Will female comedians sweep the Edinburgh Comedy Awards for the first time?
- Brian Donaldson
- 24 August 2017
Comedy Editor Brian Donaldson breaks down the 2017 Best Show and Best Newcomer contenders
Twenty years after scooping the Perrier Award for their dark and twisted brand of sketch work, there might be a shock awaiting the League of Gentlemen on Saturday lunchtime. As special guests of the Edinburgh Comedy Award, the irony might not be lost on them that of the 17 names across both shortlists ('short' lists?) for main prize and best newcomer, a grand total of zero sketch teams are present among the nominees.
Instead, the individual has completely triumphed but as you'd expect from such an eclectic and vast Fringe comedy programme, no two acts are particularly alike. From a couple of weeks in, the rave reviews which greeted Hannah Gadsby's passionate and moving Nanette had her firmly installed as front runner. And as the Fringe reaches its final days, not a single critic has found much fault in the show that she insists is her farewell to stand-up comedy.
But there's a warning from history about assuming that Saturday will witness her inevitable victory. While her tale of sexual abuse is a universe away in terms of style and format from Richard Gadd's 2016 winner, Monkey See Monkey Do, it would be unique for the panel to lavish their main prize on two similarly-themed shows in a row: the laddish banter of Frank Skinner in 1991 was followed by Steve Coogan's character work; Garth Marenghi's cult horror of 2001 led to Daniel Kitson's tales of domestic angst; and Bridget Christie's witheringly hilarious assault on misogyny in 2013 was preceded by Doctor Brown's mime mayhem.
And there's a second reason to suppose the judges might be reluctant to crown Gadsby: an assumption that this main prize is given to an act who can take their comedy up to a new (preferably on TV) level will be null and void if they give it to someone who's effectively handed in their stand-up notice.
But whatever criteria they use to reach a verdict, it will be extremely hard to look beyond Gadsby who has produced an unforgettably vital hour of comedy. If the panel choose to follow up Gadd with pure silliness then there are plenty candidates: Elf Lyons' idiosyncratic version of Swan Lake; Mat Ewins for his Indiana Jones-esque adventure caper; Spencer Jones in delivering further prop-based lunacy.
Mae Martin, Jordan Brookes and Sophie Willan are probably ranked in the outsider category for their well-received shows while Ahir Shah is probably the only one on the shortlist comfortable in being tagged a 'political comedian' whose rhetoric never comes at the expense of very good jokes. Before August, early talk was that Sara Pascoe would be one of the favourites and her show about breaking up with comic John Robins was generally well-received. Instead, it's Robins who takes his place on the shortlist for his own version of those difficult events.
At this point, it's customary to have a right old whinge about those missing from the shortlist, so here goes: it does seem faintly ridiculous that Joseph Morpurgo isn't on there for his innovative and deeply funny Hammerhead, while a strong case could have been made for New Orleans storyteller Sean Patton making the newcomer lineup.
After the unique sight of a double Scottish win in 2016 thanks to Richard Gadd and Scott Gibson, what are the chances of this Fringe marking the first time that two females have walked away with the prizes? Quite strong as it happens, with Best Newcomer candidates Lauren Pattison and Natalie Palamides leading the field, though the month's cult hit, The Elvis Dead, would make Rob Kemp a popular winner.
Cards on the table time. It would probably be far too neat for The List's two 5-star comedy shows (Hannah Gadsby and Lauren Pattison) being successful, so while we'd love that to happen, not too many shockwaves would be felt if Spencer Jones and Rob Kemp ended up on the victor's podium alongside Gatiss, Shearsmith and co.
The lastminute.com Edinburgh Comedy Awards are announced on Sat 26 Aug, around noon. See the full list of nominees.