Awards ceremonies in general are awful and The British Comedy Awards are the worst of the lot. They are, like most awards shows, safe, mainstream and rewarding of mediocrity while disdainful of anything truly original. What sets them apart from the rest though is a layer of hypocrisy on top of all this. The show pretends to be anarchic. They do whacky things like get snakes on stage. Comedians shout things out from the audience. It’s all so rebellious.
Except not really, because the award winners and nominees are either mainstream hits (Noel Edmonds and Cilla Black are amongst past winners) or programmes made by people who move in the right circles. UK comedy is a small world, and if you’re on the outside looking in, you aren’t getting a nomination.
Take the Sketch Show category at this year’s awards: Harry and Paul, Psychobitches, It’s Kevin and Horrible Histories. It’s Kevin is hosted by Kevin Eldon who is a writer for Harry and Paul, Psychobitches stars Comedy Awards jury member Rebecca Front, while one of the Horrible Histories writers also wrote for Psychobitches as did another writer who also wrote for Harry and Paul.
It’s an incestuous world; effectively a bunch of people who know each other or have worked with each other standing around in a circle and jerking each other off.
The entire concept of an awards ceremony for comedy is wrong, one which Trey Parker and Matt Stone spent an episode of South Park criticising after they received a nomination at America’s version. Comedy is supposed to be irreverent. A fancy, expensive, corporate-sponsored, yearly ceremony where awards are handed out after a vote by a jury made up mainly of TV executives, goes against the ethos of comedy.
Looking through this year’s nominees makes it obvious just how lacking in credibility the ceremony is. Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway is, according to The Comedy Awards, one of the best comedy shows in the UK, while Miranda Hart is nominated for Best Female TV Comic for her performance on Room 101. To reiterate, according to these awards, Hart’s performance on one single episode of a TV panel show has qualified her as one of the funniest female comedians on British TV.
It’s hard to criticise current nominees without the inevitable rebuttal that comedy is subjective and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Looking at previous years though is a good way to judge just how awful these awards are. In 2006 for instance, Charlotte Church won Best Female Newcomer. Yes, that’s right, that titan of female comedy: Charlotte Church. In 2005, The X Factor won Best Comedy Entertainment Programme.
It’s not really the shows that win awards though that rob awards ceremonies of their integrity, but the ones that don’t. For instance, the genuinely original Limmy’s Show doesn’t get a nomination this year, nor has it ever received one. Looking through the list of previous winners reveals a huge number of omissions, including almost anything that strives to be different or weird: Brass Eye, The Armando Iannucci Show, Spaced, Green Wing, 15 Storeys High, Monkey Dust, Modern Toss, Nathan Barley, The Mighty Boosh.
A few of those shows got nominations but that hardly makes it much better. The grotesquely hilarious League of Gentleman for instance lost two years in a row to the safe, mainstream Dinnerladies. That is The British Comedy Awards: safe, populist, shite. Like I said above, all awards shows do this, but the feigned anarchic ‘spirit’ of The Comedy Awards makes it particularly hard to stomach in their case.