A critic at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe once dismissed Steven Berkoff’s one-man performance of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic horror story The Tell-Tale Heart as not funny enough, while another’s one-star review of a misogynistic French stand-up failed to grasp that the comedian was in character.
However, performers who suffer the ignominy of an unjustifiably bad write-up may have some consolation at this year’s festival with a new prize for those who receive reviews that spectacularly miss the point.
The £200 Ham Fist prize will go to the show that has received the “dumbest” and most badly informed write-ups during the Fringe, which opens on 7 August and runs until the end of the month. Organiser Fringepig, the website that reviews the reviewers, has promised a further £50 to the “winning” review “in the hope they will buy a couple of books and learn about whatever it is they failed to grasp”.
“There are usually one or two howlers every Fringe,” the anonymous organiser, who goes by the name of Mr Kipper, said. “We’re not just talking about awful reviews, but reviews where they’ve seriously got the wrong end of the stick.”
The prize is funded by a well-known industry personality who did not want to be named. Steve Bennett, editor of comedy website Chortle, said: “I think this prize is fair game. I hope it makes people think more about what they are writing.”
Comedy journalist Paul Fleckney added that he welcomed the prize. “The last thing comedians need is a reviewer who gets the wrong end of the stick. I suspect they will be delighted to get their own back,” he said.
Had the prize existed a year ago, Mr Kipper said, it would have gone to a review of Alexis Dubus’s show, Marcel Lucont Is, which he performed in the character of a Frenchman “with all the elements that the English love to hate”.
A site called Arts Award Voice gave his show a rating of one star, calling him sexist and seemingly failed to realise Dubus was in character.
The reviewer wrote: “I really could not grasp what a majority of the audience were in hysterics over at any point of French comedian Marcel Lucont’s performance. Maybe I missed something.”
“It was my first ever one-star review,” Mr Dubus told The Independent. “It was bizarre. I’d never heard of the website. It was a show I was proud of and had taken around the world.”
The new prize’s organisers blamed the explosion of blogs set up to review shows in Edinburgh for the declining standards, dubbing them the “pulp Fringe publications” .
Mr Kipper added: “Quality means nothing now.
“None of them [the review blogs] seem to know the basics about journalism.”
Critical failures: Bad reviews
Phil Ellis: Unplanned Orphan
A “show gone wrong” that descended into deliberate chaos – including reading off notes and messing up cues.
Two-star review in Broadway Baby: “Unfocused and seemingly much unrehearsed, the show seemed without any real substance, and most importantly, without any concern for delivering a successful comedic piece.”
Alasdair Lists Everything
A free experimental comedy show by Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall that did what it said on the tin.
One-star review in SGFringe: “If he actually got an act together, linked his material in some kind of system and related to his audience, he might become a passable stand-up.”Reuse content