Since it began in 1988, So You Think You’re Funny? has kick-started the careers of dozens of the country’s top comics including Dylan Moran , Peter Kay Rhona Cameron and Tommy Tiernan
The competition starts in March with showcases countrywide and is open to new acts, who have been performing for less than 18 months and who have yet to have been paid for a comedy gig.
In recent years, the search for the best comedy newcomers has been to Bath, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin, and Brighton and to over ten comedy clubs in London. Last year there were over 500 applicants for only 70 places.
Each heat is one and a half hours long with each stand-up allowed eight minutes in which to win over the judges and the audience. The heats are not a direct competition, with judges instead selecting the best acts they have seen over the entire run to take part in one of seven heats at the Edinburgh Fringe with the chance to go through to the final.
The final is held at The Gilded Balloon during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe attended by members of the public, talent scouts, agents and celebrities. It is a hugely popular night and with two-and-a-half hours of top comedy, tickets are sold out within a couple of hours.
In the first year, the prize was £250 from Koren’s back pocket and the possibility of a TV commission. The very first winner, Bruce Morton, landed a TV series on the seven deadly sins.
Phil Kay was the next winner in 1989. “When I did the final and won that was my second ever gig” says Kay. “My first gig got me through the heat. I don’t know if you could say that So You Think You’re Funny? launched my career, because my career was still at the blueprint for the ship stage rather than ready to have the champagne smashed off the bow.”
Now the first prize for the winner of So You Think You’re Funny? is £2,000 and a place in the Best of British Show at the Montreal Comedy Festival; an event that is closely watched by talent scouts for the American TV networks.
As the prize money has grown, so has the competition and now there are around 500 applicants a year.
Peter Kay is the first to recognise that the comedy world has got a lot more professional since he won So You Think You’re Funny? in 1989. While Kay almost wandered in off the street, many entrants now prepare for the competition with as much study as they would for the qualifying exams to be a doctor.
“Things have changed” he says. “Then and now are about as different as a rickety coal mine train and a roller coaster.”
Lee Mack says much the same thing. “When I did it none of us really knew what we were doing. We didn’t have managers or agents or anything like that. I went back two or three years later and watched a final and they were all signed up with people in management and agent deals. We just caught the tail end of amateur comedy. People are more on the ball now.”
Although the competition has become fiercer, Koren says the judges will still be looking for the same qualities that made the first winners stand out – an individual approach to splitting sides is.
“They have to be unique” she says. “There are lots of people who want to be an Eddie Izzard or Lee Evans and that doesn’t really work. The ones that are good have their own style. One of the rules is that they must perform their own material, but their own style is very important too. They have to want to do it desperately and not be ashamed or embarrassed to be on stage.”
It is advice that is echoed by Bill Bailey, who has compered the final many times.
’Try to be as original as you can and try and find your own voice” he says. “Try and blaze a trail in some new direction and do something totally different, but not in a gratuitous way. If you can find that then you are halfway towards cracking it.”
The competition has continued to thrive from year to year and the pedigree of the competition is reflected in the list of past winners (see image gallery): Bruce Morton, Phil Kay, Rhona Cameron, Lee Mack, Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan and Peter Kay, all of whom are now highly successful established comedians and television performers.
Even the calibre of our past competitors is astounding, with the likes of Ardal O’Hanlon, Johnny Vegas, Steve Furst, Michael Smiley, Ed Byrne, Dan Antopolski, Jason Byrne, Alex Zane, Dominic Holland, Nick Wilty, Lucy Porter, Reginald D Hunter, Paul Foot, Andy Zaultman, Nina Conti, Des Clarke, Francesca Martinez, Craig Hill, Alan Carr, The Reverend Obadiah Steppenwolfe III, Rhod gilbert, Matt Kirshen, Andrew Lawrence, Stefano Paolini, Russell Howard and many, many more.
The Final Compares have included Chris Evans, Jo Brand, Eddie Izzard, Mark Lamarr, Julian Clary, Arthur Smith, Graham Norton, Sean Lock and Bill Bailey.
Celebrity Judges have included Steve Coogan, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, Avid Merrion, Jo Brand, Jenny Eclair, Emma Freud, Gail Porter, Fred MacAulay, Dylan Moran, Rhona Cameron and Owen O’Neill.
In 2008 we celebrated 21 years of So You Think You’re Funny? and a gala show was presented at The Festival Theatre and the following performers took part. Compered in three segments by Bill Bailey, Arthur Smith and Fred Macaulay it featured – Bruce Morton, Phil Kay, Gregg Hemphill, Alan Francis, Rhona Cameron, Rob Rouse , Lee Mack and Martin Trennaman, David O’Docherty, Reg D Hunter, Miles Jupp, Richard Sandling, Ed Byrne and Jason Byrne.
As well as attracting the glitterati of the Comedy world to the competition we also present the best parties at the Fringe but are most notably renowned for throwing the biggest and most exciting bash with our ‘So You Think You’re Funny? Party – a sought after ticket for all festival and media players.