The David Johnson Emerging Talent Award, expected to be the festival’s biggest cash prize this year, was created in honor of the colorful figure, who died in December 2020 at the age of 60.
He has worked with artists like Stewart Lee, Stephen Fry, Steve Coogan, Fascinating Aida, Sue Perkins and Alexei Sayle.
His best-known stage shows include Trainspotting, Disco Pigs, Fever Pitch, the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, and Puppetry of the Penis.
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A team of scouts led by arts journalist Helen Hawkins will be on the hunt for the best new unknown act at the Fringe.
The winner will receive the award during an hour-long comedy, cabaret and variety show on August 28, which will celebrate the life of Johnson, who died in December 2020. Aida’s fascinating star Dillie Keane and Stewart Lee are scheduled to perform at the award launch event.
Born in Derbyshire, Johnson began working in the music industry in the late 1980s, with Tina Turner and Dionne Warwck among the acts he did public relations for. He started publicizing events for the Terrence Higgins Trust, the HIV and sexual health charity, which saw him work with Fry, Alan Rickman and Ruby Wax.
Working initially with business partner Mark Goucher, Johnson produced shows for the Reduced Shakespeare Company, Bill Hills, Steven Berkoff, Jackie Clune and former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.
A spokeswoman for the award said: “David Johnson (DJ) was a fixture on the Fringe for over 30 years.
“DJ’s ‘fringe finds’ included Graham Norton, Puppetry of the Penis and bars that were still open at breakfast time. He produced dozens of shows on (and off) the Fringe, including The Rubberbandits , Sue Perkins, Alfie Brown, Fascinating Aida, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, Malcolm McLaren, Stewart Lee, Alexei Sayle, Christeene, Kim Noble, Sandi Toksvig, Marc Almond, Mark Ravenhill and many more.
“He was a trustee of the Pleasance Theater Trust and an associate artist at the Soho Theatre, but he was best known for his raucous laugh, his bounty of wallet and his unnerving ability to spot unexpected success.
“His flair for commercial theater was matched by – and often combined with – his fervent support of new and emerging artists. The prize will go to this spirit.”
Fry said, “This award will make DJ’s flame leap fiercely.”
At the time of Johnson’s death, Keane said: ‘He was gifted with absolute theatrical flair and intellectual curiosity. A fervent champion of the new, the marginal and the edgy, DJ loved performances that had the power to shock, but only so long as they were true.
Perkins said, “His enthusiasm became your enthusiasm. His optimism became the engine of the work. If he believed in you, you felt like you could fly.”
Lee said, “David Johnson made me realize that showbiz could be both fair and fun, which is something I’ve always wanted.”