BAFTA/LA touts U.K. comics at new kudofest

Comedy always gets the short shrift at the Oscars — and the BAFTAs are no exception. But the British Comedy Awards hope to correct the oversight (for Blighty at least) by celebrating all that is silly and subversive across the Pond.

“The main purpose is to promote and share all that wonderful British humor with fans here in L.A.,” explains Donald Haber, executive director and chief operating officer at BAFTA/LA.

The event is timed to BritWeek (“It’s actually turning into BritMonth — or even BritYear,” Haber jokes) and the golden anniversary of the British Consul General’s Residence, which opened in 1958. “It’s a celebration of all the contributions from British people in L.A.,” Haber says. “As so many BAFTA members have adopted L.A. as their home, we were looking for a way to join in the fun and celebration.”

The result: The Hollywood version of the popular British Comedy Awards, which have been held since the ’90s. According to Haber, it was “American Idol” exec producer Nigel Lythgoe, who first came up with the idea and presented it to the board.

The idea was a no-brainer for Lythgoe, who had exec produced the British Comedy Awards overseas and felt compelled to bring the idea Stateside after watching British comedienne Catherine Tate’s show with special guest Tony Blair: “She actually got him to say, ‘Am I bovvered?’ I thought, here’s this wonderful character, Catherine Tate, and her catchphrase that nobody over here has ever heard of. So this awards show was really an excuse to bring successful new comedy over here and introduce it to both the public and the executives.”

With Lythgoe’s guidance and encouragement, BAFTA/LA assembled an impressive list of U.K. panelists, led by British Comedy Awards chairman and founder Michael Hurll, who then chose what they considered to be the top British comedy films, series and performers.

Back in the States, the org put together two panels of Americans “who have an affinity for British comedy,” Haber explains. “One panel works primarily in television, the other in film.” The latter includes such high-profile names as Judd Apatow and Adam Shankman. “They in turn watched screeners of everything recommended by the U.K. panel and came back with their choices.”

But voting brought its share of logistical hurdles. “Technology’s not at the point yet where our members can watch all the British shows and films being released in the U.K.,” Haber reports. “For instance, ‘Magicians’ isn’t even out in America yet, so we’re making screeners of that available to all our members. They can then vote online through our website.”

The org fulfilled part of its mission to introduce American audiences to the nominees by hosting screenings of some of the nominated shows and films, an open-to-the-public program that culminates tonight at the Directors Guild Theater in L.A.

Haber and Lythgoe promise plenty of star power for the actual show, which will be presented by British Airways with a gala dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel. “It’s a fish-and-chips evening, but a glamorous one,” Lythgoe says.

Adds Haber, “We’re flying over most of the nominees, and we’ve invited a lot of Anglophiles, and it’s an event that we fully intend to grow over the next few years so that it becomes a key part of the BAFTA/LA calendar. Obviously it’s exciting for people in L.A. who love British comedy, but we’re hearing that it’s also generating a lot of excitement in London.”

TIP SHEET

What: British Comedy Awards

When: Thursday – dinner starts at 7:30

Where: Four Seasons Hotel, Los Angeles

Film nominees: “Hot Fuzz,” “Magicians,” “Run, Fatboy, Run”

TV nominees: “Extras,” “Gavin and Stacey,” “Little Britain,” “The IT Crowd”

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