Perrier awards to recognise 'senior-level' comedians

She announced this year's five-strong shortlist. The nominees are the comedy quintet Dutch Elm Conservatoire, Laura Solon, a 26-year-old Oxford graduate and only female on the shortlist, Justin Edwards who performs under the stage name of Jeremy Lion as a disastrous children's entertainer, and the stand-up comics, Jason Manford and Chris Addison.

All are competing for the £7,500 prize and a fast-track route to becoming a household name. Previous winners include Emma Thompson, Lee Evans, Frank Skinner and Jeremy Hardy. Ms Burns said: "A whole new generation of comedians is stepping into the spotlight. We will look at 2005 and regard it as a breakthrough year. These are next-generation stars. In terms of discovery, this is a major year for talent."

She said she would turn to the industry for suggestions on changing the prize rules, after the winner is announced at midnight on Saturday. "It's time to review them. When I started, there were only 40 shows that were eligible, now there are over 200. It's a different world to 25 years ago. We need to redefine it for the next 10 years."

Ms Burns said she favoured a separate award that acknowledged "people who are at a different level in their careers, an award for more senior-level comedians". The Perrier rewards the best comedy act at the Festival, but excludes those deemed already "stars". There is also a category for the Best Newcomer, for which this year's shortlisted nominees are Charlie Pickering, Mark Watson, Rhod Gilbert, Tim Minchin and Toulson and Harvey.

Ms Burns said there were ideas from different quarters such as including an international award, a prize for "senior-level" comedians who had established themselves on the circuit or on digital TV stations, and categories for sketches, physical comedy and stand-up.

Justin Edwards, a previous joint holder of a Perrier Best Newcomer prize, said winning would help to raise the profile of his act, which he hoped would appear on television. He approved of a new category for next year's awards. "It's probably a good thing to have a change," he said. "Introducing separate categories for sketches and stand-up might be good. It's very difficult to judge a character show with a sketch."

Jason Manford was delighted to be nominated. He graduated from university only last year, and it is his first performance at the Fringe. He said he had been anxious about performing as his country-wide preview of the show had not always been successful. "The audience at Edinburgh is really enjoying it. I did eight or nine previews around the country testing jokes and I thought, 'Oh my God, what am I doing?' My act is a bit like a funny lecture. I research legends and work out where they are from."

The comedy shortlist

JEREMY LION 'What's The Time, Mr Lion?'

Justin Edwards jointly won the Best Newcomer Award in 2002 with Neil Edmond and James Rawlings forConsultants, now in its fourth series on Radio 4. This new act is about Jeremy Lion, a failed children's entertainer and drunk. Edwards, 33, said winning his Perrier "really opened doors".

LAURA SOLON 'Kopfraper's Syndrome: One Man and His Incredible Mind'

Solon, 26, started writing and performingat Oxford University, where she read English. She formed a double act with Richard Hough, performing in pubs, but left to work by herself last year and was discovered at a sketch night in a north London pub.

JASON MANFORD 'Urban Legend'

Manford, 24, got his start at Manchester's BUZZ club when an act failed to show. At 17, and after only five gigs, he won the North West Comedian of the Year Award, previously won by Caroline Aherne and Johnny Vegas. His inaugural Edinburgh Festival act revolves around the 'urban legends' that people grow up with.

CHRIS ADDISON 'Atomicity'

Probably the best known of the five short-listed, he was nominated for Best Newcomer in 1998, and again last year for his show Civilisation. He tackles the British response to the July 7 bombings in his show, and its emotional contrast to the US response to a terror attack. He is the only "political" act of the five.

DUTCH ELM CONSERVATOIRE 'Conspiracy'

The comedy quintet comprising Steve Evans, Jim Field Smith, Renton Skinner, Rufus Jones and Jordan Long started their sketch-based comedy at the Edinburgh Festival last year. This year's skits revolve around the idea they are running a conspiracy theory investigation service from Bracknell.

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