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Tim Key loses the bullying, wins comedy

Saturday, August 29 2009

Congratulations to Tim Key on winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award, his persona as oddball poet has come a long way in the past few years, writes Paul Fleckney.

If you didn't know already, Tim Key – he of BBC4's Cowards and Charlie Brooker's Newswipe – has bagged this year's Edinburgh Comedy Award for his show Slutcracker (review here).

Key's win is notable because his act isn't 'stand-up' as you may know it, and his show is the most unconventional of the nominees – how often does the Eddie winner also get nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality?. His bad poetry and surreal videos make for an hour of dreamy escapism, and it comes from another world to Jon Richardson, Tom Wrigglesworth, Idiots of Ants, John Bishop and Russell Kane, whose shows have a much firmer grip on reality. The most recent winners of the award, Brendon Burns and David O'Doherty, had similarly 'straight' stand-up shows.

It's been interesting to see Key's act develop over the past few years. The first time I saw it was at Barden's Boudoir, Dalston, in the early days of Freeze – his double act with Tom Basden that was hugely popular at last year's Edinburgh. Back then his poet persona was kinda rock n roll. It was more unhinged, brooding, fidgety, the booze flowed, he would bully Tom relentlessly, he was quite intimidating in a wired, aloof, unpredictable way.

Since then a lot of this has softened. The aloofness has been replaced with a more relaxed manner, he actually smiles, he banters with the audience – it's actually less edgy. I started wanting the old one back. The bullying (be it of Tom or his tech, Fletch, in the solo shows) and the aloofness was funny and brought a kind of tension and fascination that divided audiences. And dividing audiences normally is a sign of good art, right?

Perhaps, but in fact Key's newer, more relaxed persona gives him more freedom and as a result the show feels complete, as opposed to a curiosity. There is now space to banter with the audience, something he is very skillful at and would have felt out of place before. The set pieces, too. Look at the assault course he attempts at the end of his show – it is silly, brilliantly silly, and inexplicably hilarious, and also could never have worked with the more riotous, shambolic early persona.

Key said in these very pages that this award was "crucial" to him, which is kinda refreshing as few comics want to be seen to be ambitious, and having a pop at awards makes you feel a little bit James Dean, doesn't it? Key's ambition has never been in doubt though; this is the guy who ducked and weaved his way into Cambridge Footlights when he wasn't even at Cambridge University. Still, ambition without talent is a massive waste of everyone's time, and Key has proved he has bags of ability.

So congratulations to Key. It's a great show and he's a top fella as well so there will be plenty of good will towards him, as there was for Burns and O'Doherty.

To tie up a few loose ends, Jonny Sweet won the Best Newcomer Award and Peter Buckley-Hill bagged Spirit of the Fringe for his work on the Free Fringe.


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