Old faces return for Gilded Balloon's 25th birthday

A FRINGE institution is to celebrate its 25th year at the event with a return of the comedians whose names it helped make – from deeply Scottish alternative acts to international stars.

• Koren's venue celebrates its 25th year at the Fringe

The Gilded Balloon was first launched in 1986 as a theatre space tied to a restaurant of the same name in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town.

It has fostered the careers of comedians from Bill Bailey to Tim Minchin, the Australian comedy pianist rated one of the venue's biggest success stories.

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The Edinburgh Festival Fringe officially unveils its 2010 programme next week, but in a break with tradition two venues, the Assembly and Underbelly, are already selling tickets for some of their biggest shows.

Gilded Balloon director and founder Karen Koren, who herself turned 60 this year, unveiled a packed programme. But the sentimental heart of this year's events will be a three-night celebration at the end of the Fringe.

"We have made 25 years, we are still here, we are still developing new talent," said Ms Koren. "There will be lots of people, from the big to the not very big."

Returnees could range from Minchin to veteran UK comedienne Jo Brand, but have yet to be confirmed. Big comedy names such as Bailey, Dylan Moran, and Scotland's Fred Macaulay were at Koren's 60th in January.

Comedian Arthur Smith, who was at the Gilded Balloon in the 1980s, is returning this year, said Ms Koren. Macaulay is reviving The Funny Farm, which featured Scottish 80s names such as Bruce Monk and Parrot. The Rupert Pupkin Collective, the 80s improv group including Stephen Frost, returns, while a film celebrates the life and work of one founder, Jim Sweeney, who now has multiple sclerosis.

Ms Koren says she is taking it "a bit easier" at 60 but added: "I've got no intention of giving it up." Organisers of Free Fringe and "Fringe for a Fiver" shows may be the faces of the future, she suggested: "It makes it freely available for people who don't have the money to come and spend."

The Gilded Balloon fought off rivals this year to snare shows like The Boy with Tape on his Face, by London-based comedian Sam Wills.

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"It's tiresome because I want to just present some good work," she said. "It's very very hard. There is only so much talent out there and I particularly like finding the new."

Ms Koren also spoke of the "increasingly tough" rivalry between venue operators vying for shows coming to Edinburgh. While determined to keep her team together for the foreseeable future, she said: "I do find the competition very hard."

Since a massive fire wiped out its original home in 2002, the Gilded Balloon has been based at the University of Edinburgh's Teviot on Bristo Square. Highlight shows this August include one from the US comedian Caroline Rhea.

She has played to sell-out audiences across the Atlantic for 17 years but this is her Fringe debut. She is probably best known for her TV role as Aunt Hilda in the early 90s US kids' sitcom Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

Ms Koren has been working closely with Doon Mackichan, to shape her new one-woman show Primadoona.

Mackichan is best known for co-writing and starring in Channel 4's award-winning sketch show Smack the Pony.

Through fire and years, Balloon acts float forward


Gilded Balloon founded in the Cowgate, staging seven shows a day.


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So You're Think You're Funny launched to find new comedy talent. Future winners would include Bruce Morton, Phil Kay, Rhona Cameron, Lee Mack, Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan and Peter Kay.


Eddie Izzard, Phil Kay, Rich Hall, Ed Byrne, Johnny Vegas and David O'Docherty among the future stars earning Perrier Award nominations.


Gilded Balloon opens a second venue at Teviot Row House on Bristo Square at the University of Edinburgh. Cowgate and Teviot include 15 performance spaces.


The Cowgate fire burns for three days in December, destroying 11 buildings. There is speculation it will be the venue's end. A fundraising gig in London follows.


Teviot becomes the Gilded Balloon hub, hosting the midnight Late n Live show and home to the Loft Bar.


Australian comedy pianist Tim Minchin wins a Perrier.