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The Award Producers: Hils Jago from Amused Moose

By | Published on Tuesday 7 August 2018

We’re talking to people who perform or work at the Edinburgh Festival each year to get their perspectives on what performing or producing at the world’s biggest cultural event involves. This includes the people who run some of the big award programmes that take place during the Festival each year – this time the Amused Moose awards.

Amused Moose has been championing new comedy talent for over two decades, including via an annual new comedian award since 1999. The operation is run by comedy industry veteran Hils Jago, pictured here during Edinburgh Fringe 2014.

She now heads up two new talent awards each year. The National New Comic Award for those just starting out on the circuit. And the Amused Moose Comedy Award for those will full-hour shows at the Fringe who are ready to take the next step up in their career, most likely towards a DVD-style release and/or TV project.

We spoke to Hils about all things Amused Moose and to find out more about the awards.

CC: Let’s start at the start, how did you get into this comedy lark?
HJ: Well, I’ve been going to comedy since 1983 and was on the panel for the Perrier Award back in 1988. Then a decade later I set up Amused Moose.

CC: Tell us a little more about all things Amused Moose.
HJ: Amused Moose first started in London back in 1997, at the Crown & Two Chairmen in Soho’s Dean Street, running a regular Sunday night new act and new material show that featured numerous comedians, many of whom are now internationally mega-famous.

From there we launched a presence at the Edinburgh Fringe, with three shows a night for three weeks. Meanwhile back in London, in 2001 we expanded to six nights a week in a basement in Archer Street, before moving again in 2003 to Moonlighting in Greek Street. We also started touring comedy shows, including with Jerry Sadowitz.

In 2002 we introduced comedy into the Underbelly programme in Edinburgh with twelve shows, including Russell Howard and Alex Zane. And then for a number of years we ran ‘Afterhours’, a late night co-production at Pleasance.

CC: How long have you been running the Amused Moose awards?
HJ: We started what we now call the Amused Moose National New Comic Award back in 1999 in a music pub in Chalk Farm, London. The finalists that first year included Jimmy Carr and Josie Long. We set that up – initially as the Amused Moose Star Search – because I was keen to help new comedians develop and get exposure. So basically it was an extension of our Sunday night new act shows.

We later set up the separate Amused Moose Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Fringe to give significant exposure to comedy shows and comedians who we felt had as yet unrecognised talent and potential, but in a way that didn’t mean pitching them against the big names. A key aim of the Amused Moose Comedy Award is that lots of comedy industry people get to see these shows. Upwards of 40 industry people from across the world watch entries online and about 20 see shows that have entered during the Fringe itself.

CC: How do people enter? How does it work.
HJ: With the National New Comic Award, newish comedians submit a five minute clip of their set around about December time. These are watched and scored by comedy industry people in the UK and abroad. The top scorers are then invited to compete in quarter and semi-finals in London that take place between February and May. The final is then held during the Edinburgh Fringe. There is always industry panel involved in the judging, but the audience votes too.

For the Amused Moose Comedy Award, entrants submit a video of their entire Edinburgh show. An industry panel then watches these videos. Once the Fringe is up and running, judges also watch the shows live. Finalists are then selected in mid-August ahead of a grand final in Edinburgh.

CC: Who is in the running for 2018?
HJ: The finalists for Amused Moose National New Comic Award – the final of which takes place on 12 Aug – are Barney Iley, Jack Harris, Joe Hobbs, Josh Baulf, Louise Atkinson, Maisie Adam, Oisin Hanlon, Rosie Holt and Stephen Trumble. It is very much an open field, and who will step into Jack Whitehall or Sarah Millican’s shoes as our latest winner will depend on who does the best under pressure on the night.

It is too soon to say for the Amused Moose Comedy Award, because we allow entries right the way up to the start of the Festival for those comedians who want to submit a recording of a later preview. The initial panel is still going through all those submissions to create a long list. The finalists will then be announced on Friday 17 Aug.

CC: Who judges? What are they looking for?
HJ: We invite a wide range of people from across the comedy industry to join our panels. Many agree because it is an easy way to talent scout. They will be looking for funny material, of course, and possibly something a little bit different too. We also ask them to have ‘potential star quality’ in mind.

CC: How important are awards of this kind for new comedians trying to reach both industry and a new audience?
HJ: Winning an award is always exciting and affirming, but we believe that building awareness within the industry of short-listed acts is more important. These industry people will play a key role in helping finalists build their comedy careers, and that is ultimately what this is all about.

LINKS: amusedmoose.com/amused-moose-comedy-awards