Page last updated at 08:28 GMT, Monday, 25 August 2008 09:28 UK

The comic taking care to be a mess

By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Edinburgh

He gives himself three laboured introductions before shuffling on to the stage.

Comic Edward Aczel
Edward Aczel says regular stand-ups are too confident

The topics for his routine are written on his hands, he has very few jokes and he fills half of his hour-long show with a quiz, giving the answers before the questions.

Edward Aczel would like you to think he is the most shambolic act on the stand-up circuit.

But behind the unkempt, crumpled exterior is a shrewd performer who is determined to appear a mess, just like Laurel and Hardy and the other bumbling comedians he has always admired.

Everything about the 41-year-old, who on Friday night won the Malcolm Hardee Award for his show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is in contrast to the image of a traditional star.

"I remember doing one of my first opening spots at the Up the Creek venue in London, and seeing a really, really slick stand-up doing 20 minutes.

"I thought to myself, 'I just could never do that. I couldn't be ultra-confident.'

"But I wanted to be the opposite of that, and just be disastrous."

Day job

Aczel is not even a full-time comic - his 24-night run in Edinburgh was only possible because he took three weeks' holiday from his day job as an account manager for a marketing company in Aylesbury.

Edward Aczel - photo: Steve Ullathorne
I wanted to be the opposite of that, and just be disastrous
Edward Aczel's answer to the slick, ultra-confident stand-ups

"It was all of my leave for the year. But comedy is an antidote to 'Civvy Street'," he explains.

Four years ago he took a course for would-be performers because he had been "working incredibly hard the previous year and didn't have much of a social life".

"I thought it'd be 250 quid and a bit of a laugh. But then I won the BBC's competition for new comedy talent.

"My first year was amazing and I thought I'd just carry on."

In his show, Do I Have to Communicate With You?, Aczel rambles monotonously about subjects from bird flu to the Spanish Armada and Charles Aznavour.

He also keeps a graph, supposedly showing the number of people who walk out of his show. When one man leaves during his act he reassures nervous audience members by saying, deadpan: "Don't worry - it happens all the time."

But Aczel admits his crowds have thinned in the past as people failed to realise his shambolic nature was fake.

'It's an act'

His flyers quote enthusiastic reviews from the likes of the London Evening Standard - "quite how someone can be so hilarious without any actual jokes is sheer genius" - and the Chortle comedy website - "unlike anything you've seen before".

The Malcolm Hardee Award he received at the weekend was an "honour", he says.

Edward Aczel
Edward Aczel says his year has proved much

The prize was established in memory of Hardee, a much-loved but anarchic figure on the British comedy scene, who drowned in London in 2005.

It was an "appropriate" accolade to receive, Aczel says, because the spirit of his act matches the nature of Hardee's life.

"If you look at the award nominees, they were all slick and I'm the opposite of that.

"The judges were all senior critics from the Fringe and to be given an award by them is astonishing, really," he adds.

"It was a great thing. I care about it an awful lot and I was very pleased to get it."

'I proved something'

Aczel will be back at his desk on Tuesday when he returns to his day job, but says his residency in Edinburgh has given him a great deal of confidence for the future.

This was the first year he had a paying audience, having spent last August doing free shows outside the main Fringe programme.

"I've worked on last year's show all this year at the Hen and Chickens venue in London, and now I have a final version," he explains.

"What I've been doing is, almost down to the minute, what I want from an hour-long show.

"I think what I've achieved this year is to prove to myself that I can do a professional show - and that makes a big difference.

"The free Fringe shows are great because they're very low-rent, but until you've done the main Fringe, you don't really know you can do it properly. I think I've achieved that this year."

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