Perrier winner has comics smiling

American Rich Hall gets the laughs with a little help from Oedipus

Special report: the Edinburgh festival 2000

The American comedian Rich Hall won the Perrier award at the Edinburgh fringe festival yesterday amid shameful scenes of good grace from other comedians.

The Perrier, a virtual passport to fame and fortune, can usually be relied on to bring out the worst in the male-dominated world of stand-up, including a ruck at the party in the early hours of Sunday when the winner is announced.

But with no burning controversy to match the farce of the disqualification and reinstatement of last year's winner, Al Murray, it passed off without anything more than a few bruised egos.

Hall, a regular on the Saturday Night Live and Letterman shows in the US, had been the favourite with his show on the wit and wisdom of his latest creation, Otis Lee Crenshaw, a country and western singing jailbird bigamist from Tennessee, who has been married seven times to women called Brenda. "Them damn shrinks keep tellin' me I have this darn thing called an Oedipal complex, but my maw, Brenda, told me not to listen to them."

Hall and the British comedian Dave Gorman - whose show follows his search for all the other Dave Gormans in the world - were acknowledged to be in a league of their own this year. The best newcomer award went to the double act Noble and Silver.

The Perrier, offering a £5,000 prize, has been the springboard into the big time for such comedians as Lee Evans, Steve Coogan and The League of Gentlemen. However, Hall is already a bestselling writer in the US with his five Sniglets books (dictionaries of words that should have been invented) and Self Help for the Bleak and Vanishing America.

He vowed to make the Perrier better known across the Atlantic by "welding the trophy to the hood of my pick-up truck and driving it around. I could be in America doing crap sitcoms as the cranky neighbour, but I love it here."

Hall has refused to follow his old friend Jerry Seinfeld into sitcom, where American stand-ups go to retire, but he did have his own show on the Comedy Channel in the US and has appeared in three films, albeit mostly forgettable, including Million Dollar Mystery.

From the Otis Lee Crenshaw show, it is clear that he is also a talented songwriter.

But Hall, who based the Crenshaw character on his redneck relatives in North Carolina, is more worried about his home in Montana than his immediate career prospects. "They have had huge forest fires raging right around it."

He prefers to work in Britain because "comedians are taken much more seriously here. In America you are there to get people to drink more at clubs, so you have maybe five or six comedians on the bill doing 10-minute slots, while here you can build up an atmosphere over an hour or more."

The other comedians on the shortlist were Sean Locke, Lee Mack and Garth Marenghi.

Meanwhile, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director of the Mexican film Amores Perros, last night won the Guardian new directors prize at the Edinburgh film festival.

The film, which won a host of prizes at Cannes, compares the lives of dogs and humans in Mexico City, but the Board of British Film Classification has intimated that it will not pass the dog fighting scenes at the heart of the story, despite assurances from the film-makers that no animals were hurt during the shoot.

Stephen Daldry's tearjerker, Billy Elliot, about a boy from a pit village who dreams of being a dancer - also a crowd-pleaser at Cannes - won the festival's audience award, while Aiden Gillen, best known for his role in Queer As Folk, picked up the best newcomer award for his performance in Jamie Thraves's feature debut, The Low Down.

The main Michael Powell award for the best new British feature went to Last Resort, a touching and funny BBC film about asylum seekers in a Kent seaside town by Pawel Pawlikowski, the award-winning director of Twockers.

Martin Radich's A Good Man Is Hard to Find shared the best short film award with Alnoor Dewshi's comedy about a stalker, Jomeo and Ruliet, while the animation prize went to Robots by John Williams.

• The shadow home secretary, Ann Widdecombe, was heckled and chased by protesters as she left the Edinburgh book festival in a taxi.

Police said about 50 people demanding that asylum seekers be allowed to enter Britain gathered outside an event at which Ms Widdecombe read from her book, The Clematis Tree, on Saturday night.

Protesters thumped the taxi and hit it with placards. One man was arrested for "a minor public order offence".

Past winners

1981 Cambridge Footlights (with Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie)

1982 Writers Inc (Vicky Pile, Smack the Pony producer)

1983 Los Trios Ringbarkus

1984 The Brass Band

1985 Theatre de Complicite

1986 Ben Keaton

1987 Brown Blues

1988 Jeremy Hardy

1989 Simon Fanshawe

1990 Sean Hughes

1991 Frank Skinner

1992 Steve Coogan

1993 Lee Evans

1994 Lano and Woodley

1995 Jenny Eclair

1996 Dylan Moran

1997 The League of Gentlemen

1998 Tommy Tiernan

1999 Al Murray

Useful links:

54th Edinburgh International Film Festival

Amores Perros


Fiachra Gibbons, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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