Over 400 applicants entered 2023's So You Think Your Funny? – the premier new act comedy competition – with 56 progressing through regional heats to the Fringe and ten competing in tonight's final. All hope to follow in the footsteps of past winners such as Dylan Moran, Aisling Bea and Maisie Adam.
Adam returned to host the final tonight, acknowledging her victory in 2017 changed her life.
2023's crown went to Samira Banks. Her winning set covered a lot of ground; especially family history, smuggling a literal dad joke into her father's journey from the Middle East as a refugee. She made smart observations about how groups are re-branded and also about popular collaborations on PornHub. Banks combines an outsider stage presence with wide range in her material.
First runner-up went to Christopher Donovan. A quiet confidence underpinned his set, whose gravelly voiced delivery recalls something of US comedian Steven Wright. Though more of a storyteller than a one-liner comic, his beta-presence working in a betting shop made the most of his misfit persona. And he had plenty of jokes in this short set.
Lizzie Norm picked up the second runner-up spot. The oldest contestant at 53, Norm is a natural with obvious 'funny bones'. If her relatively late start to comedy made her standout she used it to full effect, drawing attention to her jumble sale cardigan and the utility of its big wooly pockets. She's used to being surrounded by younger people having worked in a university library, bringing an entertainly weary perspective on the rogue objects she saw in the lost property cupboard.
2023's SYTYF finalists with Katy Koren (left), Greg McHugh and Maisie Adam (centre), and Karen Koren (right). Photo by Steve Ullathorne.
The top three all beat strong competition. The first contestant Chantel Nash seemed already at professional level: a nice strain of cynical humour pepped a few of her jokes – a less aspirational riff on Michelle Obama's 'When they go low' speech would surely make the tough-as-nails grandmother she mentioned proud. Alex Lennox gave a perceptive take on the wildly different perceptions we have between small age gaps. Dressed in all pink, Sophie Gerrad's set was a comedy of contrasts, characterising herself as having a life of naive misunderstandings with her jailbird father. Meanwhile, Carwyn Blayney's barnstorming set became admirably offbeat, drawing parallels between our need for one-upmanship and the progression of musical scales. Despite being in the final of a new act competition, Archit Goenka went for one incredibly high-risk gambit – a truly wild use of the old call-and-response – though did so with a smile and so playfully it never seemed in any doubt it'd pay off. Cormac Sinnott elicited a laugh before his set started, folding what might be a naturally nervy delivery into a compelling stage persona. There was a satisfying bite to the final contestant's material. Lauren Carroll's routine was full of dark undercurrents, all nicely offset by her building utopias on The Sims 2.
Gilded Balloon's artistic directors Karen and Katy Koren, and comedian Greg McHugh, came onstage to announce the winners. The trio judged the final alongside Beyond the Joke's Bruce Dessau; director of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Susan Provan; and Just for Laugh's US talent booker Marianne Ways.
Samira Banks now benefits from a cash prize; gigs at Just for Laughs (London) and the Latitude Festival; a photoshoot with Steve Ullathorne; a filmed copy of her winning set; and the backing of the Gilded Balloon if she later brings her debut show to Edinburgh.
The 36th So You Think Your Funny? competition played at Gilded Balloon on 24 August 2023 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe and streamed live on NextUp