So the Edinburgh Festival draws to a close for another year. The final weekend saw a whole array of awards being presented and futures being temporarily flipped on their heads. The Edinburgh Comedy Awards are perhaps the most prolific of the entire arts festival and the effects of winning either the overall award for best show or the prize for best newcomer results in a great deal of publicity and ticket sales for the next year and beyond. Nominations for both titles this year, which were announced on Wednesday (26th August) with winner announced yesterday, were as strong as ever.
Those shortlisted for the award for Best Comedy Show were James Acaster, Joseph Morpurgo, Kieran Hodgson, Nish Kumar, Sam Simmons, Sarah Kendall, Seymour Mace and Trygve Wakenshaw. A diverse list, to say the least, with two of the comics above coming from Australia and another one being a mime act from New Zealand. Sam Simmons (who was MoodyComedy’s Comedian Of The Month this March) took the award along with the £10,000 prize, which was presented by last year’s winner John Kearns, for his bustling, surreal show Spaghetti For Breakfast. This was the third time the comic had been nominated for Best Show, much like James Acaster who’s show Represent saw him nominated for the fourth time, showing the high calibre of nominees.
The award for Best Newcomer is one that has proven itself time and time again to completely catapult the careers of the world’s brightest new talent. ‘New’ that is, at least, in terms of being newly recognised. A quick glance at the list of previous winners will demonstrate to any cynic that this award is not to be overlooked. Winners over the 35 years that the award has been running have included Sarah Millican, Harry Hill, Tim Minchin, The Mighty Boosh and Josie Long. This year saw Danish stand up Sofie Hagen claim the crown for Best Newcomer with her debut show Bubblewrap. Sofie’s show has been delighting audiences with her refreshing take on growing up into a proper adult and issues such as body image and the stigma around mental health. You can catch my interview with Sofie Hagen here.
And finally, the winner of the Panel Prize was Karen Koren who has worked as the founder and artistic director of the Guilded Balloon for the past 30 years. The Guilded Balloon also saw the launch of the So You Think You’re Funny? competition which has been running for 28 years.
A full list of past nominees and winners is available on the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards website.
Last July, a trial-run series of a new chat show hosted by Alan Davies was broadcast on Dave, and frankly, I was over the moon. The programme aims to recreate the atmosphere of a green room at a comedy gig, inviting four guests for a chat with a minimal agenda. The format is truly up and running now and a full series was broadcast, starting in January.
With the series spanning ten episodes, and four guests each week, As Yet Untitled presents a large number of guests, comedians in particular, including some that we haven’t heard from in a while. The legendary Ricky Tomlinson (Royle Family) and writer Grace Dent both feature, as well as some true comedy greats including Sarah Millican, Ross Noble, Julian Clary and David Baddiel.
As Yet Untitled also promotes a new ‘wave’ of comedians that appear to be taking over the British comedy scene, including Nish Kumar, Angela Barnes, Elis James, James Acaster, Roisin Conaty and Tom Wrigglesworth. As this show grows it would be nice to see it gather more and more attention for the younger generation of comedians coming through which would help them get a solid grounding earlier on and enable audiences access to some incredible talent. It also features fantastic comedy talent from different parts of the world, some possibly making their debut on British television, including Aussie stand up Felicity Ward and Catastrophe‘s Rob Delaney.
The chat is often awkward and stunted in places, possibly due to editing, but this can be expected when a group of people who don’t necessarily know each other are asked to entertain themselves and a live audience; it can’t ever appear one hundred percent natural. In my opinion, this honesty add to the authenticity of the programme and also enables us to see another side to some comics that may have seemed (understandably) distant. Jimmy Carr especially appeared to settle into the informal atmosphere as the first episode wore on, showing a more natural side to him that his job, as panel show host in particular, hasn’t often allowed in the past.
We also get to see a kind and sensitive side to Alan Davies that isn’t necessarily catered for in other panel shows purely due to the format. He shows himself to be very inclusive and supportive of all the guests, though it is hard to judge that when watching the televised cut, and is skilled at nurturing the conversation which seems to help all the guests relax into the strange format. The discussion is more structured this series, with each guest starting with a strange fact about themselves, or a suggestion of something obscure that once happened to them, and then taking their turn to explain in more detail. The transitions are occasionally disjointed, but often the guests are relaxed enough to continue the conversational feel despite a swift subject change.
I think we have a programme here that is very much a niche type of entertainment programme, but I hope its audience continues to grow as it truly is a very enjoyable and interesting watch.
Every year, countless celebrities dedicate time and effort into creating original and funny material in aid of Comic Relief, and this year was no different. There has been an array of exciting new programmes over the past few weeks and I’ve picked a few of my favourites to share.
Let’s Play Darts For Comic Relief was a new and innovative way that celebrities were able to get involved within a refreshing and entertainment format. From Roisin Conaty’s shock double-20 which saw her through the preliminary round, to Bob Mortimer’s “we hate laminate” carpet chant, this competition was full of laughter. Lee Mack was eventually crowned the winner after a tense final against his good friend Tim Vine.
Like most people, I adore The Great British Bake Off, so was delighted to hear the charity version was to return this year. Featuring the cream of the celebrity crop including Joanna Lumley, David Mitchell, Jennifer Saunders, Jameela Jamil and Jonathan Ross, there was some average baking and some very big blunders (but that’s what we all wanted, right?).
The pinnacle of the charity entertainment for most comedy lovers would have to be Mark Watson’s 27 hour live comedy show. Watching the whole affair felt very much like a dream to me, with its countless celebrity contributors, world record attempts and crazy challenges. Tuning in every couple of hours really highlighted the vast array of people and activities the organisers incorporated into the show and it was clear to see how exhausted those who had stayed awake for the entire time. From a game of ‘Animal Verbs’ with Stuart Goldsmith to a competition with a chant off “OFF WITH THE CARDBOARD HOY HOY” which involved the likes of Horrible Histories writer Greg Jenner and Tracy-Ann Oberman, using only their mouths to pick up a cardboard box. The extravaganza also starred some of my favourite people in comedy including Tim Minchin and Sarah Millican which made for incredibly funny viewing, as well as contributing to the impressive grand total raised.
But lest us forget the biggest event of them all, Friday 13th March’s live Comic Relief show. Highlights of the evening for me would have to be the debut performance of No Direction, a One Direction tribute band made up of Vic Reeves, Johnny Vegas, Nick Helm, Jack Dee and Patrick Kielty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jack Dee enjoy himself so much. David Walliams appeared in a hilarious new Little Britain sketch featuring Stephen Hawking and Catherine Tate as well as Richard Ayoade popping up to interview Dawn French in The Vicar of Dibley and Rowan Atkinson brought us a brand new Mr Bean sketch.
2014 has been a massive year for comedy in Britain;
There have been countless brand new television programmes broadcast this year, with some of my favourites including Uncle, House of Fools, Doll & Em, The Walshes, Inside No.9, Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled and Siblings. In this sense, 2014 has certainly proven itself to be twelve months of creativity and innovation in comedy, which will pave the way for televised comedy in the future.
As well as new projects, there have been many top-quality programmes that returned to our screens this year. Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy: Tales From Painted Hawaii was a special one for me, as Noel Fielding is my comedy hero, and considering the fact that the first series was broadcast all the way back in January 2012. Ricky Gervais’ Derek, Toast of London (Matt Berry) and Big School (David Walliams and Catherine Tate) returned for a second series and the brilliantly funny Friday Night Dinner came back with a third.
At the beginning of the year, the BBC announced that they were to make a conscious effort to include at least one woman on every episode of every panel show broadcast by the corporation, and it inspired me to write this post. It’s fair to say that to begin with, I was disheartened. I felt embarrassed that female comedians were being made to look like poor little lambs that can’t fend for themselves as it is absolute nonsense. However, the situation improved later on in the year (which I also documented here) as the thirteenth series of Mock The Week aired and so many talented female comics were given the screen time they deserve. It is my hope from here on in that people forget about the publicised rule and appreciate that these women have earned their right to be on these programmes, and acknowledge their immense talent.
Another shock announcement was that there are plans for the channel BBC3 to be axed in order to fund other projects within the BBC. Amongst other things, the broadcaster wants to create a BBC1+1 which seems pointless as we already have iPlayer, and the decision has, understandably, not been well received. We are told that when BBC3 disappears from our TV screens, it will still be available via BBC iPlayer. Maybe we are just reluctant to give in to the age of the computers, but it definitely feels like the space for new comedy on television is being made smaller by moving its main platform online. “We know those +1 channels are very important to people”, well, Mr Cohen, so is our comedy.
The Edinburgh Festival this year saw a new winner of the Fosters Comedy Award crowned. John Kearns’ show Shtick is the first Free Fringe show to have ever won the award. There have also been some HUGE live comedy tours this year from the likes of Russell Howard, Miranda Hart, Sarah Millican and Noel Fielding, as well as the return of Monty Python for five nights of nostalgic silliness at the O2 Arena.
COME BACK NEXT WEEK TO READ PART TWO OF THIS YEAR IN COMEDY
This month’s Comedian Of The Month is the ever sweet and ever sassy Luisa Omielan, a woman who bravely talks of her life and relationships whilst also demonstrating great creative and observational skill.
Not only is Luisa’s material very funny, it also pushes boundaries and that is everything we should expect from such a great comic (think, Katherine Ryan’s sharp putdowns paired with Sarah Millican’s smut). I know I could say this for virtually every comedian on the circuit but I am going to say it here nevertheless because it’s become very apparent in the case of this particular comedian: Luisa Omielan takes great pride in the effort she has taken to get where she is in her career; she has a clear passion and care for the industry, and her place within that.
It is evident from the clip above that Luisa truly cares about her audience and wants to make them feel good about themselves and happy in general. She is very obviously using the platform of stand up comedy to achieve something, or to share a message, to a large number of people who are willing to listen, and that is what comedy is all about really.
My reading of Luisa Omielan’s comedy is one of feminism at it’s most positive and constructive: there is simply no bitterness or anger present on the stage whilst Luisa is on it, other than when it is truly justified. And in taking on this persona as a comedian who builds women up rather than put men down, a rather prominent gap in the industry that needed to be filled has been filled with ease and charm, and her audiences are left feeling liberated and empowered.
Today the BBC announced they were to make sure every episode of shows like QI and Mock the Week are to have at least one female guest. My first reaction was along the lines of: ‘sure, this is coming from a good place, women should be greater represented in comedy. The idea behind this is a sound one.’ However, I don’t think this is the correct way to go about it in the slightest. Speaking as a young female, I felt embarrassed to hear that women would get such special treatment. From now on, even if it is untrue, every comedienne that is asked to appear on such shows will feel that they are just there to fit the BBC’s new criteria. They are being completely undermined.
Females comics don’t get half the recognition they deserve and some of the funniest people in the industry I know of are women. For example Katherine Ryan, Sara Pascoe, Dolly Wells, Morgana Robinson, Roisin Conaty, Sarah Millican and Aisling Bea, are amongst some of my favourites. I think women add a valuable new dimension to such panel shows. They make it interesting. So seeing my favourite comediennes on television is always a highlight for me as like most people, they have earned their place on the panel. Years of hard work goes in before people come anywhere near to performing on programmes like Mock the Week.
It makes me sad to think that the women mentioned above may feel undervalued in the future when invited to appear on BBC panel shows because they deserve to be commended for their hard work. In many cases, they deserve additional recognition purely for the way they have surfaced above the hundreds of male comics in the UK while facing constant discrimination along the way. How many times have you heard the phrase: ‘she’s funny for a female comic’ or ‘no female comics are ever funny’. These make my blood boil- do they have no idea that humour is not purely in your genetic information? Have they not stopped to consider that intelligence, wit and life experiences might have some influence?