Fringe benefits: How winning the top comedy prize at Edinburgh can transform a performer's life

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1981: Cambridge Footlights

You couldn't have scripted better inaugural winners than the Cambridge Footlights, who numbered Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery and Emma Thompson, for whom it's not so much a case of "where are they now?" as "where haven't they been?" Fellow members included Paul Shearer, who is best known for his work on The Fast Show, and the late Penny Dwyer, who chose a career in metallurgy over one in entertainment and worked on the construction of the Channel Tunnel.

1982: Writers Inc

This traditional revue group consisted of the actor Nick Wilton, who toured extensively in regional theatre afterwards, and was recently seen as Widow Twankey at the Festival Theatre in Malvern; Jamie Rix, son of Brian Rix, who made his name as a children's author with Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids; and Victoria Pile, who makes up the trio, and is best known as a writer, director and producer for Smack the Pony and Green Wing.

1983: Lost Trios Ringbarkus

Steve Kearney and Neil Gladwin's show, Los Trios Ringbarkus, consisted of "anger, angst and severe physical comedy" and mess made from "beer, bananas and bread." Kearney has written and produced on a series of films in the U S; Gladwin worked on the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics.

1984: The Brass Band

The musical comedians Loois Tooloose, Jimby, Fritz Frumheimer, The Captain and Buford, from the west coast of America, returned to San Francisco to resume their careers.

1985: Theatre de Complicite

Complicite have become a by-word for experimental theatre and are arguably one of the comedy awards' greatest success stories.

1986: Ben Keaton

After winning the Perrier, the actor Ben Keaton made a number of TV appearances, from Father Ted to Emmerdale, and he also had a small part in the film East is East. He's made frequent appearances at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

1987: Arnold Brown

Former accountant Arnold Brown, from whom a line like "I enjoy using the comedy technique of self-deprecation – but I'm not very good at it", would be typical of his laconic shtick, was among the first acts on stage at the Comedy Store in 1979. Brown continues to work as a comedian.

1988: Jeremy Hardy

Once dubbed the "most left-wing man in the country", Hardy has stayed in the vanguard of left-leaning laughs since the Eighties, despite the changing political landscape and shifting comedy trends.

1989: Simon Fanshawe

Simon Fanshawe's journalism career went largely uninterrupted by his Perrier success in 1989; his renown is still largely based on his extensive broadcasting and articles for a raft of newspapers.

1990: Sean Hughes

Hughes carried a blunt stick with him, with which Festival audiences didn't seem to mind being hit, even if some of his gags were close-to-the-bone: "I once watched two friends shooting up heroin. I was quite shocked, 'cos they didn't have Scottish accents for a start." After the award, Hughes enjoyed the high of his own Channel 4 show and six years as a team captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

1991: Frank Skinner

English graduate Skinner was already making a name for himself and appearing on TV when the Perrier came along to put the icing on his comedy cake. More successful TV appearances duly followed, with Fantasy Football League, Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned and his own late-night chat show.

1992: Steve Coogan

The irritable Mancunian Paul Calf was among Coogan's winning collection of characters in Steve Coogan in Character with John Thompson. Thompson performed as Bernard Righton, a PC version of Bernard Manning, whose signature joke ran: "An Englishman, an Irishman and a Pakistani walk into a bar. What a perfect example of racial integration." Coogan went on to huge success, most notably as Alan Partridge, his colossus in sports casual.

1993: Lee Evans

The bendy bonhomie of Lee Evans won the day against a varied field that included Donna McPhail, Phil Kay, Greg Proops and musical comedy acts that included the future award winner Phil Nichol. Like Coogan, Evans has had brushes with Hollywood (including in There's Something About Mary).

1994: Lano and Woodley

This Australian physical-comedy duo came up trumps in what was by all accounts a lively panel debate, a battle from which Harry Hill was expected by many to come out on top. Lano and Woodley only went their separate ways two years ago after 20 years performing together, having first met participating in the 1980s improv movement Theatresports. Frank Woodley was back at the Fringe in 2008 with his solo show.

1995: Jenny Eclair

The opening gag of Jenny Eclair's show Prozac and Tantrums ran: "I've had my nipples pierced. Why? Because I was sick of losing my car keys. The only trouble is that I have got this really elongated nipple from shoving the keys in the ignition." A novelist and regular pundit, Eclair can be seen on tour with Grumpy Old Women Live this autumn, a show that she co-devised.

1996: Dylan Moran

Laid-back, louche, world weary and wise, Irishman Dylan Moran strolled off with the award from under the noses of his Black Books co-star Bill Bailey, 1993 newcomer Dominic Holland, Rich Hall, TV sketch duo Armstrong and Miller and Al Murray (the first of his four nominations). Moran's work has spanned stage and screens both big and small, although he's never left stand-up behind.

1997: The League of Gentlemen

Graham Norton, Al Murray, Johnny Vegas and the previous year's best newcomer, Milton Jones, were the cast of the vanquished as the League's three-man troupe charmed and horrified Edinburgh with their macabre brand of humour. Since then, the League have conquered stage, radio and screen with their tales of strange happenings in the skewed environs of Royston Vasey.

1998: Tommy Tiernan

Tiernan, an energetic and cerebral storyteller with a gift for poetic phrasing ("I love coffee. Sometimes I have an espresso before I wake up to wind up my dreams"), has toured worldwide and particularly extensively on the US and Canadian circuits.

1999: Al Murray

There was no small amount of relief and celebration for Murray and his management, Avalon, when he finally "got the beers in" and scooped the Perrier award for his boisterous and apparently bigoted pub landlord act that had started life during Harry Hill's Pub Internationale tour in 1994.

2000: Rich Hall as Otis Lee Crenshaw

Rich Hall's Southern US jailbird took comedy into the millennium, leaving Dave Gorman, Lee Mack, Sean Lock and Garth Marenghi in his wake. A celebrated example of Crenshaw's cunning couplets runs: "Women call it stalking/ It's just selective walking".

2001: Garth Marenghi

The fictional horror author character was nominated the previous year and came back in 2001 with a similar mix of hammy acting and Hammer Horror-style silliness. Co-creator Richard Ayoade is now best known as Moss in The IT Crowd.

2002: Daniel Kitson

Now a regular cult favourite on the Fringe, Kitson usually travels with both a stand-up and a theatre show in tow, all branded with his unique bittersweet humanity, illustrated by lines such as: "Seeing these three elderly ladies fall about laughing at a fart joke was an act of human defiance for me – they might not be here on Tuesday."

2003: Demetri Martin

The New Jersey comedian now hosts his own show on Comedy Central that is coming to E4 this autumn. Spare a thought for Australian Adam Hills, though, nominated for the third time without "doing an Al Murray" and eventually winning it. Other nominees included the current cult favourites Flight of the Conchords.

2004: Will Adamsdale in Jackson's Way

Adamsdale's absurd take on a motivational speaker got the blessing of Stewart Lee, and passionate advocates for the show among the judges on the Perrier panel ensured that the award went the old Etonian's way. Adamsdale has subsequently made his debut film appearance as a newsreader on Richard Curtis' The Boat That Rocked.

2005: Laura Solon

Solon became only the second woman, after Jenny Eclair, to win the Perrier in 2005. Her character comedy show contained observations like: "Elephant and Castle: one place name, two broken promises." Appearances followed in TV shows Ruddy Hell It's Harry and Paul, and Al Murray's Personality Disorder.

2006: Phil Nichol

Edgy in a cartoonish way, Nichol told the audience: "I'm a dangerous comic. Sometimes I chuck peanuts into the audience to see if there are any fatal nut allergies out there." Nichol continues to be a Fringe regular in both comedy and theatre, and among various other work he has appeared in a London run of Sam Shepard's play Simpatico.

2007: Brendon Burns

A coup de theatre reminiscent of an Andy Kaufman "happening" was enough to finally tip the scales in favour of the 100 per cent perspiration acolyte of the "Comedy of Hate". "Muslims are great because they stay up all night to give you fried food before you go to bed," was among the insights given by the Australian comic resident in the UK. Since winning the award, Burns has walked out on presenting I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, but has also released a number of DVDs, taken on US representation and has a couple of TV projects in development.

2008: David O'Doherty

The Yamaha-keyboard toting, lo-fi comedy stylings of David O'Doherty surprised many by taking what turned out to be the final Intelligent Finance-sponsored award from under the nose of Welshman and hot favourite Rhod Gilbert. Taking twee to new upbeat levels, O'Doherty mused on the pre-technology, pre-psychologising days of dating that his mother and father must have experienced, where coupling must have been easier: "You like soup too? This is going to be great!" O'Doherty has a book, an album and a film with Dylan Moran out in the autumn.

2009?

We are no doubt in for some surprises this year; the field is wide open given the number of newcomers. Rhod Gilbert could well be one previous nominee to reappear among the field, while there is a possibility that Sarah Millican could jump from newcomer to main award winner. Other previous nominees in with a shout include Paul Sinha and Andrew Lawrence. Meanwhile, Shappi Khorsandi has been getting a lot of attention for her new book, How to Be English, and so will be worth watching closely.

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