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I've had a hell of a busy week. As a member of the Fosters Comedy Awards panel at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I've been seeing up to 7 shows per day. On Saturday we'll be awarding the Best Newcomer and Main Prize. They're a really prestigious titles to win, possibly the most prestigious in world comedy, so the process by which we come to a decision is really detailed and scrupulous. A panel of 10 see all of the shows more than once, we discuss them all and eventually come to a decision via a secret ballot. There are about 600 shows eligible in total so seeing them is a huge feat of organisation as much as anything else.
Inevitably it means you sit through a lot of average to poor quality shows, however, the great shows, though few in number, really do stand out. There's no mistaking one when you see it. Whether you personally find it funny or not is perhaps a different question but it's obvious when someone is very good.
In fact, I'd say as a general principle, if you have to wonder for a minute if the show is great or not, then it's not. The gulf between the good and the great is almost always a big gulf.
So what makes the difference? There's not just one thing, but a common factor is that the very best acts have put in a huge amount of work. Time and again you see stand-ups who just haven't put enough effort into the detail of their work. The best shows are densely packed with info but often pass so smoothly that you don't realise it. The best acts make it look so simple that it is easy to think it requires less work than it really does.
Like all the best rock albums, a great show is all killer and no filler and the acts we award the prizes to this weekend will really deserve it through a mix of talent and hard graft.
After it's over, I'm back to my writing and my record playing. Bliss! See you next week.