My abiding memory of last night is of my chum Scots comedian Janey Godley biting my shoulder halfway through a comedy act. “I am being Luis Suárez in the World Cup,” she told me.
This is how it started…
At 6.05pm last night, I was sitting quite happily on my sofa in Borehamwood when I got a phone call from Janey asking me if I could get down to the Underbelly’s upside-down Purple Cow on London’s South Bank by 8.00pm to be a judge in the final of the English Comedian of the Year competition.
Janey has often mentioned to audiences that she can get someone killed for the price of a bag of chips (she is a Glaswegian with contacts), so I thought it best to agree.
When I got down to the upside-down Purple Cow, I found out that the other judges included Chortle comedy website editor Steve Bennett. His review of the evening appears on the website.
But I also found that Janey had given up smoking four days ago.
This was not good.
She tried to attack me with a fork.
During the judging, she bit me on the shoulder.
I feel I got off lightly.
Promoter Alan Anderson’s Scottish Comedian of The Year contest has been running for almost a decade in Scotland, but this was his first English one.
300 comedians applied. We saw the last, best ten. The carrot which attracted them was a £1,500 prize, a trip to perform at the Adelaide Comedy Festival and, of course, the title English Comedian of The Year 2014.
Judging which of ten comedians is ‘best’, of course, is a thankless task. The five judges have now made enemies of nine comedians and, interestingly (or not), I said to Janey that I thought the comic most likely to ‘succeed’ was actually one not in the announced top three.
Opinion on contests varies, of course.
How can you say one comic is ‘better’ than another when they are performing different acts?
Well, often, it is not too difficult for the panel of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards to choose our annual winners at the Edinburgh Fringe. But, then, we are in a very niche market. And we have no rules, except…
To win the main Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality, your act and/or the way your act is presented has to be seriously weird. If we have seen the format before, you are probably not going to win. Last year, Adrienne Truscott won and, really, the number of shows I have seen in which a performer, naked from the waist down, presents a serious treatise on rape is… well… it was certainly comic originality. A straight traditional stand-up is unlikely to win.
Our annual Cunning Stunt Award for best Fringe publicity stunt last year went to Barry Ferns aka Lionel Richie for printing and distributing around Edinburgh totally fake issues of the Fringe magazine sheets Broadway Baby and Three Weeks which publicised his own show and – to cap it all – he published fake news sheets at the exact time the former Perrier Awards were announced claiming he was a major winner. I saw people avidly reading them not realising they were fakes. An excellent Cunning Stunt.
In lieu of any worthy winner of the Malcolm Hardee Award for Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid last year (and because the trophy had already been made) we gave a special ‘Pound of Flesh’ Award (in effect, a second Cunning Stunt Award but using the Million Quid trophy) to Ellis for getting repeatedly punched in the face by stage partner Rose and then claiming he had been mugged in the street by a punter irate at the content of their Jimmy Savile show… all for a few inches of extra publicity.
These were all worthy winners in fields with few competitors, although we did find some worthy also-rans for them.
In theory, you cannot compare two comedians’ acts. But, if the results were worthless, no-one would care. People like to win prizes and titles… and reviewers’ stars… and good reviews.
We started with one Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award in 2007. Now there are three. They are increasingly prestigious.
This year, I am thinking of adding a fourth award: the annual Malcolm Hardee Blatant Bullshit Award.
So far, the only competitor would seem to be The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh (which also runs other clubs in Glasgow and Newcastle). The Stand Comedy Club ‘does not approve’ of competitions, although it advertises acts as “award winning” if they actually win any.
Recently, the Chortle comedy website reported this piece in their weekly trivia column:
He has been vehemently opposed to competitions in comedy, calling them a ‘malignant and destructive influence’ on the artform. Yet last night, The Stand Comedy Club owner Tommy Sheppard welcomed the Deuchars Beermat Fringe competition to his venue in Edinburgh, with heats in Glasgow and Newcastle to follow next week. And, unlike most competitions that keep the commercial side separate, this one insists that all acts must ‘weave’ the name of the sponsor into their set. But Sheppard told Chortle he saw no conflict as the Deuchars competition was across all performance genres: ‘We’re convinced it’s not a comedy competition,’ he said. ‘The majority of people taking part last year – and so far this year – are musicians.’ And the winner of last night’s heat? A comedian, Ross Leslie.
Tommy is an honourable man and the Deuchars competition is, of course, a music competition not a comedy competition. That is why, on their website, they say “whether you’re a professional, or simply someone who has a flair to share that will make us smile, laugh (or cry!), we want to hear about it.”
The winners of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality have included Reggie Watts (2005), Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds (2007), Robert White (2010) and The Rubberbandits (2012) – all of them basically music acts. So I am thinking of re-naming the awards The Malcolm Hardee Fringe Music Competition, running the show in a venue calling itself a music club and insisting that we will ban all performers who do not weave the phrase “increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee” into their acts. This would make the Awards more politically correct and also, that way, the event could no longer be considered a comedy competition nor, indeed, a competition at all – although, quite reasonably, comedians could compete in it.
Of course, I will only do this if someone pays me money to do it.
I have standards.
I await offers.