Stewart Lee has attacked the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards for opening up a public vote for a ‘comedy god’ from all the previous Perrier and if.comedy award nominees.
Although the online poll might appear a meaningless exercise, Lee has taken umbrage at how it will trivialise comedy as an artform.
The press release launching the poll boasts about the talent the awards have ‘breadth of phenomenal talent the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards has discovered over 30 years’ – even though the new sponsor has only just come on board. It adds: ‘As we have seen, the public doesn’t necessarily agree with Simon Cowell or Andrew Lloyd-Webber… [so] the public are being given a chance to have their say.’
And awards producer Nica Burns said: ‘Some 30th anniversary interactive fun – comedy punters can crown their favourite act. Upset the professional judges! Right some wrongs!’
In an email to awards publicist Anna Arthur and circulated to the comedy industry, Lee wrote: ‘You need to pull the plug on this now. It is the most shameful, inane thing I have seen in all the years I have been doing the fringe. You will ruin it for everyone. Have a heart, for God’s sake.
‘Don’t invoke people like Simon Cowell and Andrew Lloyd Webber in an Edinburgh fringe award. What is wrong with you? It's totally inappropriate. This is the place we go to escape them!’
Citing the row over Perrier’s parent company Nestle’s policies in the Third World, the withdrawal of previous sponsors Intelligent Finance and the ‘idiotic’ decision to put money behind a bar on the last night of the 2008 awards in lieu of a panel prize, Lee added: ‘You have weathered so many storms… why must you rain further calumny upon your heads?
‘This will discredit comedy in Edinburgh and play into the hands of your critics, who are all much smarter than you.
‘Think about the logic of it for a moment. Who among those you are asking to vote has even heard of [1984 nominees] The Frank Chickens, who for all anyone under 30 knows may be the best act on the list? It is not possible for the outcome of this vote to have any credibility.
‘How dare you proceed with this farcical, selfish idea?
‘Get a grip. The Foster’s Comedy Awards has not discovered talent over 30 years. Everyone knows that. It was the Perrier. And neither, to be honest, did Perrier. Where now so many of your winners?
‘You should be ashamed, Nica Burns! It's not too late to try and change the way you will be remembered.
‘Corporate Whores. Morons. Illiterates.
‘There is so much good stuff you could use your corporate funding for, and instead, year in, year out, you make these crass decisions.
‘The whole thing will blow up in your face. Then, perhaps, we will see an end to your nonsense.
‘Your cynicism is breathtaking. Your Edinburgh Comedy God idea is banal. There are no comedy gods. Enjoy your Edinburgh Comedy Festival™.’
Nica Burns said she was 'absolutely stunned' by the use of the word 'whore' – and Lee later issued a clarification saying: 'I wasn't using the word in a sexual or sexist sense, but in the commonly understood metaphorical sense of "corporate whore".'
Burns added: 'Public voting events to find people's favourites are now a way of life - best comedians, best films, best songs, best actors, best sportsmen, best musicals... lists abound and by the volumes of votes cast, the public clearly enjoy having their say.
'Our 30th anniversary vote is just a bit of summer interactive fun. It's a chance for us to acknowledge all the great comedians nominated in the last 30 years and argue over the ones who got away.
'I am very sorry the talented Stewart Lee is upset. He obviously doesn't like the idea and, in his own inimitable style, has expressed himself very strongly.'