Edinburgh Fringe's comedy poll no laughing matter
ONE of Britain's leading comics has launched an outspoken attack against organisers of the Edinburgh Fringe's top comedy prize over plans to stage an online poll to decide a major new award.
Festival veteran Stewart Lee has accused promoters of the former Perrier Award of a "shameful" and "inane" move to create a "comedy god" in Edinburgh this August.
All acts nominated during the 30 years of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, recently rescued after a lucrative deal with beer giant Foster's, have been shortlisted, with the winner due to be unveiled when the main prizes are handed out at the end of next month.
A new website has been launched, with voting open until 24 August.
However, Lee believes the move is trivialising comedy at the Fringe and has attacked awards organiser Nica Burns for using the names of Simon Cowell and Andrew Lloyd Webber in her official announcement.
In an open letter Lee has sent to comedy industry figures across the UK, Lee urged her to pull the plug on the new award, saying: "How dare you proceed with this farcical, selfish idea?"
Burns, who was the original impresario behind the then Perrier Award, said the new Comedy God award was being created to help celebrate the anniversary year.
But Lee said: "Don't invoke people like Simon Cowell and Andrew Lloyd Webber in an Edinburgh Fringe award. What is wrong with you? It's totally inappropriate. This is the place we go to escape them!
"You need to pull the plug on this now. It is the most shameful, inane thing I have seen in all the years I have been doing the Fringe. You will ruin it for everyone.
"This will discredit comedy in Edinburgh and play into the hands of your critics, who are all much smarter than you.
"You should be ashamed, Nica Burns! It's not too late to try and change the way you will be remembered.
"There is so much good stuff you could use your corporate funding for, and instead, year in, year out, you make these crass decisions.
"The whole thing will blow up in your face. Then, perhaps, we will see an end to your nonsense."
Ms Burns said: "We've never had any kind of public vote in all the years we've been doing the awards and we thought it was a good time to do so with the 30th year. It's our way of celebrating all the great comedians that have emerged over the years.
"I don't understand what Stewart's problem is. I've been a great believer that talent will always come through, but the award has been very important in supporting new acts and helping them break into the industry."
Arthur Smith, a long-time Fringe favourite, said: "Nica's heart is in the right place, but I applaud what Stewart is saying.
"I've always felt comedy awards were a bit meaningless and I don't like the idea we should be deifying comedians like this."
Comic Peter Buckley Hill, a veteran stand-up and organiser of the Free Fringe, said: "I agree that this is a banal and silly idea but I have seen many more shameful and inane things than this, most notably the idea that the entire Fringe is financed from the pockets of performers, most of whom are doing nothing more than dream fulfilment."
Tommy Sheppard, director of the Stand Comedy Club, where Lee is appearing next month, said: "I couldn't have put it better myself.
"For what purports to be a serious comedy award, I cannot believe Nica Burns has gone down such a low-rent route and attempted to give the awards a kind of Simon Cowell veneer. It's a real lesson in how not to keep the whole thing credible."
Ms Burns was forced to bankroll the staging of last year's awards from her own pocket after the withdrawal of previous sponsor Intelligent Finance.
The former Perrier Award was first presented to the Cambridge Footlights in 1981 when the winning line-up included the then unknowns Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson.
Other winners over the years have included Daniel Kitson, Rich Hall, Al Murray, Lee Evans, Steve Coogan, Sean Hughes and Frank Skinner.
However, Perrier's involvement became mired in controversy after the drinks firm was bought up by Nestl, which faced prolonged criticism over its marketing of powdered milk in Third World countries.
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