Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Flagship comedy awards plunged into crisis over loss of sponsor

Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson are among the previous winners of the main prize
Watch more of our videos on Shots!
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

The future of the most coveted comedy prize at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been thrown into doubt by a cash crisis triggered by the loss of its headline sponsor.

Edinburgh Comedy Awards director Nica Burns has warned this year’s edition will not be able to go ahead unless 11th-hour backing can be found.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She has launched a search for several “potential heroes” to help meet the annual £200,000 running costs of the competition, which has launched the careers of a host of leading entertainers and performers since 1981.

Stephen Fry is a past winner of the comedy award. Picture: Getty ImagesStephen Fry is a past winner of the comedy award. Picture: Getty Images
Stephen Fry is a past winner of the comedy award. Picture: Getty Images

However, it has emerged this year’s awards, which recognise the best comedy show and best comedy newcomer, may have to be “paused” from this summer.

Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Frank Skinner, Hannah Gadsby, Lee Evans, Rose Matafeo and Steve Coogan are among the previous winners of the main prize for best comedy show.

The awards have always relied heavily on commercial sponsorship, initially from Perrier, with later backers including Intelligent Finance and Foster’s. TV channel Dave, the most recent sponsor, said it had decided to withdraw its backing at the end of last year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ms Burns has stepped in twice previously to put her own money into the awards to ensure they went ahead without a headline sponsor, but insists this option is no longer viable.

Nica Burns is director of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Picture: Richard DavenportNica Burns is director of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Picture: Richard Davenport
Nica Burns is director of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Picture: Richard Davenport

She said: “I’m a passionate advocate of the Fringe and the vital role it plays, acting as a springboard for many careers, including my own. I remain committed to the awards, which I have fought for and grown over the last four decades and I’m proud of their role in spotlighting outstanding comedy talent.

"As the comedy section of the Fringe programme has expanded to become such a significant genre, so have the costs of running the awards. Having stepped in and personally sponsored them twice over the years, I will be the first to put money on the table for 2023, but post-Covid can no longer do it on my own.

"I’m therefore inviting the comedy industry and all potential partners to get in touch immediately to help make the awards happen this year.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

An official announcement on the awards said: “As everyone across the arts knows, post-Covid the commercial landscape has changed significantly, marketing and sponsorship budgets are under huge pressure and the pool of ethically appropriate sponsors diminished.

Sam Campbell won the best comedy show prize at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards last year.Sam Campbell won the best comedy show prize at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards last year.
Sam Campbell won the best comedy show prize at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards last year.

"Sadly, in this environment, we’ve been unable to secure a new title sponsor for 2023. It’s become clear we need to change the funding model, to think beyond one large title sponsor, and to raise money from a mix of sources.

“For the awards to take place this year, we need some help. We’re calling out for potential heroes to step forward with support, so we don’t have to pause the awards for 2023 and can continue to find and spotlight the next generation of talent.”

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “These awards are a really important part of the Fringe landscape, providing crucial funding for the winners and a major opportunity to comics.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Comedy is critically underfunded, but a huge part of the Fringe, and we know that artists, venues and the wider comedy community will want us to work collaboratively to support the awards in any way we can, in redeveloping and securing a sustainable future.”

Related topics: