Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

What's Wrong with the Perrier

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

What's Wrong with the Perrier

Article excerpt


FOR anyone who takes live comedy seriously, annual hysteria is about to break out. Officially, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival kicks off on Sunday, but before too many punchlines have been delivered there will be the inevitable Perrier Award debate. Tortured artists will plead that comedy is not the Grand National, so why should there be winners and losers? Meanwhile, behind the scenes, their managers discreetly demand that their acts are eligible.

This will be my fourth year as a Perrier judge. I did it twice a decade ago and I made my comeback last year. In that time there has been a dramatic shift in the acts that attract Perrier plaudits. In the early Nineties the dominant strand was stand-up: Frank Skinner (1991), Jenny Eclair (1995) and Lee Evans (1993) were winners; Harry Hill, Jack Dee, Alan Davies, Jo Brand and Eddie Izzard were shortlisted.

Something changed towards the end of the millennium. Character comedy and sketch comedy triumphed.

There was the League of Gentlemen (1997), with their macabre dark take on village idiocy.

Then there was Al Murray's barstool behemoth the Pub Landlord (1999), followed by Rich Hall's redneck recidivist Otis Lee Crenshaw (2000). Current champion Daniel Kitson does brilliant stand-up in clubs but had to produce a themed, provocative hour about love and loneliness to claim his prize in 2002.

Other comedy awards do little to recognise full-scale stand-up. The Daily Telegraph Open Mic Award ended last year, while C4's So You Think You're Funny? and the new Jongleurs Stand and Deliver gong are both only for entry-level acts.

The Strathmore Water prize is still in its infancy, while the Dubble Chocolate Award is only for double acts. Babycham recently launched its Funny Women Award for female talent, but the inaugural winner was a character comic, Sarah Davis, in the guise of a folk singer with a dubious blonde wig and boyfriend problems.

Stand-up has been sidelined in favour of shows that are more about theatricality than jokes. There seem to be a number of reasons, none of them down to a dearth of talent. I can think of six stand-ups who would have been worthy winners of recent Perriers: Bill Bailey, Adam Hills, Peter Kay, Ross Noble, Stewart Lee, Dara O'Briain. They may occasionally use projectors or props, but these performers live on their wits.

Stand-up created the comedy boom, but, says our critic - a Perrier judge - it is now being sidelined by TV-friendly formats. It's time for a new award There is nothing quite as effective as seeing one man - unfortunately it still is usually a man - and his mic reduce an audience to tears of laughter.

A great comedian can turn on a verbal sixpence. A bad gig can become a classic one when a heckler is silenced with brutal efficiency.

Stand-up is also the only art form that positively encourages audience participation. …

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