AN AUSTRALIAN comedian who almost became a zoo keeper has scooped this year’s Foster’s Best Comedy Show award at the UK’s most competitive comedy arena.
Sam Simmons beat competition from more than 600 comedy acts appearing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, which was then honed down to a shortlist of eight, to win the coveted award, £10,000 in prize money, and the prospect of invitations to top comedy venues and clubs worldwide.
Things don’t always turn out as planned, that’s the joy
Yesterday Simmons, whose show Spaghetti For Breakfast has been a smash hit at the Underbelly Potterrow, was presented with the award by cricketer-turned-television presenter Freddie Flintoff and last year’s winner John Kearns.
Simmons, 38, began his “performing” role in zoos in Australia when he was handed a microphone to tell visitors about the animals and began slipping in one-liners to get the crowds laughing.
Accepting his award at the Dovecot Studios, he said: “Freddie won I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here in Australia, so I feel this is deserved – taking the Foster’s back to Australia.”
Nicca Burns, producer of the 2015 Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards, said it had been the “most hotly contested year for the award”.
“Sam Simmons has funny bones. He is a complete original, combining physical comedy with great verbal jokes and a unique take on life. His 2015 Edinburgh show is amazing,” she added.
Danish comedian Sofie Hagen, 26, a former Amnesty International charity worker, won the £5,000 Foster’s Best Newcomer Prize for Bubblewrap about her mental health problems and teenage obsession with the band Westlife.
Karen Koren, founder and artistic director of the Gilded Balloon and one of the Fringe’s leading impresarios, won the Foster’s Panel Prize, also worth £5,000, for her contribution to promoting comedy.
Speaking after the ceremony attended by around 200 performers and critics, Simmons said: “I wasn’t expecting this in any way. I was just mucking around at the back of the hall when they announced I’d won. It feels amazing, really, really good. But now I’m worried about tonight’s show and what people will expect.”
Simmons cited Lucille Ball as one of his main influences,
“She was very silly, not afraid to be outspoken, a real pioneer of comedy. And she was a bit of an idiot at times and I’m an idiot too.
“The main thing for me is connecting with the audience, but you’re never fully in control, and things don’t always turn out as planned, that’s the joy.”
Hagen, said she was unprepared for winning the Newcomer award, which in previous years has gone to comedians such as Sarah Millican, Josie Long and Tim Minchin.
“I had spent so long preparing my ‘loser’ face I didn’t know how to react when I heard my name being announced.
“The people I was up against were my friends and when I heard the cheering I felt it was for all of us.”
After a few years working for charities in Copenhagen, including the Danish Red Cross, Hagen took up comedy as a sideline five years ago before making it her full-time job.
“What attracted me was that you never ‘finish’ with comedy, you can keep getting better. But it is not such a drastic change for me, you can still do good with this as well.”
Since then she has appeared on a number of shows including Russell Howard’s Comedy Central.
Koren, who made a dramatic fightback after the original Gilded Balloon she established 30 years ago was destroyed in a fire in December 2002, said she now wanted to move in a different direction.
“My next big thing is to hand the running of things over to my daughter Katy. And I want to look after new Scottish comics, to give them my time.”
Lucy Lumsden, chair of the judging panel and head of comedy at Sky, said: “Karen Koren encapsulates the true spirit of the Fringe in so many ways. Entrepreneurial, warm-hearted, a great survivor and a huge supporter of new talent.
“Her So You Think You’re Funny? comedy competition, now in its 28th year, has been the start of many comedy careers.”