THE organisers of the main comedy awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have put a surge in female performers this year down to the success of women in two of the main prizes 12 months ago.
A record 183 women will be eligible for this year’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards which launched yesterday, an increase of 62 per cent on last year when Bridget Christie was the main winner with her show, A Bic For Her, at the Stand Comedy Club, which explored issues around feminism.
Adrienne Truscott, won the coveted panel prize for a free show, Asking For It, at pop-up venue Bob’s Bookshop, which tackled rape culture and rape jokes. She famously performed naked from the waist down.
Christie was only the third woman in the history of the awards – which date back 33 years – to win the main comedy prize, following in the footsteps of Jenny Eclair in 1995 and Laura Solo a decade later.
When Christie won the award last year she accepted it on behalf of all female comics, adding: “I don’t really feel it’s about me, it’s about women. It’s changing. You had better watch out, we’re taking over.”
However, female comedians are responsible for less than a fifth of all comedy shows on the Fringe, which accounts for around a third of the 3,193 shows in the full festival programme.
Nica Burns, the long-time director of the awards, said: “There has been slow growth over a very long time in the number of female comedians at the Fringe, so there’s been a massive jump in the last year.
“I can only draw the conclusion that the fact that two women won last year has inspired a lot of other women to have a go.
“I personally thought both shows were very brave, in different ways. I think there has been an element of people thinking if they can do something as brave as that, then I can get up there and do my stand-up.”
Meanwhile, Ms Burns hopes visiting comics will not shirk from the challenge of tackling the debate on Scottish independence and address the prospect of Scotland and England going their separate ways.
There are very few comedy shows directly tackling the debate, with most being held in free venues or as part of The Stand Comedy Club’s programme, which is run by by prominent Yes supporter Tommy Sheppard.
American comic Erich McElroy, who has Scottish roots, is believed to be the only artist staging a Fringe comedy show directly arguing to save the Union. The Scotsman has found around 30 Fringe shows related to the debate.
Burns admitted the independence debate was a “hot issue” for comics to tackle, but added that it would be a difficult issue for anyone to avoid who normally performs political material.
Speaking at the launch of the awards, Burns said: “Some comedians will definitely take on the challenge. You can’t ignore it if you’re here.
“Comedians should do anything they want to do, that is the whole point of comedy. They can only do material that speaks to them, but they are people who have opinions and they will wrap them up in a witty way and make people laugh.
“Some people don’t do political material or just do observational comedy, others comment on what is going on in their lives at the time, and others comment on is happening in the wider world politically. It is very much a case of each to their own.”
Mr Burns predicted comics would not be worried about the reaction from audiences at the Fringe, which will end less than a month before the referendum.