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Letter from Simon Kelner: Stand up and be counted or sit down and listen up


It can't be such a bad job being a stand-up comedian.

I know they always say how terrifying it can be, the isolation of being there on stage with a room full of people expecting you to make them laugh.

And we can feel the stand-up's pain, given that most of us will have experienced the nerve-wracking feeling that even the most private of public speaking - at weddings, leaving parties, that sort of thing - can engender. And, by and large, we don't get heckled by the audience.On the other hand, when a comic takes the stage, he or she is also faced with a gathering who have paid money to laugh; who have got themselves in a mood to find most things funny (usually by liberal application of drink) and, unless something goes terribly wrong, are generally on the side of the performer. They are demanding, alright, but are also willing accomplices in the act and are desperate to tell their friends they have just seen the funniest show.

There was a total of 505 acts who qualified to be considered for the comedy prize at this year's Edinburgh Festival. That's right - 505! There were probably more comedians than policemen in central Edinburgh these past few weeks. So, my guess is that standup comedy is a pretty attractive career choice, made only more alluring by the rewards earned by the likes of Michael McIntyre and Stewart Lee.

The winner of the Edinburgh comedy prize was Adam Riches, a highly inventive physical comedian whose anarchic act is as far away from knock-knock gags as it's possible to be. No wonder, therefore, that he wasn't in the list of the top 10 jokes at the festival. The winner of that accolade was Nick Helm with this offering: "I needed a password eight characters long, so I chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."

Clever, yes. Charming, even. But funny? I think you'd need a few pints of heavy to fall off your seat at that one. And that was number one!

I realise that we can't all find the same thing funny, but I'm prepared to stand up (forgive the pun) and be counted. This is my all-time favourite joke: A man goes into the psychiatrist and says: "Doctor, I keep thinking I'm a dog". "Lie down on the couch," says the psychiatrist. "Oh no," says the man, "I'm not allowed on the couch."

Go on, then. Tell me yours...