The untrammelled silliness of Adam Riches gets my vote for this year's Edinburgh comedy award, with Hannibal Buress for best newcomer, but it's a shame sketch comedy is missing from the main nominations
A comedian who eats food from audience members' mouths, another who bellows abuse in their faces and another reporting back from the frontline of anti-cuts activism: the judging panel has produced an eclectic shortlist for this year's Edinburgh comedy awards. This year's list of challengers features two comedians that everyone knew would appear, Adam Riches and Nick Helm, two shortlist veterans in Josie Long and Andrew Maxwell, and two new additions, in Chris Ramsay and Aussie absurdist Sam Simmons.
The early favourite is probably Riches, an Edinburgh veteran whose previous claim to fame was slipping on a yoghurt and breaking his leg onstage in his 2008 show Rogue Males. A win for him would celebrate untrammelled silliness, from a man who's more ringleader of mayhem than comedian per se. Silliness, of the Harry Hill variety, is also Simmons's stock-in-trade; his show Meanwhile is a volley of skilful nonsense, culminating in an oddly moving taco-smashing routine. I'd be happy to see the award go to either, or to Long, whose show consolidated a surprising 2010 left-turn towards political comedy. An hour of controlled dismay about Tory damage to all she holds dear, her 2011 set is good ? but not as good as she'll be when she stops apologising for the politics.
Among a decent but not brilliant crop of comedy shows, there has been no exceptional, out-of-nowhere hit, of the type supplied by Hans Teeuwen, Bo Burnham and Doug Stanhope in years gone by. But that needn't trouble the panel, which never rewards those shows anyway. Making up the 2011 shortlist is a strong offering from Irish veteran Andrew Maxwell, who ? like Long ? directly addresses state-of-the-nation concerns; Helm's much-hyped show, which features too much shouting in our faces and not enough good jokes; and Ramsey, a young comic familiar to some from his appearances of Russell Howard's Good News, whose show I'm seeing tonight.
It's a little surprising to see no sketch comedy on the list. Next year, I suspect, the promising range of young sketch companies will likely bag a nomination or two. In the meantime, team comedy is represented on an eight-strong Best newcomer shortlist, in the form of Etonian double-act Totally Tom, and by Humphrey Ker and Thom Tuck, two-thirds of sketch favourites The Penny Dreadfuls. That list is completed by Cariad Lloyd, who performs her character-comedy show on the Free Fringe; the excellent US standup Hannibal Buress; The Chris and Paul Show (Chris O'Neill and Paul Valenti); former CBBC presenter Holly Walsh; and tipped-for-the-top Josh Widdicombe. I haven't seen them all; Buress is my favourite out of those I have. All will be revealed on Saturday 27 August.