A RECORD number of contenders will battle it out for the top comedy prize at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe - after the longest ever debate to draw up a shortlist.
Organisers of the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards revealed eight contenders after an intense debate lasting more than five hours in the Balmoral Hotel.
However awards director Nica Burns denied the need to introduce a quota system after just one female comic made it onto the shortlist for the award, the winner of which will be announced on Saturday.
Only three women - Jenny Eclair, Laura Solon and Bridget Christie - have claimed the honour since the former Perrier Award was launched in 1981, but Ms Burns said she did not consider the lack of female representation on the shortlist to be an issue.
Winning the honour, which includes a £10,000 cash prize, has helped launch the careers of Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Lee Evans, Steve Coogan, Al Murray and Frank Skinner.
This year’s shortlist - drawn from more than 600 eligible shows - includes two nominees who have narrowly lost out on the lucrative “best comedy show prize” in previous years.
Australian Sam Simmons, one of three physical comedy acts on the shortlist for his Underbelly show, was previously shortlisted in 2014 and 2011, while London-based James Acaster - who is appearing at the Pleasance - is nominated for the fourth year in a row.
Acaster, who first appeared at the Fringe in 2009, is only the second comic in the history of the event to notch up such a record after Al Murray who won at the fourth time of asking in 1999.
Ms Burns said the judging panel usually try to find at least four shows to shortlist, but had been unable to narrow the field any further, from a longlist of 15, this year due to the quality on offer.
She said marathon debates in the past had usually been to choose the final winner - particularly the year that Frank Skinner won in 1991, when he was up against Lily Savage, Eddie Izzard and Jack Dee.
Ms Burns said: “This year was definitely the longest debate we’ve had to get a list of nominees. We’ve really had to up the number of nominations because they were all so close.
“When I first starting working on the award I was able to see all 40 eligible shows. We were seeing two or three hundred in the 1990s, but this year and last year there we’ve had to cover more than 600.
“The standard at the top end is much broader and there are more people doing very good work. The big difference is more people whose work is reaching the very top bar.
“There’s been a real explosion in comedy over the last 20 years. People are getting experience of perfoming up through the clubs and TV programmes like Live at the Apollo have been very helpful for the art of stand-up.”
Kiwi clown Trygve Wakenshaw, who is appearing at the Pleasance, and Geordie comic Seymour Mace Niche, who is part of The Stand’s line-up, are the two other physical comedy acts on the shortlist.
Kieran Hodgson is the only comic performing in a Fringe show, although Ms Burns pointed out that he is in the “lucky room” at the Voodoo Rooms where John Kearns, last year’s winner, impressed the judges.
Joseph Morpurgo and Nish Kumar are also in the Pleasance line-up, while Sarah Kendall, the only woman on the shortlist, is part of the Assembly Festival George Square programme.
Ms Burns, who said around 22 per cent of eligible acts were female, said: “I would have liked to have more than one woman on the shortlist, but I still don’t think it’s an issue.
“I thought we might get a few more. There were a couple of other women who got close who were on the longlist, but at the end of the day this is how the panel voted on the day, on merit.
“I can only say, personally, that as a woman I want to be judged on my own merits. I don’t want to have a quota and get somewhere because I wasn’t the best.
“I do think that women in comedy have progressed quite well, but that’s how the votes fell this year.”
Lucy Lumsden, chair of the judging panel and head of comedy at Sky TV, said: “It has been a joy to watch so many incredibly talented performers who encapsulate every genre of comedy from political satire to physical comedy and everything in between.”
Full list of nominations for Foster’s Best Comedy Show are:
• James Acaster: Represent
• Joseph Morpurgo: Soothing Sounds for Baby
• Kieran Hodgson: Lance
• Nish Kumar: Long Word…Long Word…Blah Blah Blah…I’m so clever
• Sam Simmons: Spaghetti for Breakfast
• Sarah Kendall: A Day in October
• Seymour Mace Niche as F*ck!
• Trygve Wakenshaw: Nautilus
Full list nominations for Foster’s Best Newcomer:
• Adam Hess: Salmon
• Daphne do Edinburgh
• Larry Dean: Out Now!
• Sofie Hagen: Bubblewrap
• The Story Beast
• Tom Ballard- Taxis & Rainbows & Hatred
• Tom Parry: Yellow T-shirt