Page last updated at 08:03 GMT, Sunday, 24 August 2008 09:03 UK

Winning comics talk debt and divorce

By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Edinburgh

David O'Doherty receives his If.comedy award
O'Doherty says he has many debts to pay off

The final weekend of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe traditionally means the presentation of the If.comedy Awards - known for 25 years as the Perriers - at a midnight ceremony.

This year's winners were Dublin-based David O'Doherty, who took the main prize and an 8,000 cheque, and Sarah Millican, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, given 4,000 to spend as best newcomer.

O'Doherty was rewarded for a show that sees him "waffle a lot", as he puts it, with an hour of "stupid jokes and songs played on a keyboard I got for my 11th birthday".

And it was a biting analysis of a painful divorce which earned Millican her prize, focusing on "the questions that you ask when you split up with somebody".

You might expect anyone following in the footsteps of previous winners such as the Cambridge Footlights, Steve Coogan and Lee Evans to be caught up in the moment, act a little bit "showbiz" and appear unbearably smug about their success.

But O'Doherty and Millican seem to be two of the most down-to-earth personalities on the comedy circuit, judging by their reaction to their prizes.

Newer car

Instead of being extravagant and coming up with ways to blow their cheques, both say they have debts to clear - "many" in O'Doherty's case.

Millican says she has a loan for a vehicle that is "on its last legs".

Sarah Millican
Millican had never been to a stand-up gig before her marriage ended

"I don't want the loan to outlast the car," she said. "If I can pay it off, I can get a newer car a bit sooner. It's really boring - but it's normal."

And both seemed humbled by the reaction they received as they walked through the Jam House venue after the ceremony, which was attended by several hundred people.

"I got loads of kisses and hugs," said Millican, who was almost bouncing off the walls with excitement backstage. "It was worth it just for that."

O'Doherty said a lot of people had been "very good" to him in recent years and he had toured with three former winners of the award - Tommy Tiernan, Dmitri Martin and Rich Hall.

Hall, now a well-established act, was one of those to congratulate the Irishman afterwards.

"Rich had tears in his eyes," he said. "That was beautiful."

New jokes

The award meant a lot, O'Doherty added, because for him comedy was "such a struggle".

"This is a big push for my career, certainly," he said. "But really it's all about rainy nights in November when you're trying to think of new jokes.

"I don't know if it's going to make that any easier, but it might make more people come to see the shows, and that's good."

As far as Millican is concerned, it was the pain of her recent divorce that, ironically, led her to comedy.

Having never even been to a stand-up gig before her marriage ended, she attended a performance workshop before trying five minutes "in a really scary pub in Newcastle where they were all sat with their arms folded saying, 'Come on then, woman'".

"The first half was hard and the second half went really well. I thought, 'Oh, I like this.'"

Big sleep

Her show explores the lack of self-belief and the wounded pride that can be felt after breaking up with a loved one.

"It was things like 'what if I want kids?', 'what if nobody fancies me any more?' and all these things that most people have probably thought," she said.

Australian comic Brendon Burns and veteran entertainer Clive James
Brendon Burns and Clive James presented the awards

"Even if they weren't in a marriage, everybody's split up with somebody and had all of these horrible thoughts. I answered mine throughout the course of the show."

Millican says her first Fringe has been a great experience and appears to feel the award and the positive reviews were merely a bonus.

"It's about entertaining the audience. They're the people who've paid their money," she says.

"If you entertain them, you've done your job. The fact that I sold out a lot and got good reviews was amazing in itself."

O'Doherty says his month in Edinburgh has been especially "tough" because he has been performing not just his award-winning routine, but also a children's act and a satirical midnight show with three other stand-ups.

After three shows a day throughout August, he says he has "a few snots and I don't quite have my own voice", but it seems to have been worth it all.

"I'll be going for a sleep for a week or two after this but my goodness, what an ending to the festival. It's fantastic."




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