Richard Gadd's show about sexual assault wins Edinburgh comedy award

Richard Gadd, the 26-year-old comedian from Fife
Richard Gadd, the 26-year-old comedian from Fife

Richard Gadd won best show at the Fringe at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards yesterday for his highly original but perplexing show Monkey See Monkey Do.

While funny and innovative (Gadd spends much of the hour running on a treadmill and interacting with pre-recorded video clips and sound), the show is sometimes painful to watch as Gadd describes his mental health problems after a serious sexual assault six years ago, after which he started questioning his masculinity and sexuality.

It gained four- and five-star reviews across the board, and Mark Monahan, reviewing the show in the Telegraph, described it as: "Strong stuff, a show that progressively and potently sucks you into a very troubled mind."

Gadd, 26 and from Fife, who received his £10,000 prize in front of an audience of comics and critics, said he deliberately avoided describing the traumatic event in detail. "I always say I was sexually assaulted because I don't want my parents reading the word you're thinking of. And I didn't want to relive the actual event because I have worked so hard to get the flashbacks out of my head.

Richard Gadd's Monkey See Monkey Do is comedy-as-personal-catharsis taken to a whole new level

"But I wanted to portray the repercussions, which still last today, and show to the world that mental health problems are just the same as having a broken leg. Just because you can't see it, or you don't know someone's story, doesn't mean it isn't real. I cannot tell you how bad it got, but the worst thing my abuser did was to take my confidence away from me. I feel this will go some way to getting it back."

He decided to run on the treadmill during the show (he runs about six miles each night) because: "For two years, the only way I could put the monkey on my back to sleep was to run and run and run. I was running 10 miles a day, six days a week. I wanted to show that everything in it is very real."

Nica Burns, the producer of the awards, said of Monkey See Monkey Do: "It is a highly original, extraordinary show that combines hilarity and heart."

Australian comedian Felicity Ward

Gadd's hour was one of several comedy shows at this year's Fringe about mental health issues. Australian comic Felicity Ward, who suffers from anxiety and depression, mined comedy from mental-health statistics in 50% More Likely to Die and Danish stand-up Sofie Hagen, who suffers from depression, made mock of those who who don't understand others' mental ill health in Shimmer Shatter, while American stand-up Chris Gethard in Career Suicide described the suicidal thoughts that resulted in years of therapy.

Elsewhere, British musical comic Rachel Parris's show Best Laid Plans described her encounter with the Samaritans after she broke up with her boyfriend, and Newcastle comic Seymour Mace's delightfully daft Sh*t Title, “knocked the demon down” as he described "the ridiculousness of how depression can make me behave". Gadd said the number of shows is a sign the UK "is becoming more aware of the issue, and that's a good thing".

Comedian Scot Gibson

It was a Scottish double at the awards, sponsored by lastminute.com, as Glaswegian Scott Gibson, 31, won best newcomer for Life After Death, about his recovery from a brain haemorrhage in 2009. Gibson, who was a call centre manager before he went into comedy, said: "When I recovered I knew I had to write a show about it. I am so grateful for the doctors putting me back together again."

The panel prize – awarded by the awards' panel of judges of critics, industry figures and comedy fans for a show that embodies the spirit of the Fringe – went to the team behind Iraq Out & Loud: Reading the Chilcot Report in Full, in which hundreds of comics appearing at the Fringe read out all of its 6,000 pages, 2.6 million words, 24 hours a day - in 284 hours and 45 minutes of continuous reading.

Gadd with his award

The show's producer, comic and actor Omid Djalili, said: "We did it because comedians are very good at detecting bulls--t."

Some observers have suggested it wasn't a stellar year for comedy on the Fringe, despite there being more than 1,400 shows eligible for the Edinburgh Comedy Awards on offer across the Scottish capital during August, part of the 3,269 theatre, comedy, cabaret and circus shows listed in the official Fringe brochure.

In fact the Fringe's thunder was in danger of being stolen by the International  Festival under director Fergus Linehan. His innovative programming – with some shows that would sit easily in the Fringe – has paid off, with tickets sales up and several shows, including a revival of John Tiffany's production of The Glass Menagerie, and Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, selling out within hours of going on sale.

The Scottish actor, who starred in US drama The Good Wife, was making his return to the International Festival after nine years, and was acclaimed not just for his cabaret, but for his post-show Club Cumming, at which he DJed dance music and organised silly games for the audience. It became the hot ticket during August, with queues stretching around the block before it started at midnight.

 

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