Foreign funnymen sweep British comedy awards

EDINBURGH Sat Aug 25, 2012 12:54pm EDT

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EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Performers from the United States, Norway and New Zealand swept Britain's top comedy awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on Saturday, the first time all three prizes have gone to non-British comedians.

American Phil Burgers from Los Angeles took the top prize, the Foster's Best Comedy Show award, while the Best Newcomer award went to Norway's Daniel Simonsen.

New Zealander Sam Wills took the Foster's Panel Prize for performances over the past three weeks at the world's largest annual festival of the arts.

A total of 536 comedy shows were eligible for the prizes, and the judging panel and awards team attended more than 1,400 performances over the past three weeks.

The Best Comedy award was worth 10,000 pounds ($16,000), and the Best Newcomer and Panel prizes 5,000 pounds each.

A number of top comedians have got their start on the Edinburgh Fringe, with the best comedy award an accolade that set them on the road to fame and fortune.

Previous winners include the Cambridge Footlights with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, Frank Skinner, Al Murray and Russell Kane.

The bearded Burgers, appearing under the name Dr Brown, told Reuters he had been appearing on the Fringe for seven years, "one year as a punter and six years as a performer".

He had studied theatre in the United States and learned the art of clowning with the respected French practitioner Philippe Gaulier in Paris.

Comedy Awards producer Nica Burns said of his wordless performance: "Doctor Brown's show starts with fun pranks and then takes the audience on a roller-coaster from inspired lunacy to pulling your heart strings. He can express emotion with a gesture, a look or an eyebrow."

He was coy about giving his age, finally agreeing on "64, going on 30."

Simonsen, 29, from the Norwegian port of Bergen, had wanted to be a comedian since he was a child.

He joined a school theatre in Norway, and actually met Dr Brown at the Gaulier school in Paris. He said he started appearing in London at the end of 2007 and has been performing at the Fringe in Edinburgh since 2008.

Simonsen, who now lives in London, described his act as "personal, observational lunacy."

Wells, a 33-year-old from Christchurch in New Zealand, has been appearing at the Fringe for the past six years.

"He came as a street performer in 2007 and met his wife (Lili La Scala) who was singing opera on the street as he was trying to put his body through a tennis racket," said Burns.

He graduated to indoor performing in 2010, when he was nominated for a best new comedy award.

His act is also performed in silence, with a strip of duct tape over his mouth.

Burns commented: "He is an outstanding comedian who proves that punchlines don't need words. His show is packed full of gags, all visual. Sam shows us that silence can be hilarious."

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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