Founded in 2005 by John Fleming - a long-time friend of Hardee - the awards originated with just one prize presented for "comic originality" (the name it now bears), and are all for comic performer(s) themselves rather than (and sometimes despite) their shows. The inaugural prize was awarded just under seven months after Hardee's untimely death. Fleming explains the award: "Basically, the judges have no idea what they are looking for. If we did know what we were looking for, we would be able to define it and it would not be original."
From 2009 the awards expanded to include the Cunning Stunt prize, recognising the most gutsy attention-seeking moves. The word "cunning" is key. Fleming said: "Riding an elephant painted pink down Princes Street and inviting the press to see it is a stunt, but it is not a cunning stunt."
The most recent addition is the Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid title. Created in 2010, Fleming says: "The judges have to take a wild punt on who may survive the vagaries of - and triumph over the good and bad luck inherent in - a comedy career to attain seldom-attained financial success."
The awards ended in 2017. However, having been much missed in 2018, British Comedy Guide took up Fleming's mantle as primary organiser of the awards in 2019, continuing to work in conjunction with Malcolm's family to remember his anarchic comic spirit.
The trophies are designed and produced by John Ward, who has been hailed by Time Life as "possibly the best English eccentric inventor living today".
Each year's judging panel see shows across the Fringe period, looking out for performers who could win any of the three prizes. A shortlist for each category is revealed in the final week of the festival with winners announced at the live ceremony. The current juding panel is Marissa Burgess, Kate Copstick, Bruce Dessau, Jay Richardson, Claire Smith and Ian Wolf.
The first ever Malcolm Hardee Award was won by American comic Reggie Watts, then performing The Reggie Watts Tangent, on the grounds that his act was the "most Malcolm-friendly show" on the Fringe that year. Other nominations went to Desperately Seeking Sorrow, Circus of The Future and Congress of The Oddities.
Since then Watts has become a big name, notably leading the house band in The Late Late Show with James Corden.
In the first year the Malcolm Hardee Awards ceremony was officially held, the award for Comic Originality was presented to the anti-comic Ed Aczel.
Aczel defeated competition from Peter Buckley Hill, Aindrias de Staic, Otto Kuhnle, and The Fringe Box Office. Aczel had experience with Hardee earlier on in life, once heckling him when Hardee performed at a gig at a London university.
During the 2008 ceremony, both he and Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds were asked to lend each of the award judges £50 for an indeterminate length of time, as it was more suiting the spirit of Malcolm than giving the winners a financial prize.
Judge Kate Copstick said: "Lederhosen and leaf-blowing machines are not the normal route to Edinburgh comedy awards, but the Malcolm Hardee Awards are there to recognise truly original and sometimes bizarre comic genius."
Entering a new decade, the 2010 winner was "the only gay, Asperger's, quarter Welsh, web-toed, dyslexic pianist debuting this Fringe", Robert White, who rose to attention following a particular incident.
During a performance of his show Robert White and His Outrageously Peculiar Organ, White left the stage when he discovered that a reviewer from Chortle was in the audience. As a result the website gave him a zero-star rating. Since then White has become a national star on Britain's Got Talent in 2018, winning second place behind Lost Voice Guy.
His show, The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society, was named after a real-life novelty act who would sing Mule Train whilst hitting himself on the head with a tin tray. Sorrow would get his audience to perform this routine with paper plates. Later years have seen him perform the show as Bob Blackman's Tray alongside Richard Drake, who appears on stage wearing a balaclava and shades.
The 2012 prize went to Irishmen The Rubberbandits, the first double-act to win the prize.
Performers Bob McGlynn and Dave Chambers are a hip-hop music duo, famous for performing on stage and conducting all interviews while wearing plastic carrier bags on their heads to conceal their identities.
This victory represents one of the few times that the Malcolm Hardee Awards and the Edinburgh Comedy Awards were singing from the same hymn sheet.
Adrienne Truscott's Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!, a show about rape culture, attracted headlines because Truscott performed the entire show naked from the waist down. Not only did she become the first woman to win the Comic Originality prize, but she also won the Panel Prize at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards the following day.
Candy Gigi's acceptance speech was just as odd as her show. She collected the prize while wearing a pig snout over her nose, and talked whilst constantly eating and spitting out an apple.
Also up in the running that year were Michael Brunström and The Birdmann.
Having been nominated the year before, Michael Brunström won the 2015 Comic Originality Award.
Indeed, Brunström wasn't in attendance when he was declared winner, so instead the award was presented to Claire Smith, head of the judges.
Mr. Twonkey (real name Paul Vickers) won in 2016. He was performing Twonkey's Mumbo Jumbo Hotel, a show featuring songs, puppets, and a ship's steering wheel decorated with women's underwear. One of his puppets, Sandy the hooker duck, accompanied Twonkey when he collected the trophy.
When collecting his trophy Alderton gave an emotional speech explaining that it was Hardee who gave him his first ever gig.
It turns out it is possible to do an hour-long comedy show about a bodily limb. Julia Masli and brothers Rob & Andy Duncan performed a sketch show in which everything was about legs. Sketches included a foot massage featuring stretchy toes and a saw, as well as an advert for Susan's Mini Legs.
This year featured the most nominees for the Comic Originality prize. Also nominated were Sean Morley, Joz Norris, double-act Jimmy Slim & Lewis Blomfield, poet Charles Quarterman, and President Obonjo on the grounds that was 'The Original African Dictator'.
The first Cunning Stunt prize was created and awarded retrospectively.
Gill Smith won the award after emailing Fleming to nominate herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award, on the grounds that the nomination allowed her to legitimately display the words: "Malcolm Hardee Award Nominee" on her posters and flyers. She argued that Hardee would approve of such an action. Fleming agreed and the "Cunning Stunt" title was born.
The first recipient of the established award was American-Jewish comic Lewis Schaffer.
Schaffer bagged the prize after he managed to trick several publications into thinking that he had become the new sponsor of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, and that the Perrier Awards were going to become the "Lewies" in a deal worth £99.
Nominees also up for that first prize were Shed Simove, who came up with "poo publicity" - printing details of his show Ideas Man on every sheet of 1,000 rolls of toilet paper; and double-act Jennifer Warren and Jo Hanbury, who promoted their show All To Bare by climbing Arthur's Seat naked.
One of the most high-profile winners, Stewart Lee won the Cunning Stunt award after engaging in some classic poll rigging.
That year, the Fringe Society launched an online "Comedy God" poll to find out who was the best act to have ever performed at the festival. Given concerns that lesser-known acts would not stand a chance against big names, Lee launched a successful campaign to get the little-known Japanese act Frank Chickens to the top of the poll. Because of this, Frank Chickens performed at the following year's Fringe.
Also nominated in 2010 was Manos The Greek, who claimed he would donate 10% of his Fringe earnings to help rescue the Greek economy, and took a photocall one hour before the shortlist was announced wearing a traditional Greek kilt atop Calton Hill, in front of the Doric columns of the National Monument. Arthur Smith was nominated after announcing that he would pay £100 to any journalist attending his show to juggle fish. Journalist Bruce Dessau took him up on the offer, but Smith forgot to buy the fish for him to do so.
This is perhaps the most infamous stunt to have occurred at the Fringe.
Foul-mouthed comic singer Künt teamed up with Bob Slayer to create stickers to promote Künt's show. These stickers all depicted the classic penis drawing, and contained a QR code that linked to his show's details. Fans were encouraged to place the stickers on the posters of rival acts. This lead to several complaints from other venues and performers.
The pair beat, among others, Sanderson Jones, who only sold tickets for his show to people he actually met beforehand, so audiences had to arrange meetings in order to see him. Also nominated was the adventurous Tim FitzHigham, for the numerous injuries he sustained while performing comic stunts. These included breaking a rib after he fell against a fence post while running against a racehorse, spraining a wrist throwing a cheeseboard over a four-mile distance, and fracturing a big toe while pushing a wheelbarrow 25 miles.
A comic who has become one of biggest podcasters around won the 2012 prize after getting into trouble with the Fringe censors.
Stuart Goldsmith's show was originally entitled Prick, but Fringe Society officials changed all of their sanctioned publicity material, including the Fringe programme, to Pr!ck. Goldsmith won the award for a series of YouTube videos mocking the censorship. Among the videos included one saying that he would donate £1,000 to Waverley Care, but deduct £100 every time a critic used a prick-based pun in their review.
Other stunts include one from Nathan Cassidy, who made a charitable donation of £1 per person who came to see his show, and 50p to anyone who watched a documentary he made. There was also Chris Dangerfield, who got an appropriate sponsor for his Sex Tourist show: a local escort agency, which allegedly offered a 10% discount to anyone using the agency if they had his flyer.
Barry Ferns decided to turn to one of the Fringe's most noted publications for his stunt.
Ferns created 2,000 fake copies of the Fringe review paper Broadway Baby, including a 6-out-of-5 star review of his own show. The review said: "This is without doubt the best comedy show I have ever seen, or am likely to see in the rest of my life... A phenomenal show. Better than life itself." He then printed a second edition claiming that he had been nominated for both the Main Prize and the Best Newcomer at that year's Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
Other nominees in 2013 were Gareth Morinan, who saved the money he would have spent buying a quarter-page advert in the official Fringe programme by simply listing his show 11 times, which actually gave him more space than the ad would have done; Richard Herring, who decided that rather than spend money on posters he would promote himself by giving out DVDs of his past shows; and former Cunning Stunt winner Lewis Schaffer, who liked Herring's idea so much that he too decided to give out Herring's DVDs after the end of his own show.
To promote her father, Kate would go up to complete strangers on the busy Cowgate, look sad, and ask them: "Have you seen my daddy?" When the strangers said that hadn't, Kate would give out a flyer for his show and tell them that they should see him. In 2018 Kate made her own Fringe debut.
Another nominee, Mark Dean Quinn, was also recognised for his flyering. He promoted Ben Target's show by giving people blank pieces of paper, and if the person asked why he was doing it he gave them a small card displaying the details of the show, meaning Target attracted a better quality audience. Quinn also promoted the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society by standing with his head in a box full of flyers. Luke McQueen also received a nomination for tricking people into thinking that Frankie Boyle was playing a secret Fringe gig at the Pleasance, only for his audience to find out that it was McQueen instead, leading to complaints from the crowd.
To secure the prize, Roper managed to hack into the Facebook account of one of the Malcolm Hardee Award judges, Kate Copstick. He then posted fake messages "bigging himself up" as if they were written by Copstick, such as: "Those who haven't seen Matt at work are highly recommended to do so. A huge comic talent."
Also shortlisted were Abigoliah Schamaun, who posted fake reviews of her show on her Fringe poster (including writing her own one-star review), and Miss Behave, who placed a variety of hashtags written on cardboard signs across the city.
To promote her show Molotov Cocktail Party, Fury mentioned that she was a "Last Minute Comedy finalist". However, this was in reference to a prize associated with a small comedy club in Hertfordshire rather than the prestigious Fringe awards.
Also nominated were Arthur Smith for staging an exhibition in the Pleasance Dome themed entirely around socks; and Richard Gadd, who, following his critically acclaimed show the previous year, decided to stage that year's show in an even smaller room, resulting in bigger queues outside the venue. Gadd went on to win that year's Edinburgh Comedy Award.
He had engaged in several flyering scams that year, but the one that stuck out was attaching stars and quotes from other shows onto his own flyers in an attempt to subvert the entire Fringe "star system".
Damian Kingsley was also nominated for his flyering, which he did at venues other than his own whilst wearing a security guard's jacket, on the grounds that people would be more willing to take something from a security guard than a normal flyerer. Also nominated was Martha McBrier, who created a fake scandal about how her playing a didgeridoo on her poster was offensive to indigenous Australians, which was reported as fact by several outlets, including Fleming.
West End Producer, a rubber-masked musical character act, won the cunning stunt prize in 2019 for inventive use of poster quotes.
His poster featured flatting reviews from M Billington, L Gardner, S Clapp, C Mack and Andy Webber. However, while these are the names of real-life reviewers and producers, actually the quotes came from ordinary members of the public who shared the same names as the critics. For example, Andy Webber was a man living in Bognor Regis.
The Producer defeated duo Jimmy Slim & Lewis Blomfield, who promoted their show Scratch and Sniff with a series of 'Scratch and Sniff' flyers, which actually didn't smell of anything. Also nominated were E4 and BBC Studios, for increasing sales and knowledge of President Obonjo with the 'appalling theft of his character'.
The then-20-year-old was not told who nominated him: his London PR company, who wrote to the organisers, telling them that Burnham was not motivated by money and being given such an award would make him feel uncomfortable. Since winning he has continued touring, released more albums, and in 2018 wrote & directed his first film.
The only other nominee was Greg Davies.
The 2011 prize went to someone who may or may not make their million quid in comedy.
The prize was awarded to Benet Brandreth, son of wit, journalist and former MP Gyles Brandreth. As well as being a comic, he works as an intellectual property expert with a law firm. Thus, he was given the award on the grounds that "if he doesn't make a million quid as a performer, he'll make it as a lawyer".
South African comic Trevor Noah won in 2012. He was nominated: "Because, perhaps not in keeping with the spirit of Malcolm Hardee, Trevor epitomises 'class' on stage. We think he is going to be snapped up and will be playing Carnegie Hall-type venues soon." Noah eventually ended up in the USA, presenting hit satirical TV comedy The Daily Show.
Also nominated for the award that year were Tim FitzHigham as his fondness for gambling could either earn him a million quid or put him a million quid in debt; and that year's Comic Originality winners The Rubberbandits, due to their online work allowing them to reach a worldwide audience like former winner Bo Burnham.
2013's award was retitled to fit that year's winners, Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose, whose publicity stunt resulted in a lot of pain. The pair concocted a fake story that after a series of bad reviews, Ellis had been attacked in the street, resulting in a black eye. In fact Rose had inflicted the injury, the pair releasing a video online showing him punching his double act partner repeatedly for the ruse.
As a result, the Act Most Like to Make a Million Quid was retitled the Pound of Flesh award for the "relentless pursuit of the kind of publicity money cannot - and perhaps should not - buy".
The regular Million Quid name returned in 2014, and was won by a comic who was pleasing both crowds and critics.
Luisa Omielan claimed the title after proving a big hit the previous year with her show What Would Beyonce Say?. Returning with Am I Right, Ladies?, she again attracted a wealth of 5-star reviews, even from publications very reticent to give out the top rating.
Only one other person was nominated in 2014: Free Fringe creator Peter Buckley Hill, who inspired various other Free Fringes across Britain and beyond. However, due to his shows all being free, if he had won the prize it would have been renamed "Act Least Likely to Make a Million Quid".
Music acts seem to be a good draw for the Million Quid prize, and the 2015 winner was no exception to this.
Laurence Owen won in the year he performed Cinemusical, parodying musical tropes in big budget films. When collecting the prize he threw Monopoly money at the audience - and then explained that his show was actually making a financial loss, partly made worse by having to buy a Monopoly set just so he could get the fake money he needed to throw at them.
2016 witnessed the youngest ever winner in the history of the Fringe - and someone not even shortlisted, much to the chagrin of some of the judges.
However, instead the prize went to a seven-month-old baby, who was the star of the show called Come Look at the Baby, in which an audience simply watched a baby playing with his grandmother for half-an-hour. The grandmother accepted the award as the baby was not allowed to enter the venue due to Scotland's licensing laws, but did send a pre-recorded, gurgled speech.
The 2017 award went to the man behind one of the biggest shows to hit the Fringe in recent years.
Rob Kemp's show The Elvis Dead was a retelling of the horror movie Evil Dead 2 in the style of Elvis Presley. The acclaimed show also picked up an Amused Moose Award, a Comedians' Choice Award, a Chortle Award and a Leicester Comedy Festival Award. When Kemp won, he asked if he was now entitled to an actual million quid.
The only other nominee in this year was Al Porter, for the third year in a row.
In July, E4 announced they were to make a pilot made by BBC Studios of a programme called The Colonel Banjoko Show, centred around an African dictator stuck in Britain. This resulted in anger from many on the comedy circuit who believed that the show stole Bello's character of President Obonjo - an African dictator stuck in Britain. Obonjo was given the award on the grounds that might get massive compensation from the BBC and Channel 4, or his own show from another broadcaster.