It’s been a good summer for oddballs, and I use that word in the nicest possible way. The shortlists for the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards have been announced and, not for the first time, unconventional comedians have come out on top.
Between them the scouts and judges have seen every eligible comedy show on the Fringe, boiling it down from 600 shows to what they consider to be the 15 best (which is five more shows than the usual shortlist). The winners - £10,000 for the main prize, £5000 for newcomer – are announced on Saturday.
Only one show on the eight-strong shortlist for the main award is “straight” stand-up - Nish Kumar’s trenchant, political hour about race and left-wing comedians. James Acaster - nominated four years in a row - is also a stand-up but it’s far from straight. His show Represent uses the loose umbrella of jury service to cover surreal observations about light switches and massages, which he somehow knits together in the end.
The most unusual show is Joseph Morpurgo’s extraordinary hour-long homage to Desert Island Discs in which he plays the guest - interacting with meticulously and hilariously edited footage of the Radio 4 presenter Kirsty Young - as well as all of his chosen recording artists. His Discs are a random bunch of charity shop vinyl finds and Morpurgo morphs from embodying creepy piano player to children’s storyteller to rapper with terrifying ease. Surely a firm favourite to take the prize - for effort and invention alone.
Also proudly in the oddball camp is Sam Simmons, nominated for the second year in a row for Spaghetti for Breakfast, a riotously enjoyable series of visual jokes and surreal skits about things that get on his nerves that closes with a “screw-you” to conventional man-with-a-mic stand-up. It feels like a coming together of his act and I think, after three nominations in five years, this might well be his year.
Seymour Mace, who has appeared in Johnny Vegas’ Ideal, is a more leftfield addition to the list, an anarchic surrealist, described by one critic as a “Viz cartoon come to life” whose act includes a soft toy soap opera "Beastenders", physical comedy and quizzing. Both have to be seen to be understood.
Storytelling is also seems to be popular this year. Sarah Kendall, the only female to make the shortlist, tells an hour-long story about her schooldays and a dramatic incident involving her friend, George. Kieran Hodgson’s Lance recounts his teen obsession with Lance Armstrong and cycling in a vivid, multi-character coming-of-age tale. And Trygve Wakenshaw’s Nautilus sees the silent clown transform himself into a sleepy dinosaur and Aretha Franklin, among other things during the course of a 90-minute tale.
As for the newcomers, I’m not at all surprised at the inclusion of hyperactive one-liner king Adam Hess, the joyous Tom Parry or the intelligent sketch trio Daphne on the list. Sofie Hagen’s hour about being an obsessive Westlife fan when she was growing up was eye-catchingly odd and disarmingly honest. I didn’t see Larry Dean’s show about coming out, nor Tom Ballard’s about homophobia, nor the The Story Beast’s eccentric myth-telling but that’s exactly what the Newcomer award is there for – to put people on your radar. I can’t wait to catch up with them elsewhere soon.
The winners and nominees can be seen at the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards Show on Sunday 30 August at 3.30 at The Grand, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh (www.edfringe.com)