Arts: Days of ligs and laughter: Seven Days In The Life Of A Perrier Award Judge

My Week
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First meeting with fellow Perrier judges, even though we have all been here for several days to plough through the 160 eligible shows. Went in hoping that I hadn't been rude to any fellow judge in the scrum of the Pleasance courtyard bar, and breathe a sigh of relief when I recognise no one around the table.

We're given a pep talk by the Perrier Award director, Nica Burns, and our chair, Myfanwy Moore of the BBC, who ask us to declare any personal or professional interest in any act up for consideration, after last year's fiasco with a panel member, James Christopher, who championed his mate, fellow critic turned "comic" Ian Shuttleworth, as seen on Channel 4's The Critics.

The panel - four journalists, three TV commissioning editors and three members of the public - are OK, and I was impressed by the assurance with which the punters spoke in a room full of people used to being taken seriously even when they are talking rubbish. I expected to lose a few favourite acts at this point, but all the ones I supported made it on to the long list.

Promised myself to take it easy as I want to enjoy the whole experience, which is a long, hard slog to see several acts each day, and I'm recovering from bronchitis; so thank God for smoke-free venues. But going from those sauna-like spaces out into Edinburgh's freezing cold could undo my grand plan - no serious drinking before 6pm, and a swim every day.


Straight from my bed to lunch with a friend means two of the above have gone by the board. Expect to be offered drugs by comics keen to get on the Perrier shortlist, but the nearest the panel gets is a young comedian who has some painkillers to hand when a fellow judge complains of a headache. Cocaine fuels Edinburgh in ready supply at some late-night venues, where discreet nose-wiping is much in evidence.

First party of the week, given by Channel 4's Edinburgh Or Bust producers, in the achingly hip Noa bar in the West End. Decide to be intelligent and leave at a reasonable hour, or when the major ligging starts and performers turn up in search of free drinks.


Unofficial book on who will win the Perrier Award comes to my attention. Stunningly wide of the mark, as only one name was on the long list, let alone the shortlist, which means that the panel have done their job in being discreet.

Off to BBC studios to see Edinburgh Nights being transmitted, to check out the engaging new co-presenter Peter Curran and watch discussion on whether Edinburgh needs an award like the Perrier. Janet McKay, ex-Islington councillor, now owner of comedy club The Stand, suggests the Perrier is unfair and irrelevant. She is torn apart by host Mark Lamarr. Cruel to watch, but great TV.

Another day, another party. Can't decide if having invites to them all rather takes the fun out of it, or whether being "somebody" wins out.


Shortlist meeting starts at 9am after most of us have had only a few hours' sleep. We all expected blood on the carpet, but we're amazingly civilised about losing our favourite acts as long as it's clear that they have no widespread support. It's reasonably painless, although I have had to lose Brendon Burns, the one comic who I think is doing anything remotely dangerous in his act.

One fellow judge doesn't like one comic because of his hairstyle, another doesn't move around the stage enough (er, it's called stand-up...), and another is praised because he's brave ("I mean doing a sketch about hating whisky in front of a Scottish audience..."). Jaws drop, but of course we value the insight of a man who believes that Lee and Herring are cutting- edge.


Friends come up from London. Hurrah! First chance to see something other than comedy and spend time with people totally unconnected with the Award.

Went to see Ursula Martinez, a theatre/cabaret artist my friends have previously worked with. The poster for her autobiographical show at the Assembly Rooms features her standing naked with her aged parents who, despite no acting background whatsoever, appear with her. Very dodgy moment when it appears that they may be disrobing on stage; by then we've come to know and like the old buffers, and that would be just too weird and out there, even at Edinburgh where anything goes.

Martinez, like so many other lazy buggers, does audience participation, which I would like to see banned: only really talented comics can pull it off without humiliating people.

After seeing dozens of shows where comics are picking on the audience, I am getting a bit sick of it. I've now discovered the ultimate deterrent - when they ask what I do, I tell them "I'm a Perrier judge". Stops them dead in their tracks.

Another day, another party; tonight there are two - Paramount TV and Soho House. Decide Soho House's is the better bet, as it's at the Sculpture Garden at the College of Art, although manage to find my way only as far as the (free) beer pyramid at the entrance. I'll have to check out the more solid works of art another day.


Another day, another lunch. Busiest day of the week for parties as the Television Festival starts today - three and counting. it's no joke.