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Telly laughs

Is the Fringe still an important showcase for stand-up or just a leg-up to the coveted prize of TV fame? Allan Radcliffe sorts out his Carrs from his Kitsons.

iiyone old enough to remember will tell you the original spirit of lidinburgh‘s Festival Fringe is dead and buried. Gone are the days when some hastily converted front bedroom doubled as a venue and the perl'ormers' sleeping quarters. and actors strtitted their sttiff for the good of their souls. a spot of home cooking and a mattress for the night. Now. with increasingly cash-savvy venues charging extortionate rents. performers bankruptiiig themselves in an effort to show their creative wares and punters shelling out a tenner a pop for a show. the once rough—and-ready Fringe is as commercialised as any other branch of the arts. Nowhere have these changes been more

ostentatiously displayed than in the divergent world of

Fringe comedy. Since the early I‘)‘)()s. when comedy nearly became the new rock'n‘roll. and stand-ups started popping up on our television screens with

increasing regularity (and to varying degrees of

success) a well-received lidinburgh run has been an omen of great things to come. So. can lidinburgh still lay claim to an important celebration of stand-up and live coiiiedy'.’ ()l' are comedians simply using August in lidinburgh as a shop window for talent scouts and telly execs. a gateway to bigger and better things'.’

Publicist limma 'l'urner. who works alongside such comedy colossi as Jimmy Carr as well as tip-and- coming talents Glen Wool and Sarah Kendall and wide- eyed graduates from the So You Think You're Funny talent bonan/a. believes performers‘ aspirations vary according to what stage they're at in their career. ‘1 don't think the majority of acts come to the Fringe for the first time hoping to win the Perrier Award or thinking “I want a TV deal." That's a by-product. Take the newcomers from So You Think )ou 're Funny. At the moment the pinnacle of their career is to come to lidinburgh to do 20 minutes of stand-up: it’s a huge feat in itself for them to put together an hour show.‘

But what of the talented Mr Carr. whose permanent frown threatens to give new meaning to the word ‘familiar‘l’ A consummate stand-up with an acerbic line in heckle-handling. (‘arr bounced rapidly from Perrier nominee to television ubiquity. his appearances ranging from hosting dreadful (‘hannel 4 quiz/es such as Your I’m-e or More (which the man himself decried as 'shallower than a tinker's bath‘) to eloquent Question 'Iinu' panellist. Is there still a stand-up's bright red heart beating in the breast of this television all-rounder'.’ His publicist thinks so. ‘Jimmy's one of those comedians who‘s had a great TV career and still wants to come back to lidinburghf says Turner. ‘This year he's performing in the IZOD-sealer conference centre. so there's obviously still a big audience for his stand-up. Actually. I don‘t think you can ever take away the essence of live stand-up from most comedians.‘

This assertion that live work is the most important aspect of a comediath career. regardless of their television profile. is a familiar one. Graham Norton may have stuck his kitten heel in the hallowed portals of Channel 4 and never looked back. yet Alan Davies. Peter Kay and Jo Brand all returned to the Fringe with stand-up shows following huge small screen successes.

Ricky (iervais has also been making waves with his own brand of politically incorrect stand-up in the light of his award-winning sitcom The Office.

Meanwhile. Mtisselburgh‘s own Rhona Cameron. who sold out lidinburgh‘s Festival Theatre last year. declared herself ‘relieved‘ to get back on stage following the thorny experience of developing her eponymous sitcom for the BBC only for the programme to be axed after one series. ‘1 would challenge anyone to try and get a sitcom commissioned and see it through to completion.‘ she has said. ‘lt‘s the most difficult thing I've ever done.~ And Cartiei'oii. you feel. has made one of the more successful transitions from stage to screen. How many comics end up wasting their talents in some decidedly ropy television vehicles. hosting crappy game shows or tossing in their tuppenceworth on endless nostalgia programmes'.’ No wonder Perrier Award winner and queen of the voiceover Jenny Flclair chose to become a lady novelist.

Janey Godley. the only female Scottish stand—up at this year‘s Fringe. agrees that a television contract is very often not the Holy Grail it‘s made out to be. ‘l'd like to act and would love to do a play or sitcom. but hosting a game show would be too far from what I’m about. And stand-up on TV just doesn‘t work. Stand-up needs the immediacy of being live. needs the ability to

go wrong. On TV it‘s sanitised. I did the Live I’loor

.S'lioii'. and they even cut out one of the punchlines.‘ Indeed. the very idea of Godley. whose stand-up deals with child abuse among other controversial issues. translating her live act into a game show or any mainstream TV format is laughable. In that sense. the ‘anything goes‘ spirit of the Fringe is crucial in ensuring that non—mainstream acts are given a platform. liqually. the Glasgow comic's punchline—clipping experience points to the fact that since there are now many more hours of television to lill. much of the output can be sloppily ptit together and unchallenging. Anna Arthur. who promotes the Perrier Awards. argues that aspiring comics don‘t necessarily arrive at the Fringe dreaming of appearances on I Love the 1980s: such opportunities are an inevitable consequence of success for a jobbing comic in a

television age. ‘Most stand-ups just want a modicum of

success and television greatly enhances their prolile.‘ she says. ‘At one time the few got spotted. whereas now there are opportunities for the many and you can‘t condemn comedians for taking those opportunities.~

Happily. Arthur. who boasts the late Bill Hicks (a performer whose live genius never made the transition to mainstream television) among her erstwhile clients. still champions the importance of the Fringe. ‘livery year we argue whether pure stand-up is a dying form and. of course. comics are increasingly inspired by what‘s on TV and radio. But every year someone unique like Daniel Kitson comes from out of nowhere to remind you why the Fringe is still relevant.‘

See Comedy Day Planner, page 43, for our choice of comedians who may or may not be appearing on a small screen near you soon.


Winning the Perrier Award may not be a guarantee of fame and fortune. but it's a tasty guide to the acts with their fingers on August's comedy pulse. So, which comics are in the running this year? With the Fringe a mere week old. we speculate and hope our predictions don't come back to pinch us on the arse.

Wendy Spero Nev. York lady vvith a handy hack cata’odtie of childhood woe Her pal {a Demetri Martin

might haxe passed on a winning tip or two from last year.

Alun Cochrane Some early smart money it. on our Altiri. And he's got a killer prop in the shape and tinkle of a bell. It's not the potter '1; wheel. but what do you want? The Consultants A sketch Show team hasn't done the busmess since the League of Gentlemen back in tSriEi/T Maybe it's time for another. But it not them, then We Are Kland. Bearded Ladies. or Slaughterhouse Live (well. it we name enough of them, maybe one Will get a nomination). Reginald 0 Hunter Another barnstoriiiinq performance could turn Reg lr()ill zi newcomer nominee to main award nominee and then into a tiilly-t')lowri winning nominee.

Colin 8: Fergus A double act hasn't done the busniess SlliCU Lane 8. Woodley back in 1994. Maybe it's time for another. But it not them, then Congress of Oddities. Faultless & Torrance. Priorite a Gauche Or Hopkins; 8. Glover (well, if we name enough of them, maybe one will get a nomination).

Adam Hills Followrng the Rich Hall/Al Murray path of Perrier perseverance. if you get nominated enough times. they gotta give it to y0u in the end. Sarah Kendall Being both a woman and Australian may seem to rule her our immediately. but maybe . . I The Perrier Awards short/[st is announced on Wed 25 Aug with the winner crowned on Sat 28 Aug.