Nick Awde has been around since gaslighting, writing about theatre and working on a string of large stage productions, some of them at the Fringe.
This pedigree may explain the aloofness with which he told Phil Ellis’s Funz and Gamez Tooz to fuck off:
“Guys, you got last year’s award because you were an in-joke for other comedians and the arty theatre circuit – and if you listen only to their plaudits, you’ll fall flat on your face like you’re doing here. You’re talented, you’re funny, you know your stuff and you’re northern – so sort it, work out what your audience is, come back next year (I can even tell you the best venue) and you’ll be guaranteed to clean up.”
Awde speaks with great conviction – arrogance, even – and you might even believe him. But with a little knowledge of stand-up you know how little success there is to be had in being an in-joke for other comedians (if anything it is the gold standard of broader failure). And you’ll know how little the stand-up circuit has to do with the “arty theatre circuit”, whatever that is and if it even exists (isn’t all theatre ‘arty’?). It’s odd, too, for Awde to be telling a sold-out show to work out what its audience is when its audience is standing all around him. And as for knowing the best venues, well – this doesn’t really need comment. He’s just being a dick for larks.
So there’s no point taking Awde’s swagger at face value. He’s just not taking it too seriously, which makes a nice change. In fact, we could probably do with more bolshy dickery in the review corps now that Copstick’s in her dotage. But with Paxman-like calling of bullshit one must have Paxman-like knowledge.
Awde wrote a report on the state of the free Fringe at the start of this year’s festivities. It’s a long piece which is, factually, about as reliable as a verbal agreement from Freestival. But again he speaks with such authority that you might well believe that the free Fringe thing was a protest, or a revolution, or that there is a fierce standoff between the paid Fringe and the free. You might not even question his breathless parroting of Fringe Society year-on-year growth figures, received by the rest of us in the same spirit as the Pyongyang Central News Agency telling us that North Korea has unicorns. But if you DO know about the Fringe, you soon realise that the Fringe Awde is talking about is going on in his head.
Oddly, the only other Fringe review we could find by Awde in The Stage this year (his reviews don’t show up under his name for some reason) was for Trash Test Dummies. This is written in the style of a puff piece for a provincial freesheet: “It is high-fives whizzing around the entire front row as this cheeky trio from Australia bounce on to kick off a show that looks at the funny side of trash”. It’s so bouncy and so unlike any kind of critique that it looks like he copied and pasted the PR guy’s email – except that in the middle it turns into a corporate strategy meeting: “The nonsense language for dialogue and setting up of contrasting characters delineates the mini-plots and elevates the humour to a truly universal level,” he says.
It’s not a major crime to be all opinion and no fact; goodness knows where journalism would be if that were the case. But a tiny bit of charm is required. It’s perfectly fair, for example, to point out that Funz and Games Tooz appeals to adults at the expense of their children, and that to do so “without these two levels of the show ever connecting makes as much sense as two dead sheep headbutting each other in a pool of lard: not much,” Good point, but he loses half the argument with the way he puts it. If you’re going to try a wry analogy in a humour critique. for fuck’s sake make it funny.