Russell Kane won one of comedy's most prestigious awards yesterday for his deeply personal show about his father, a Butlins Redcoat who died before seeing his son perform as a professional comic.
It was the third time in four years on the circuit that Kane had been nominated at the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards. The former marketing man landed the top £10,000 prize for Best Show, a surprise result as industry insiders had largely expected it to go to Bo Burnham, a 20-year-old American whose YouTube website has collected 60 million-plus hits in only a few years.
"I cannot believe I've won," Kane said as he held up the trophy and ran through a list of thanks. The other runners-up were Josie Long, Greg Davies and Sarah Millican.
Kane, 30, has constructed shows about how he grew up in a working-class home on a housing estate and was the first member of his family to attend university.
"I hope I didn't cause too many polarising arguments," he said in his acceptance speech. "It's many thanks to my family, especially my mum for letting me say all that really personal stuff on stage. I don't invent anything. I have to get her permission for every story."
He read English at Middlesex University and spent a few years as a copywriter before becoming a full-time stand-up in 2006.
West End impresario Nica Burns, the organiser of the awards, said: "Russell Kane takes the audience by storm with his boundless energy and enthusiasm. It's an extremely funny show from a very talented comic. It took a very impassioned, intense debate to select the nominees from a strong and diverse long-list. This will be remembered as a vintage year for comedy."
Much of the winning show, Smokescreens and Castles, is about his father's British bulldog attitudes and repressed masculinity. Kane describes their relationship as "difficult, and full of silent love". He said that there were some sections of the show that he finds difficult to perform because they are so personal.
"I really worked my tits off this year," he said as he received the award from Al Murray, a winner of the award in 1999. Recently married, Kane thanked his wife, Sadie, and afterwards credited the Hoffman Process, an intensive life-training course, in helping him to overcome his performance nerves and focus his writing into much more autobiographical material. Kane couldn't resist having a dig at a Guardian critic who dislikes his high-energy, wordy performances, saying the process had helped him to remove the "vertiginous verbosity".
The Spirit of the Fringe award went to Burnham, whose hugely accomplished show of music and comedy got five-star reviews and has been sold out for its entire run. He started performing skits for his family at the age of three. "He has used every trick in the book and has done something a bit bonkers in the spirit of the Fringe," said one judge, the critic Stephen Armstrong.
A new award, the Comedy God, has been introduced to celebrate 30 years of the awards, formerly the Perriers. Decided by public vote, it has been ridiculed by comics including Stewart Lee and Robin Ince, who suggested people vote for the most obscure act ever nominated – the Frank Chickens, a Japanese sketch group nominated in 1985. That award is announced today.
The best newcomer award went to 31-year-old Londoner Roisin Conaty, who formerly worked as an office manager. There were 416 eligible shows for the awards, and tickets sales were surprisingly healthy despite the economic downturn.
Ms Burns said: "In a diverse and highly talented shortlist, Roisin impressed the panel with her ability to make the audience laugh at her daily struggle to understand life. She is charming, charismatic and popular."