Edinburgh Comedy Awards 2014: Past winners reveal what the top comedy prize means to them

Featuring Brendon Burns, David O'Doherty, Tim Key, Russell Kane, Adam Riches and Bridget Christie

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This article is from 2014.

Edinburgh Comedy Awards: past winners reveal what the top prize means to them

Clockwise from top-left: Brendon Burns, David O'Doherty, Tim Key, Russell Kane, Adam Riches, Bridget Christie

In its post-Perrier life, the Fringe’s main comedy prize has gone through various guises but one thing remains constant: it gives a gong to some pretty superb comedians. We sent a bunch of award-related questions to all the winners from 2007 onwards who are returning this year. Here are their responses …

Brendon Burns (2007)

Before winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award, what was the best thing you had ever won?

I’m not sure I’d ever won anything before that, beyond sporting trophies as a kid.

Of the other nominees on your shortlist, can you name one act you’d have been perfectly happy to see winning instead of you?

The weird thing was I had been close to being nominated so many times that I honestly didn’t think anyone had lost. History has shown that a nomination is all you need for a foot in the door. It’s what you do from there that matters and the fact that everyone on that list is now way more famous than me kinda proves that. Everyone else’s talents and abilities makes their careers more of a foregone conclusion. I’ve always been the slow burner so I needed it more than anyone.

What was the first thought that came into your head when you heard your name being read out as the winner?

I can’t feel my legs.

Did you have a winner’s speech prepared and did you stick to it?

I blubbed like a little girl. I honestly didn’t think I’d won. I rang my mum and got Christian Slater to tell her I’d won. That was all spur of the moment.

What do you remember about the first show you did after getting the award?

It was directly after: like, immediately. The audience had been left waiting for an hour as I’d had an extra late show added in the Pleasance Grand. I walked on and said ‘I think I’m in shock’. Then a lady in the front row said ‘congratulations’ and the whole room slowly started swelling into a rapturous applause. I honestly can’t remember anything after that until the end when everyone was standing and all my friends in attendance rushed the stage. 

How did it feel to be handing over the award the following year?

Great, really great. Admittedly, everybody thought Rhod Gilbert was a shoe-in, but again, history has proven he really didn’t need it. It felt particularly great giving Sarah Millican Best Newcomer because she was just as blown away as I was.

Does it annoy you/make you relieved/ leave you non-plussed that you can’t say ‘I won the Perrier’?

Ha! Fuck that!! I actually do. But only when I’m bombing.

How has winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award changed things?

It was a whirlwind year followed by a great deal of trying to work out what to do with myself and now I’m producing my own online series on the Free Fringe. Which is probably what I should’ve done all along.

The Brendon Burns Show, Liquid Room, Victoria Street, 0131 226 0000, 2–24 Aug (not 7, 14, 21), 6.15pm, free
Brendon Burns and Colt Cabana, Stand in the Square, St Andrew Square, 0131 558 7272, 1–25 Aug (not 3, 10, 17, 24), 10pm, £8.

David O’Doherty (2008)

Before winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award, what was the best thing you had ever won?

Aside from a triple jump bronze medal in school, I’d won the So You Think You’re Funny? award in 1999. Josie Long was runner-up but I thought she was much funnier than me. The previous week I’d been runner-up in the BBC newcomer competition to her. I think that taught me not to take awards in comedy too seriously.

Of the other nominees on your shortlist, can you name one act you’d have been perfectly happy to see winning instead of you?

Kristen Schaal is one of my best friends and the fact that neither of us came from the UK and hadn’t heard people bang on and on about this award for years meant that we were a step removed from the excitement and hype. The awards started a bit late on the night, and I think it was meant to be presented at midnight. Anyway, something happened and at midnight we were all still standing there, and Kristen’s agent looked at his BlackBerry and told me I’d won. The press release had gone out but the award hadn’t been presented yet. I was very surprised and confused.

What was the first thought that came into your head when you heard your name being read out as the winner?

I was, and to this day remain, surprised and confused. It’s so, so nice to be on that list with all of those incredible comedians. And suddenly 100 people wanted to come and see my show in, say, York, which is amazing. But for years I’d seen the other side: comedians who had done really great work getting so down when they weren’t nominated. I mean really, really sad. Thinking that their work had been a failure. I’d heard about the skullduggery of agents and managers to get people on those lists; the obsession with it in the media. I’d seen brilliant, innovative shows missed, and shows I didn’t rate get nominated. I’d seen the chaotic, subjective beauty of the Fringe processed into this annual list that people see as some sort of result. Which isn’t for a moment to take away from the award itself and the effort that goes into organising it. I am very glad it exists. But I just wish everyone wouldn’t take it so seriously. But look at me here, banging on about it now in The List.
 
Did you have a winner’s speech prepared and did you stick to it?

I didn’t know you had to do a speech. Sometimes it comes up on the right hand side of YouTube, but I’ve never clicked on it. 

What do you remember most about the first show you did after getting the award?

I was doing a kids’ show at lunchtime the next day. Those 20 kids could not have given nine fucks about what happened the night before. 

How did it feel to be on stage handing over the award the following year?

It felt great to give it to Tim Key. I’d seen his show and loved it. And he has done amazing work since then.

Does it annoy you/make you relieved/leave you non-plussed that you can’t say ‘I won the Perrier’?

The Nestlé business and the protests did cast a shadow over it towards the end, but the name seems to have stuck. I still have an Intelligent Finance Award highlighter pen on my desk, but it’s nearly run out.  

How has winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award changed things?

It has been great. That show was my eighth show and I’ve continued to do a new show every year since. I am still learning so much, trying to make each show better than the last. The award was a nice pat on the back, but I know I can do something much better. 

David O’Doherty Has Checked Everything, Assembly George Square Theatre, George Square, 0131 623 3030, 2–25 Aug (not 12), 7.15pm, £14–£15 (£13–£14). Previews 30 Jul–1 Aug, £8.

Tim Key (2009)

Before winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award, what was the best thing you had ever won?

My dad threw himself into fancy dress parties for his offspring so me and my brother picked up a fair bit of silverware when we were kids. My brother won as Mr Strong and Hickory Dickory Dock and I think I won as a potato. Once the fancy dress stuff dried up, I had a barren spell for about 20 years. That was broken when I won the comedy award.

Of the other nominees on your shortlist, can you name one act you’d have been perfectly happy to see winning instead of you?

I think ‘perfectly happy’ would have been overstating it. But I wouldn’t have minded too much if Jon Richardson had pinched it. I like Jon and I’d gone onto his radio show a few times during the festival and we’d both enjoyed being nominated etc. I think he was delighted for me when I won it, though as I remember it, he pretended to be annoyed. He was joking, I think. Well, he’s a comedy award nominee.

What was the first thought that came into your head when you heard your name being read out as the winner?

Elation. You don’t like to get caught up in the nonsense of the award, of course, and you need to appear cool by acting nonchalantly and pretending you don’t know what the award is and feigning surprise at being nominated. But secretly I was absolutely thrilled to be nominated and winning it blew my mind. It’s a chunky award. People I really admire and love had won it. So the moment they read my name out was quite emotional. And everyone was clapping. It’s a nice thing to have happen to you.

Did you have a winner’s speech prepared and did you stick to it?

I’m not an idiot. I wrote a list of the people I wanted to thank. But then I was shaking so much it was difficult to read it and I kept choking up. I wanted to say nice things about the people who’d helped. But I had to move on from each name before I collapsed and cried. I missed some people out. That was disappointing. I’m an idiot.

What do you remember most about the first show you did after getting the award?

I got straight in a cab and went to do a play half an hour after winning the award. It was called Party, by my mate Tom Basden, and Jonny Sweet was also in it. Jonny won the Best Newcomer Award that year so it was fairly fun cabbing it across town with our prizes. During that show we kept looking at each other and saying our lines as our characters but looking at each other with our actual eyes as well and blinking in disbelief: ‘THIS IS NUTS’. At the end, Basden forced the audience to applaud us because we’d just won the awards. That was also a nice thing to happen.

How did it feel to be on stage handing over the award the following year?

Terrifying. I genuinely don’t like public speaking so it was more nerve-wracking than 12 months earlier. I focused on giving it to the name inside the envelope, and getting off as quick as possible. I didn’t have to give a speech, fortunately, but I like that the winner hands it over the next year. David O’Doherty gave me the award, and it made it more personal. Frank Skinner announced it with him. Just Frank there would have been even scarier. DOD took the edge off it.

Does it annoy you/make you relieved/leave you non-plussed that you can’t say ‘I won the Perrier’?

I won it in a year where there wasn’t any sponsorship. I’m lucky there was an award at all. Fortunately, they ploughed on without a sponsor and still managed to find me tons of prize money. Perrier are lucky little sods that they are still name-checked in order to explain the gravity of your achievement.

How has winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award changed things?

Confidence-wise, it was handy. I toured the show I won it with and got to go to Australia and Kent. Generally, it does open doors, I’m sure, but I’m unclear exactly how. I don’t carry it round with me and slap it down in meetings. I think I was just lucky to be given it for doing a good show, and it gave me confidence that I could make more good things. That’s not something to be underestimated. Belief is very important in comedy. I’m glad I have that award. I can also sleep with it if I’m feeling down.

Tim Key: Single White Slut, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 14–25 Aug, 9.40pm, £12–£16 (£10–£14). Preview 13 Aug, £10
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Russell Kane (2010)

Before winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award, what was the best thing you had ever won?

The Laughing Horse New Act of the Year. I’d never won anything before I started doing creative things. I won an award for copywriting once, too. ‘Win a Flight’ was the headline. How creative.

Of the other nominees on your shortlist, can you name one act you’d have been perfectly happy to see winning instead of you?

So many. Andrew Lawrence for definite: black liquid poetry. Rhod Gilbert should have won it too.

What was the first thought that came into your head when you heard your name being read out as the winner?

Fuuuuuuuuuck. It’s one of those moments that’s so large that you feel nothing. Only later do you sob with gratitude.

Did you have a winner’s speech prepared and did you stick to it?

No. No speech. I compared my management to Hogwarts. I thanked my mum and my girlfriend.

What do you remember most about the first show you did after getting the award?

The audience seemed harder to entertain. So I put my award on the stage and danced around it. That dispelled the tension.

How did it feel to be on stage handing over the award the following year?

An honour, but also sad. Like the end of a holiday, when you start crying while unpacking your suitcase.

Does it annoy you/make you relieved/leave you non-plussed that you can’t say ‘I won the Perrier’?

I do say it. It’s easier.

How has winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award changed things?

It was the main thing I wanted from stand-up. It achieved my main ambition. I have to remember that. Whatever happens next in this rollercoaster world of comedy, I have to remember how lucky I am to be in that alumni.

Russell Kane: Smallness, Underbelly, Bristo Square, 0844 545 8252, 20–22 Aug, 9pm, £15 (£12.50); The Kaneing Podcast, Assembly Checkpoint, Bristo Place, 0131 623 3030, 6, 12, 19 Aug, 3pm, £9; The Closure of Craig Solly, Underbelly, Bristo Square, 0844 545 8252, 18–24 Aug, 1.30pm, £12.50–£14.50 (£10–£13.50).

Adam Riches (2011)

Before winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award, what was the best thing you had ever won?

They are so few and far between that I think I can actually list them: 1984 Perse Preparatory School Progress Prize aka ‘The Big One’. A blessing and a curse. It shows you’re obviously intellectually on the right track, whilst simultaneously concealing exactly where on that track you might be. I got the feeling from the supportive nods and patronising thumbs-up that I was more of a ‘just pulling out of the station’ kid rather than a ‘Bullet Train honking its horn’. But I also remember my prize being a book on ‘How to Play Cricket’ the day after I had tried out for the football team.

Fate made me wait a full 22 years before my next accolade. It was a Sony PSP complete with a Rocky Balboa game. My girlfriend’s dad had entered a competition to attend a special launch of the game which included a tournament of sorts, testing it out against other geeks. He got cold feet, so in a ‘reverse Rodney’, as I like to call it, he sent me along in his name to duke it out for the game and console. Not being a massive gamer, I had no idea what I was doing and so just pressed buttons quickly whilst sweating. That seemed to work and in a scene straight out of a Rocky film, saw me through to the final against a guy that really wanted to win. I mean really wanted to win. He was a massive computer game fan, a massive Rocky fan and ten years old.

So, I naturally thought ‘fuck him, I’m winning this. Go home and cry yourself to sleep you little shit’ and I annihilated him … right up until the final few seconds of the last round when he rope-a-doped me and southpawed me out cold with a combination move of a button with a triangle on it and a button with a square on it. Should have seen it coming, really.

He won the game, the PSP and the trip to the premiere of the film, whilst I had to settle with the game and the console. Weirdest bit was when the other guests got behind me and started to chant my name in support! I say ‘my name’, it was my girlfriend’s dad’s name, making it the first and only time I’ve ever been inspired by a crowd chanting ‘Paul, Paul, Paul’ at me. Hopefully not the last …

Of the other nominees on your shortlist, can you name one act you’d have been perfectly happy to see winning instead of you?

Of course not. Who on earth would be perfectly happy to lose?! I’d imagine all the other acts would say exactly the same, wouldn’t they? I will say, though, that it was a strange experience to suddenly find yourself in the closing stages of a competition you didn’t actually enter. Winning an award was never on my agenda of things to achieve with the show, but then once I was so heavily involved I did find myself wanting to see it all the way through to the end. But if I had to name someone else to save somebody’s life … I still wouldn’t! Well, maybe Nick Helm. Maybe.

What was the first thought that came into your head when you heard your name being read out as the winner?

Relief, initially, that it was all over. And then a sense of real joy, real pride at making a mark with a piece of work that would really last. I’ve loved every show I’ve taken to the festival and never really felt much difference between them in terms of quality or ideas. But once they’re finished, aside from the odd gig, brief London run/tour, or transferral of the material to another medium, it’s gone. That hour has gone. So, I felt it was a nice reward for a series of five shows that had all contributed massively to that one. And for all the people, too, that had worked and helped me on them, both behind the scenes in London and onstage up in Edinburgh. It was great to have a show that will be on a list of other great shows from now until the planet explodes because that’s what we’re all chasing here, right?

Did you have a winner’s speech prepared and did you stick to it?

I was too tired to think straight and would never really want to think about something like that until it happened. I was a little embarrassed too going up there, for some strange reason. I don’t know why. It all just felt a little bit official, all of a sudden. A little bit too grown-up! Stupid, really, as certain people I didn’t mention sure as hell made their unhappiness known afterwards! Wow.

What do you remember most about the first show you did after getting the award?

It was poor. I knew it would be, whether I won the award or not. I got to the venue an hour before, sat on my own in the dressing room, same as I had each and every day for the last few weeks, and just stared out the window over the courtyard. I was empty I think, and had a head full of thoughts I hadn’t bothered to think about before. What next? Who with? How? When? Should I quit now whilst I’m momentarily ahead?! All things that are often in your head anyway, but at that moment just felt like they needed an answer, NOW! My agent came to see it that day too, with Tim Key, and I remember just wanting to apologise to them. I was just knackered. Exhaustion plus fanfare: a dangerous brew!

How did it feel to be on stage handing over the award the following year?

Great. The whole experience was fantastic, so different to how it had been for the last decade or so. I came up to do a few shows at the Queen Dome, felt no fear, no pressure, just fun and excitement. I got to see a ton of shows, which I had never got to do before. I managed to see all of the nominees which was a real treat and had my own short shortlist for who I wanted to win. I also loved the awful douchey moment I pulled at the end when I decided to say how much I loved the Fringe to a room that had just lost five-sixths of its occupants! It was like Braveheart losing the crowd right before the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Guys … guys … is this thing on?

Does it annoy you/make you relieved/leave you non-plussed that you can’t say ‘I won the Perrier’?

I couldn’t care less one way or the other. I sometimes do, anyway.

How has winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award changed things?

It’s just opened up a lot of doors that were previously wedged tight and gave me the opportunity to properly close them! It hasn’t solved anything, it hasn’t cured anything, it’s just given me a chance to try things, meet people and perform in places I wouldn’t ever have been able to before. It’s a good thing wrapped up in an 11-year, multi-thousand-pound-losing bad thing.

Adam of the Riches, Pleasance Dome, Bristo Square, 0131 556 6550, 2–24 Aug, 9.45pm, £10–£14 (£8–£12). Previews 30 Jul–1 Aug, £7.

Bridget Christie (2013)

Before winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award, what was the best thing you had ever won?

A big orange and white elephant in a school raffle when I was four. I was so excited I ran up to get it, fell over and cut my knee open pretty badly. I still have the scar today. And the elephant, which is on my daughter’s bed. It’s nice to pass things down. She’s not having my Edinburgh Comedy Award, though. I want that chucked onto my coffin as I’m lowered into the ground. It’s such a massive hunk of plastic it’ll make a really loud, awful thud. It’d be great if someone could also say ‘good riddance’ at the same time.

Of the other nominees on your shortlist, can you name one act you’d have been perfectly happy to see winning instead of you?

No. I can’t believe you’ve asked me that. What sort of a prick would single out one of their fellow nominees and then say why that person was better than all the others? We all gig together, you know. I now realise that other previous winners taking part may have answered this question properly, and now it looks like I’m calling them a prick. Never mind.

What was the first thought that came into your head when you heard your name being read out as the winner?

Most of us were stood at the back of the room together, looking down at the floor, so while I was pretty excited to hear my name, I felt bad for the others, too. Not in a patronising way; I just know what it feels like to be a MASSIVE SMELLY LOSER!!! Ha! Only joking guys. I was also wondering if my backpack would be OK on the floor by the boys, or whether I should bring it up with me in case one of them pissed on it. I was also dreading having my photo taken, which I find embarrassing.

Did you have a winner’s speech prepared and did you stick to it?

Yes I did, because I didn’t want to forget to thank someone important and also I didn’t want to drone on for ages about myself.

What do you remember most about the first show you did after getting the award?

I died on my arse at the Foster’s Award Show thing at the Pleasance the following night. It was awful. Most people in the audience (as well as all the other nominees backstage) must have been thinking, ‘how the hell did this unfunny twat win?’ There was a prop backstage of a huge golden statue that was being used for another show and some of us (including me, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it), thought it would be funny if I dragged it out with me (as the winner) and made a massive deal out of it, which I did, but it got absolutely nothing at all and my set didn’t really recover from that weird intro. I think it was the shouting Nick Helm who first suggested it. If he reads this, and I’ve remembered it wrong, I expect he will shout at me. It was either him, Seann Walsh, James Acaster or Mike Wozniak.

How do you think it will feel to be on stage handing over the award this year?

I’ll be pretty excited for the new winner. Phil Burgers (Doctor Brown, the previous year’s winner) was so nice to me last year when I got up on stage. He was very reassuring and kind, so I must remember to be like that for the new winner. Steve Coogan (who presented it) was very nice to me too. It’s a bit daunting up there with all the cameras and stuff. It would be funny to look really disappointed with the new winner, though, wouldn’t it? Or thrust the award at them really aggressively. I won’t do that.

Does it annoy you/make you relieved/leave you non-plussed that you can’t say ‘I won the Perrier’?

I don’t tend to tell people I’ve won awards. It doesn’t really come up in conversation. How would that work, anyway? ‘Hello, my name is Bridget and I won the Edinburgh Comedy Award. Have you ever won anything?’ If someone else mentions it, I just agree with whatever they’ve called it. I’m glad I didn’t win it when it was called the if.comedy award: bit cumbersome, wasn’t it? With all the dots and if’s. I’m not sure about the Eddies, either. Sounds like it’s been called after someone called Eddie. Like Eddie Large.

How has winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award changed things?

Of course, it’s given my career a big old boost. But in actual terms, the most impact it’s had is on live work, which is what I’m concentrating on for the time being, so that’s been brilliant. It’s impossible to tell whether it’s all down to the award or not, but it would have undoubtedly made a difference to ticket sales. Some people obviously just came to see the show that won the award. How many, I’ll never know, but it will be interesting to see if they come back this year to see the new one. The other brilliant (and best) thing winning did was to re-position me in terms of how I am perceived. So now people can associate me with an award, rather than with another person. Boom!

Bridget Christie: An Ungrateful Woman, The Stand, York Place, 0131 558 7272, 2–25 Aug (not 11), 11.10am, £10 (£9).

This article is from 2014.

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