Where's our comedy award?
Against all the odds, the idiosyncratic Stewart Lee now has two British Comedy awards. But what about these five?
By Richard Luck and Howard Swains, 22 December 2011
Last week, the British comedy industry had its annual back-slapping ceremony in London, hosted as ever by Jonathan Ross and over-running its time slot by a good 20 percent. So far, so predictable.
However, this year there was also a significant surprise in store when the only double award winner of the night was the defiantly anti-establishment Stewart Lee. The crumpled Morrissey won for Best Male TV Comic (ahead of Charlie Brooker, Harry Hill and Rob Brydon), and he also rode his Comedy Vehicle to victory in the Best Comedy Entertainment Programme (beating Alan Carr: Chatty Man, An Idiot Abroad and Harry Hill's TV Burp).
Although there was still plenty to complain about for hardcore comedy fans - the lack of any award for either stand-up or radio comedy, for example - Lee's mainstream recognition did stave off plenty of other gripes. For years, the Comedy Awards had dabbled mainly in the shallows of light entertainment, but here was one of Britain's great innovators finally being recognised. He didn't even need to have any jokes.
Now Lee has been officially recognised as the equal of Jean Boht of dinnerladies fame and Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, one wonders whether the gates will open to others previously deemed too risqué, too obscure or too damn stubborn to win a British Comedy Award.
We doubt it. Even in the post-Lee world, here are five names who we suspect will never be invited on-stage to collect a playing card suspended inside a chunk of glass from an inebriated Freddy Starr.
But that's not to say they don't deserve them. Because they do.
Erstwhile Rory Bremner collaborator Jim Sweeney is partially here to represent the Comedy Store Players, the peerless improv group whose numbers include Lee Simpson, Neil Mullarkey, Richard Vranch, Josie Lawrence and Paul Merton. If Sweeney is deserving of special recognition it's because of the way he kept performing while crippled with multiple sclerosis. Though the condition has since forced him to retire, Sweeney - whether accompanied by a crutch or sat in a wheelchair - remained the sharpest of an exceptionally lively bunch. A film about his life, The Sweeney, is a must-see for all serious comedy fans.
He'll never win because: Awards focus on what's flashy and new rather than those people who've been honing their craft for ages. -- RL
In the years since Daniel Kitson won the Perrier Award at Edinburgh in 2002, he has seemingly invested as much energy in keeping himself out of the public eye as he has crafting a series of captivating theatrical experiences to stand him apart from all his peers. These days Kitson is a sensation: his shows (sometimes story-telling, sometimes comedy, sometimes both) sell out in a matter of minutes, be it in the upstairs of a pub in South London (where he still regularly appears to work through new material, charging fans no more than about £2) or at the National Theatre, where he performed a pre-Christmas residency.
He is resolutely anti-television, especially after a disastrous experience working with Peter Kay on Phoenix Nights, and he is also defiantly unglamourous, appearing onstage beneath a huge bushy beard, thick-rimmed specs and charity shop threads. He has no manager, no agent and only advertises by virtue of a mailing list from a Hotmail account. He is also utterly unique and probably the most thought-provoking performer of a generation.
Hell never win because: He doesnt want to. -- HS
There's a good chance you might only know Neil Hamburger from his brief appearance in Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny. And if you have yet to encounter Gregg Turkington's alter-ego on stage, you're missing out on a unique treat. With his constant companions a rumpled suit, a bottle of booze and a very bad comb-over, Hamburger's act involves cracking gags that rarely work and insulting everyone from audience members to A-list stars.
Called "an anti-comedian" by some critics, Hamburger is far too funny for that description to fit. He makes a mean prank phone call, too
He'll never win because: Alas, not enough people get the joke. -- RL
(Image: Danny Norton/Creative Commons)
It's fair to assume that the combustible Glaswegian magician-cum-comedian Jerry Sadowitz no longer loses sleep over a lack of recognition at the British Comedy Awards. Part of his recent act included a spot where he asked the audience to shout out names of other comedians so that he can describe in lacerating detail precisely why they are shit.
Sadowitz is hardly attempting to make friends, but he has, however, attracted numerous admirers despite an unflinching stage-presence. He is racist. He is homophobic. He is anti-semitic (and Jewish, incidentally). He jokes about paedophilia, necrophilia, disability, tragedy and disaster. He redefines both the terms foul-mouthed and misanthropic. And he means it all. But he is also far from ignorant: his show is a laying bare of a scarred and furious soul. And funny? Yes, funny. Very funny indeed.
Hell never win because: He is racist. He is homophobic. He is anti-Sem... oh, you get the picture -- HS
Despite performing at every Edinburgh Festival since the late 1980s - be it with the Oxford Revue, his former double-act partner Stewart Lee or in a series of one-man themed shows that have garnered numerous rave reviews - Richard Keith Herring's mantelpiece is notoriously bare. In his brilliant daily diary Warming Up, Herring frequently makes self-deprecating reference to his one and only gong: the Daily Telegraph Worst Comedy Experience 2005 Award.
The fact that Herring is continually overlooked for more creditable recognition may just be the industrys sick joke. Among countless other achievements, he had a hand in creating Alan Partridge; he has written sitcoms and sketch-shows for television and radio; his Edinburgh appearances are always highly original thought pieces; he is a consummate technician with a real passion for his craft; he was among the first comedians to experiment with internet broadcasting; and his recent Radio 4 shows dare to combine politics, campaigning and comedy.
Hell never win because: Who knows? Just because, it seems. -- HS