The Edinburgh comedy award shortlist has been announced, and it features more female comics than ever before. The nine-strong shortlist – the longest in the history of the prize – includes four women, one of whom (Elf Lyons) dresses as a parrot, and another of whom has promised never to perform standup again. The latter, Hannah Gadsby, won the prestigious Barry award at the Melbourne comedy festival and has been hotly tipped for its Edinburgh equivalent, with her hard-hitting show about gender violence and the limits of comedy. The winner will be announced on 26 August by the League of Gentlemen, who won the award in 1997.
Also in the running for the prize – considered “the Oscars of live comedy” – is John Robins, with an emotionally candid (and hilarious) show about being dumped by his girlfriend, the comedian Sara Pascoe; and the fast-rising clown and prop comic Spencer Jones, who appears in the BBC’s Shakespeare sitcom Upstart Crow. Political comedy is represented by leftwing firebrand Ahir Shah, while Sophie Willan’s thoughtful show about labels (which addresses her working-class background and her former life as an escort) also features. Comedy purists will celebrate Mat Ewins’ inclusion on the list with his silly and brilliant multimedia show Adventureman 7, an Indiana Jones spoof with added DIY animations.
Also on the list, Canadian comic Mae Martin, with her show about rehab, Dope; and the destabilising presence of standup experimentalist Jordan Brookes. Nica Burns, the West End theatre producer who runs the award, hailed the list’s “unprecedented” gender balance, reached after “a particularly passionate and lively debate by the 10-strong judging panel”.
Conspicuous omissions include New Zealand comic Rose Matafeo, who can feel hard done by to miss out with her brilliant show Sassy Best Friend, and Joseph Morpurgo, hotly tipped for his theatrical spoof Hammerhead. Mind you, no one would wish the list any longer than it is: the days of shortlists that were actually short (until 2012, only five or six acts featured) seem far behind us.
It’s a strong list, reflective of a comedy festival packed with excellent shows – if not many by sketch or double acts, who are conspicuously omitted. There’s no runaway front-runner; I’d be happy to see Ewins, Willan or Robins win it, whereas Lyons’ knockabout solo Swan Lake feels like the wildest card. But they’re all fine shows – assuming Spencer Jones’ The Audition, which I’m seeing tonight, is up to par.
Alongside the best show list, nominees were also announced for best newcomer. They are: Lauren Pattison, Chris Washington, Kwame Asante, Ed Night (son of the comedian Kevin Day), Lucy Pearman (one-half of the double act LetLuce), Dr Brown protege Natalie Palamides and Rob Kemp, for his late-night hit The Elvis Dead. The winner will collect £5,000 at this weekend’s ceremony; the main award is £10,000. Previous winners include Steve Coogan, Tim Key, Bridget Christie and last year’s champ, Richard Gadd.