BBC New Comedy Awards return after 18 years

BBC New Comedy Awards

A revamped, reinvented and supersized BBC New Comedy Awards will be returning to BBC One and BBC Three after 18 years, with support from BBC Radio and BBC Sounds.

The ambition is to drive more inclusion than ever before, engaging more people in more places, of more ages, and from more backgrounds.

By returning the competition to TV we will raise the industry profile of the awards to maximise their potential as a career springboard for emerging talent. This is part of furthering our commitment to grassroots British talent and feeding our talent pipelines.

This award is a prestigious nationwide search which promotes brand new talent from across the country. The competition has an impeccable heritage, having helped build and nurture the careers of some of Britain’s most loved comedians. Past finalists include Alan Carr, Lee Mack, Sarah Millican, Rhod Gilbert, Peter Kay and more recently Joe Lycett, Lucy Beaumont, Lost Voice Guy, Sindhu Vee, Ken Cheng and Michael Odewale.

There will be the introduction of two brand new categories; an Under-18 New Comedy Award aimed at younger aspiring comedy writers and performers, and a social media submission category to unearth the funniest people on digital platforms.

An open call for online submissions will be followed by eight regional heats and a final to be held at the BBC Comedy Festival in the 2021 City of Comedy. The live final will be simulcast on BBC Radio 4.

The awards will be supported by localised outreach projects delivered alongside each regional heat and final. Comedy workshop sessions designed by the Young People’s Comedy Laureate will be delivered in collaboration with a team of ambassadors to establish comedy as a potential career whether that’s performance, writing or production for secondary school age children. The sessions will be designed to help young people with their confidence, communication skills and ability to think laterally.

BCA Young People’s Comedy Laureate

The BBC Comedy Association will appoint a Young People’s Comedy Laureate. Their role will be to champion comedy as an art form, and to engage and inspire new talent to start writing and performing.

The Young People’s Comedy Laureate will be selected in early 2021 by a committee of performers, commissioners, agents and producers.

The individual will hold the position for a year and in that time will oversee a number of projects, including shaping and informing the outreach programme in schools, spearheading the under-18 category of the New Comedy Awards, and curating the inaugural BBC Comedy Festival.

The Young People’s Comedy Laureate will be selected in early 2021 by a committee of performers, commissioners, agents and producers.

City Of Comedy

In 2021 the BCA will appoint a ‘city of comedy’ which will see a full programme of events in the city over the course of the year that celebrate the unique cultural contribution made by comedy. These will include special screenings and recordings, as well as playing host to the first BBC Comedy Festival.

The BBC Comedy Festival which will be a gathering of the component parts of the British comedy industry, and those looking to become a part of it, creating the opportunity to come together to advance our collective creativity and discuss and debate the issues of the day. The full programme of events will be curated by the Young Person’s Comedy Laureate and will feature talent-led talks, panels, screenings and the live BBC One broadcast final of the New Comedy Awards.


The BBC Comedy Association will lay the foundation for a sharing economy where we build an ever increasing cohort of artists and practitioners who remain engaged with the BBC throughout their careers. Part of that will be the people that come up through our bursary schemes and we’re upping our commitment with more bursaries than ever before.

The BCA is introducing the First Time Fund, which will finance four non-TX shorts from emerging directors or producers. This will give them the opportunity to cut their teeth on making a TV show, learning the ropes with less of the pressure.

We have committed to funding Production Bursaries on four shows per year. This recently launched initiative sees us fund paid trainee roles on our productions which are specifically aimed at underrepresented groups.

This year BBC Comedy worked with Tiger Aspect to co-fund eight placements during filming of Man Like Mobeen, and this autumn we funded 17 trainee roles on the BBC Three pilot PRU. These trainee roles have been from across a number of departments including directing, producing, costume, make-up, art department and camera work. Using these successful examples as templates we want to roll out the opportunity to more productions across the country.

The next production that will be making use of our production bursary is The Offenders from Stephen Merchant and Elgin James, produced by Big Talk and Four Eyes, which begins filming soon.

We will be ensuring the trainees who are involved have meaningful onward journeys after their placements through the BBC’s Diversity And Inclusion team.

These two new schemes will run in tandem with the pre-existing Caroline Aherne, Felix Dexter and Galton & Simpson Bursaries.

Caroline Aherne Bursary

Launched in memory of comedy star Caroline Aherne who created The Royle Family and Mrs Merton, the bursary is aimed at writer/performers and awards £5,000 to the successful applicant to enable them to fund future development of their work.

Designed to find, develop and support rising comedy talent, since it launched in 2017 the winners have been: Sophie Willan (since commissioned to write and star in BBC Two series Alma’s Not Normal), Amy Gledhill (who will write and perform a special on BBC Radio 2 during the Winter Comedy Season) and Kiri Prichard-McLean (commissioned to write a sitcom).

Felix Dexter Bursary

The Felix Dexter Bursary was launched in 2017 and is awarded to aspiring black or ethnic minority comedy writers looking to develop their skills. The recipients are awarded an £11k pro rata allowance for six months.

This bursary is an opportunity designed to find writers with a fresh, unique point of view and the potential to help shape the future of comedy, whether within the BBC or elsewhere in the industry. It aims to make a positive intervention to address an under-representation of black and minority ethnic voices in comedy production.

Unlike most bursaries that culminate in a one-off prize, this bursary gives trainee writers the chance to focus on comedy, writing full time over six months, while immersed in comedy production. They hone their skills while gaining experience on a range of BBC comedies across radio, TV and online, on panel shows, shorts, sitcoms or comedy entertainment shows – building the confidence needed to take the next step in their career.

We’re proudly following the careers of every recipient, which to date includes Jonny Wright and Leah Chillery, Phoebe Roy and Nathan Roberts, and most recently stand-up comedian Athena Kugblenu.

The Galton & Simpson Bursary

The Galton and Simpson bursary awards £5,500 to writers or writing partnerships to develop a script for broadcast consideration, along with guidance from established industry professionals and the BBC Comedy commissioning team.

The bursary is named after Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, one of the best loved comedy writing partnerships, who created classic sitcoms such as Hancock and Steptoe & Son. The pair first met as teenagers in 1948 whilst recovering from tuberculosis in a sanatorium. Looking for ways to end the long boredom and intense isolation they experienced on the hospital ward, they started writing comedy sketches for the hospital radio station.

This bursary is delivered in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation since research has repeatedly demonstrated that creativity can help mental wellbeing by providing a channel of release and self-expression.

It was recently announced that the first recipient of this bursary is Grace Mulvey.

Winter Comedy Season

In February BBC Comedy will be hosting National Laughter Week as part of the Winter Comedy Season, to cheer the nation up in the most depressing month of the year.

Across a week there will be a whole array of new TV content, a BBC iPlayer stand-up collection from some of the UK’s biggest comedians, celebrations of comedy greats and a live comedy series bringing the stars of UK comedy back to our screens after the period of exile caused by Covid-19.

Over five consecutive nights there will be a Live Stand Up (5 x 40’) series for BBC Two with a socially distanced audience. Each episode will feature a mix of established talent and rising comedy stars from across the UK. The show will be filmed across five different cities to bring joy at a time when regional comedy has been disproportionately affected.

This season will also include archive gems and career celebrations of some of the nations most loved comedians and new shows coming to Radio 2 and Radio 4.

BBC Three Laugh Lessons

The BBC Comedy Association is collaborating with BBC Three to launch Laugh Lessons, an opportunity for upcoming comedy talent from across the country to submit original short opinion-led ideas to BBC commissioners that will be hosted on BBC iPlayer and promoted via BBC Three social.

As a channel, BBC Three has a rich heritage in comedy and has been the launchpad for some of the biggest comedy writers and acting talent. This new initiative invites production companies to pitch proposals to us that feature new comedy talent. Following a selection process, four companies will be commissioned to produce five three-minute comedy shorts, resulting in a total of 20 new pieces of work.

In line with the aims of the BCA, there will be a particular focus on providing opportunities for underrepresented voices in comedy and an emphasis on finding new talent in front and behind the camera from across the whole of the UK with diversity and inclusion at the heart of the initiative.

This forms part of BBC Three’s commitment to developing creative partnerships both inside and outside the BBC as part of BBC Content’s package of activity to support the sector outside London during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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