New faces take centre stage for comedy awards
By Tim Cornwell
A COMIC who takes on the Arab Spring and the rioting in English cities in a Fringe show driven by this year’s hard-hitting headlines earned his second nomination yesterday in the festival’s top comedy awards.
Andrew Maxwell’s show The Lights Are On ranges from the death of Osama bin Laden to the revolts that swept Egypt and the overthrow of the Gaddafi clan.
“It’s a generational change, it’s the same vibe as when the Berlin Wall came down,” he said yesterday. “Gadaffi’s ruled that country like it was a living room drama since he was 26.”
The nominations for the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards yesterday after a marathon six-hour jury meeting ended with a recount, with six names for the best comedy shortlist and a record eight for the newcomer trophy. Maxwell and comic Josie Long both earned their second nominations. Other contenders for the main prize were comedians Adam Riches, Chris Ramsey, Sam Simmons, and Nick Helm.
With 2011 already dubbed “the year of the newcomer” in comedy, with some of the Fringe’s most familiar names skipping the festival this year, there was keen attention fixed on the rookies’ list.
They include Americans Chris O’Neill and Paul Valenti, a New York duo making their Fringe debut this year with The Chris and Paul Show. They played their first show to just two people in the audience and have been working hard handing out flyers in an effort to build up the numbers.
The pair, who have worked together for 11 years, joked the nomination “blew our minds”. “We are very excited and honoured,” said O’Neill. “Paul was eating a bowl of cereal and he nearly dropped it. Paul doesn’t drop cereal for anything.”
While the duo were recently accepted for the New York Television Festival, with the chance of signing a US TV contract, they came to Edinburgh to “test ourselves”, he said. “We came here on a direct flight and got off the plane and were in shorts and sandals and it was 7C and rainy.
“Our first show was for two people, and we had to use both of them in the show. Then it gradually grew. The space is about 50-60 seats. It fluctuates. Each day is a new challenge. We are trying to get as many spots in the seats as possible. We are out on the Royal Mile every day, selling ourselves.”
The newest to the industry are the duo Totally Tom, made up of Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton, both 23. “It means a huge amount, beyond words, we are seriously psyched,” Stourton said yesterday. “We had the worst gig of the festival after finding out. Even if we don’t win we are going to do a speech.” The pair graduated from separate universities last year, but have been doing comedy together since they were youngsters at school.
Another major young contender is Josh Widdicombe, only 24, but who already has accolades from the Leicester Comedy Festival and other comedy gatherings.
The awards nominations and the build-up to the winner’s announcement this weekend have been a Fringe ritual for 30 years, sponsored by Fosters since last year. Producer and theatre owner Nica Burns said the record 505 eligible shows seen by the awards’ ten judges ran from real beginners to seasoned performers, and included 100 more newcomers’ shows than last year. “It came as no surprise that the panel was spoilt for choice.”
The awards’ lawyer suggested a recount on the newcomer award after discussions ran for six hours, she said. “The main list was quite quick. We got to newcomer, and the long-list was very large, and it was difficult to whittle that down.”
Comedy critic Julian Hall noted yesterday that two of the comics in the running for the main prize, Adam Riches and Nick Helm, were “high octane audience participation shows”.
Maxwell said yesterday that it was “a little bit of serendipity” that he opted for a politically themed show this summer, his first since a post 9/11 show, as major news stories gathered steam at home and abroad. “I had already been thinking about the Arab Spring and riots before the riots started, it was in my minds eye,” he added.
THE FOSTER'S NOMINEES
SAM SIMMONS: MEANWHILE: Australian Sam Simmons’s absurdist show is centred on letters people have sent him, answered onstage – like “Dear Sam, what would Star Wars and Christmas sound like together?” Simmons is an award-winning comedian and television presenter from Adelaide who started his professional life as a zookeeper.
JOSIE LONG: THE FUTURE IS ANOTHER PLACE: Josie Long won the BBC New Comedy Award in 1999 at the age of just 17. In 2006, she won best newcomer in the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, for her solo Edinburgh debut, Kindness and Exuberance, and was nominated for the main prize last year.
CHRIS RAMSEY: OFFERMATION: After a sell-out debut in Edinburgh last year, and supporting Russell Kane and Al Murray on tour, the young South Shields comic’s show is about communication and how to smash through barriers between people.
NICK HELM: DARE TO DREAM: Full of energy, Helm’s show features an audience volunteer who spends most of the show on a lilo. Helm, on the comedy circuit since 2000, is known for one-liners, poems, and songs like Let’s Get Married.
ADAM RICHES: BRING ME THE HEAD OF ADAM RICHES: His 2009 Edinburgh show, Rogue Males, was a five-star hit, and he was on the list of favourites early this year. His show’s characters include a Spanish swingball champion.
ANDREW MAXWELL: THE LIGHTS ARE ON: A rapid tour around the biggest stories of the UK and world news this year, from the riots in English cities to the Arab Spring. The Dublin-born comic was last nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Awards in 2007.
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