Perrier snub for prime contender

The Perrier award rediscovered its touch for controversy last night by snubbing the comedian who has garnered the best reviews and the most headlines at the Edinburgh Festival.

Scott Capurro, whose insistence that even the Holocaust can be joked about has sparked a series of walkouts from his shows, was pointedly left off the shortlist of five for the £5,000 prize, traditional ticket to the big time for struggling stand-ups.

The gay American comic leads a procession of holy cows to the slaughter every night in his show at the Pleasance theatre, and his taste for confrontation and for challenging the orthodoxies has on occasion left more sensitive audience members in tears.

With nothing to match the unholy row kicked up last year by the exclusion of Al Murray, and his eventual triumph after a u-turn by the Perrier committee, many critics have been complaining about how bland, safe and TV oriented most of the acts on the Fringe this year are.

A contest between Dave Gorman, Capurro, and Rich Hall's country and western singing ex-con creation, Otis Crenshaw, had been widely predicted.

In the event, Capurro was left out in favour of the talented surrealist Sean Locke, Lee Mack's sketch show, and Garth Marenghi's Fright Knight, a Stephen King spoof. Only Hall has ever been shortlisted before.

But Perrier director Nica Burns insisted there had been no behind the scenes rows.

"There was no plot against Scott Capurro, the judges simply found five shows that were funnier. There was quite a long discussion about Scott before the final five were decided, but the judges' feelings were clear."

She said that for her Garth Marenghi's Fright Knight had been the real find of the festival. "They are what the Perrier is all about, finding fresh, exciting talent.

"No one had heard of them when they came to Edinburgh. They had no organisation behind them and now they are in there with a chance of the Perrier."

They leave, however, having been snapped up by Avalon, the management company who now dominate the comedy scene.

Capurro, a previous Perrier best newcomer, was doing his yoga yesterday when the news came through and did not want to ruin his karma by carping. "I think they are all great choices. Maybe they wanted someone who would be good to promote the product [Perrier], and I guess I wouldn't be their first choice for that," he said.

"Primarily, I think they are looking for someone who will translate to TV, so you get these surprises. Something similar happened a few years ago with Johnny Vegas when everyone thought he would win but he didn't."

Capurro said that for him the biggest shock was that the highly rated Belfast stand-up Colin Murphy did not make the final five.

Nor was there a nomination for the cult football comic, Bob Doolally, who has been persuading hundreds of native Edinburghians to break the habit of a lifetime and actually go to something on the Fringe.

With a few exceptions, such as Ben Keaton and Brown Blues who won in the late 1980s, a Perrier award is a guarantee of much wider fame and all the riches that go with a TV deal.

In Lee Evans's case, it brought him to Hollywood.


Fiachra Gibbons, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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