Intelligent Finance, a subsidiary of HBOS, has decided in the wake of the economic downturn not to renew its three-year sponsorship of the awards, titled the if.comedy Awards since 2006.
That means the awards - often dubbed the 'Oscars of comedy' - will be without a sponsor for the first time since their establishment in 1981. Founding producer Nica Burns, who is also co-owner of West End playhouse chain Nimax Theatres, is covering this year's costs, though at a press briefing held today in London, she insisted that she is "extremely confident" of a sponsor coming on board for 2010.
Burns admitted that ending the sponsorship agreement with Intelligent Finance was “the last thing I wanted to do only three years after ending our association with Perrier”, but that the change would allow the awards to be rebranded for perpetuity (they will no longer be named after future sponsors), and that she is “extremely confident” of finding a “suitable backer" from next year.
The winners of the awards are drawn each year from participants in the Edinburgh Fringe, the world's largest arts festival. As well as the main Best Comedy Show award, prizes are also given in the categories of Best Newcomer and, since 2006, the Panel Prize. Despite the lack of sponsorship, this year's prize money will be unchanged (£8,000 for the Best Comedy Show winner, £4,000 for the other category winners).
At today's briefing, Burns admitted the traditional winners' West End showcase is “up in the air” this year. “Due to the number of Edinburgh shows that now transfer to London after the festival, the showcase seems to have lost its USP,” she said. Instead of the previously guaranteed London dates, the Best Comedy winner will for the first time this year be invited to participate in the three North American Just for Laughs comedy festivals in Montreal, Toronto and Chicago.
The veteran producer, who dubbed herself today “the Arts Council of Comedy”, emphasised that despite the name change the administration of the awards will remain unchanged. The panel of ten will be chaired this year by Time Out comedy critic Tim Arthur and will include three members of the public. The announcement of the winners, traditionally held at midnight on the final Saturday of the festival, will instead take place during the day this year to accommodate Sunday newspaper deadlines.
Established in 1981, the first Perrier award was given to the Cambridge Footlights, which included a stellar line-up including Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery and Emma Thompson. It has since gone to comedians including Lee Evans, Al Murray, Frank Skinner, Steven Coogan, Jenny Eclair and last year's winner David O'Doherty.