surpass their recent impressive hours, while James Acaster fully deserves to scoop a fourth successive nomination. The scope of what he’s capable of is frightening.

For dark horse shouts, I’m plumping for Fin ­Taylor slightly ahead of Ahir Shah, the former’s short-ish ­performance possibly disqualifying what’s otherwise a giant leap forward in his career, while Shah betrays every indication of delivering an outright smash in the next few years.

Who knows though? With the press appearing more narrowly consensual and inadvertently collusive about what’s a hit, there’s unquestionably a brilliant show playing to small crowds somewhere just waiting to be plucked from obscurity – leaving all of us supposed taste-makers to scramble for tickets when the ­nominations are announced. JR