Thursday, August 05, 2010

Titter ye not much

Disquiet has been expressed within the comedic fraternity about the Foster’s Comedy God poll, in which the current sponsors of the Edinburgh Fringe prize ask us to pick the greatest talent from among all those who have ever been nominated for the award (best remembered from the years when it was the Perrier). Most vociferous among the critics has been the excellent Stewart Lee, who pointed out that very few people voting in the poll would have encountered all the nominated acts, which was why, when he first remarked on it, more recent performers such as Michael McIntyre and Russell Howard were in the lead, rather than... well, that’s where things got a bit out of control, as he recounts:
...I chose at random Frank Chickens, the Japanese female performance art duo, as an example of possibly worthy winners who would not get a look in under this illogical and unfair voting system, and the Twitter world has adopted them as a cause. This was never my intention, and I was drunk when I sent the e-mail in a fit of annoyance anyway, but they are now leading the field, and it appears we should embrace them.
The thing is, being roughly the same age as Mr Lee, I do remember Frank Chickens, and while they might not have been my first choice, they are clearly far more amusing than the bland, gittish likes of McIntyre and Howard. So I voted for them. But in doing so, was I actually subverting the poll, or just adding one more page-view’s-worth of credibility to the whole sorry process, and by some weird collision of digital technology and marketing voodoo, making one dull, Australian lager brand appear to be marginally less horrid than another? If Lee hadn’t sent his original drunken diatribe, I probably wouldn’t even have been aware of the poll, and would just have sighed and shrugged when it was announced that McIntyre is the best thing to have come out of Edinburgh since Burke and Hare. Then again, my contempt for the Foster’s effort has been edged aside by another poll, the results of which suggest that the greatest comedy double act of always and forever is Horne and Corden. Although maybe that, in its own vile way, is more subversive than voting for Frank Chickens.

In any case the Foster’s poll only works if you believe the Fringe is defined by the Awards, which is as absurd as the idea that Edinburgh is defined by the Fringe. (Some people believe that it disappears between September and July, like Brigadoon.) Despite the hundreds of thousands of people there, it’s a deliciously solipsistic experience, with each individual creating a remembered Fringe unique and perfect to himself or herself. I had to check on Wikipedia to see who’d won the Perrier in the years when I was there, but I had no trouble in placing the custard doughnuts and chips with salt-an’-sauce, flyers, Bill Hicks in a tent, telling an American tourist that the Scott Monument was named after Terry Scott, flyers, the guy doing a one-man show about King Saul who needed thirty prompts, flyers, Archaos stopping the traffic, sleeping on the floor, gatecrashing the Fringe Parade and hassling Arden and Frost because they were drinking the wrong lager, that Scotsman review (“...unbelievably atrocious”), the rain, putting the review in the flyers, Jerry Sadowitz not getting served in the bar at the Pleasance and that night in 1993 that Margi Clarke got so annoyed with one persistent heckler that after the gig she went out and poured a pint of lager over the wrong woman. Which is the Fringe only as it is through my tired eyes, but is surely more Fringey than Michael McIntyre.

That said, if you’ve never been, and you really want to know what it’s like, listen to this.

PS: Kazuko Hohki of Frank Chickens responds to the brouhaha: “It’s like someone talking about who won the Derby. I don’t care. I am not a comedian.”


Rog said...

I was quite relaxed until you thrust the spurious Horne & Corden poll down my throat Tim. It was 0.00003% of the population who voted for them and I was happily oblivious but am now a seething quivering blubber of hypertension.

That's the way the Daily Mail operates.

Vicus Scurra said...

I just voted. I believe in democracy.

Annie said...

I've never been (esp. not as an artiste) and am dead jealous.

Stewart Lee has a book out.

Geoff said...

I voted for Mark E Smith.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of the steps and ginnels of Edinburgh vanishing into the mist outside festival time.
Good link btw - "This is not just an auto immune disease. This is MS."

Tim F said...

Rog: In the same poll, they voted for the bit where Del-Boy falls through the bar as the funniest moment ever. These, I suspect, are the people who want Clarkson for PM.

Emmeline Pankhurst would be proud, Vicus.

Are you suggesting Mr Lee is just as shallow and publicity-hungry as the lager, people, Annie? OK, fair enough.

He's formed a coalition with the Tories, Geoff. How do you feel now?

It is good, isn't it, BWT? Moving, but doesn't wallow.

broken biro said...

I wouldn't be surprised if 99% of contests, polls (elections) are badly flawed, unfairly favour certain candidates above others and are highly provocative to those who truly deserve to 'win.'

I have no axe to grind here, and went to the site to see if my old chum Hovis Presley actually got the award one year or was only nominated before scarpering in fright of fame.

Don't shoot me down in flames here, but as a former PR person (*blushes with shame*) I'm sure the poll achieves its aims - which will have been to (a) get people to the site and (b) raise awareness of how many of our favourite comics were 'discovered' or at least 'at' the Fringe, making it even more alluring. Job done.

Tim F said...

True to both those points, Biro, but I did also notice how many of my favourite comics (Hicks, Sadowitz, Sayle) had never even been nominated for the award. And isn’t the real reason they’re doing it to create a spurious, retroactive connection between the glory days of the awards and the Foster’s brand? Which is a bit like saying that in 1961, Spurs won the Barclay’s Premier League...

broken biro said...

Oh, yes, of course - even you mentioning it in your blog is cementing that connection... except it doesn't work on me - I didn't even notice who was running it, having trained myself to edit out all advertising unless I'm specifically looking for it - it drives market researchers barmy! ;-)