So You Think You're Funny?

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So You Think You're Funny?

Time Out

perrier logoSo You Think You're Funny?

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
 Despite going on to work with massive names such as Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer, Sketch Show star Lee Mack reckons the night he won the contest a decade ago was one of his most thrilling moments. ‘From the bottom of my heart, nothing has been as exciting as that moment when they said, "The winner is Lee Mack." In terms of excitement, that was the pinnacle of my career.’
The competition was created by Karen Koren, founder of the Gilded Balloon Fringe venue in Edinburgh, who set up the competition simply to find fresh talent to feed the booming demand for stand-up.
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 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 Five and Paramount Comedy sponsor So You Think You're Funny? The first prize is £2,000 and the winner will also earn the chance to guest present a slot on Paramount Comedy – 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.’

How it works

The event 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.

Several heats are held around the country in late spring. Each night is 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.

Winners of each of these go forward to a final at the Gilded Balloon at the festival.

Previous winners and finalists

1988: Bruce Morton

1989: Phil Kay

1990: Trio Brothers (Rab Christie and Greg Herchill)

1991: Alan Francis

1992: Rhona Cameron

1993: Dylan Moran
Steve Furst (runner-up), Michael Smiley

1994: Martin Trenaman

1995: Lee Mack

1996: Tommy Tiernan
Valentine Flyguy, John Henderson, David Keay, Patrick McDonnell, Lucy Porter

1997: Peter Kay
Nick Doody, Paul Foot, Jonathan Gunning, Stephen Morrison, TJ Murphy, Rod Woodward

1998: Rob Rouse
Moz, Caroline Quinlan, Stuart Stanley, Dan Antoploski, Alex Zane, Reginald D. Hunter, Nadine Lennard, Kevin Hill

1999: David O'Doherty
Josie Long, Juliet Cowan, Russell Howard, Andy Zaltzman, Richard Morris

2000: Drew Rokos
included Des Clarke (runner-up), Mark Dolan, Mat and McKinnon, Francesca Martinez and Les Hommes Sans Noms

2001: Miles Jupp
Stefano Paolini (2nd), Alan Carr (joint 3rd), Michael Downey (joint 3rd), Seymour Mace, Hils Barker, Inder Manocha, John Bishop, and The Reverend Obadiah Steppenwolfe III

2002: Mathew Osborn
Mark Watson (2nd), Nina Conti (3rd), Michael Anderson, Andy Bone, Greg Davies, Rhod Gilbert, Rufus Hound, Greg McHugh.

2003: Tom Wrigglesworth
Andrew Lawrence (2nd), Stuart Hudson (3rd), Anna Crilly, Michael Fabbri, Anne Keirle, Matt Kirshen, Rodney Marques, Ed Petrie.

2004: Nick Sun
Russell Kane (2nd), Chris McCausland (3rd), Rob Collins, Jarleth Regan, Zoe Lyons, Susan Taylor, Rose Heiney, Lee Bannard

2005: Tom Allan
Sarah Millican (2nd), Joe Wilkinson (3rd), Charlie Baker, Kevin Bridges, Robert Broderick, Emma Fryer, Stuart Goldsmith, Josh Thomas.

2006: Wes Paker
Hannah Gadsby (2nd), Ginger & Black (3rd), Andrew Watts, Alan Bennett, Caroline Clifford, Raph Shirley, Holly Walsh, Marlon Davis

2007: Richard Sandling
Ben Davis (2nd), Joanne Lau (3rd), Toby Whithouse, Carl Hutchinson, Daniel Rigby, Gar Murran, Jack Whitehall, James Marsh

2008: Daniel Simonsen
Seann Walsh (2nd), Sara Pascoe, Ahir Shah, John Gavin, Josh Widdicombe, Gearoid Farrelly, Richard Perry, Daniel Sloss, Doc Brown

2009: Ivo Graham
Kevin Shevlin (2nd), Naz Osmanoglu (3rd), Richard Bowen, Winston Smith, Robin Bucklow, Mark Simmons, Jim Campbell, Kai Humphries

2010: James Kirk
Liam Williams (2nd), Rob Beckett (3rd), Alex Clissold-Jones, Romesh Ranganathan, Chris Turner, Matt Richardson, Laura Carr, Pete Dobbing

2011: Tommy Rowson
Finalists: Dayne Rathbone (second), Fern Brady (joint 3rd), Lucy Beaumont (joint 3rd), Andy Clark, Stuart Hossack, Nicola Mantalios-Lovett, Darren Connell, Alex Kealey

2012:Aisling Bea
Finalists: Jonny Pelham (second), Wayne Mazadza (joint 3rd), Murdon Haggs (joint 3rd), Amir Khoshsokhan, Conor Neville, Glenn Moore, Ingrid Dahle, Nick Dixon

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