'Ready for a big hug': Comedy panel on mental health and lockdown

Rich Wilson and Charlie George at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health

Rich Wilson and Charlie George at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health - Credit: Archant

It's been a tough year for comedians, but even as the clubs and theatres closed, the public has come to value the importance of a good laugh. 

A panel discussion at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health - now available as a podcast - delved into a year off stage, and the chance to re-evaluate life's priorities.

Joining comedians Charlie George and Rich Wilson were Tash Alexander, from Head Held High, and star-in-the-making Ro Dodgson, who had been on the social enterprise's Stand Up For Yourself course.

Tash Alexander and Ro Dodgson at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health

Tash Alexander and Ro Dodgson at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health - Credit: Archant

Charlie has written for shows including 8 Out of 10 Cats and Frankie Boyle's New World Order, and has a podcast called Happiness… And How To Get It.

"I did actually want to call that podcast Despair and How To Release Its Death Grip, but apparently that's not a viable option for Audible so they said 'no' to that," she told the online audience.

"Yeah, I'm alright. I'm going to be really honest, I found out something this week that I wanted to share on this panel. Apparently the most common lie people say is 'I'm fine' when they're not. So I'm more okay and ready for a big bear hug from people that I need to see. That's where I'm at right now."

Charlie George at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health

Charlie George at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health - Credit: Archant

For Rich - who hosts the Insane In the Men Brain Podcast - coinciding with the event were two nights at the Soho Theatre. The shows were originally scheduled for last year, but were cancelled when the pandemic closed theatres.

"I've been a comedian for 17 years and I was going to be at the Soho Theatre," he said. 

"It was a big thing – everything I've worked towards, all the sacrifices I'd made it was a big moment. I'm a van driver from Kent and now I'm playing the Soho Theatre and so it was this big thing, and then everything I'd worked for went in 20 minutes – one email after the other – and I just sat and I was strangely zen about it at the beginning, I'm like 'well, it can't be helped'. It's not personal."

Rich Wilson at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health

Rich Wilson at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health - Credit: Archant

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Both Rich and Charlie said the imposition of lockdown made them look again at their approaches to their priorities and their careers.

Rich said: "When it all went away it suddenly made you reassess, and you go: actually, I do need to be taking care of myself a bit more - and [other] people."

He continued: "We talked about when you say to someone 'are you alright?' and they say 'yeah I'm fine'. But we don't really know how to tell each other how we really feeling, and we don't really know how to receive the information.

"So if someone does say 'actually, I'm really struggling. I've had some thoughts that I don't really want to be here anymore',  we've not been taught how to do this, so suddenly all we've got is time and each other, and so we've all been learning how to how to communicate again. It's been quite enlightening. 

"It's all very well saying 'are you really okay?' but actually being ready to receive the Information is also something that we've picked up this year.

"I'm definitely not the person I was before March 2020."

Tash Alexander of Head Held High at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health

Tash Alexander at Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health - Credit: Archant

With Head Held High, Tash runs a course called Stand Up For Yourself, which focuses on building confidence and finding humour in life. She said that, especially in the last year, it has helped her, as well as the people she works with.

"We we ran it with adults from Mind, and I was struggling and what this sort of work does it pushes you to bring out your bigger self: 'Come on, Tash, you've got it in you.'

"All of us, I think, spent so much time on our own. It's probably the first time we spend this amount of time on our own – you know, sorting out the clothes drawer and never being so bored of what you wear. Just thinking: 'I want to buy just one new thing.'

"But I remember this comedy course – people having really serious issues. Somebody had chronic fatigue, somebody else had financial problems, but they were getting on that Zoom for two hours a week and we were managing to have a laugh. And it just brightened up their day. We were all in it together."

Ro Dodgson

Ro Dodgson - Credit: Archant

Ro, who performed a stand-up routine to end the session, described  Stand Up For Yourself as a "metamorphosis", saying it was "freeing", teaching them to talk about things they hadn't talked about before.

To hear the full discussion, download the Ham&High Podcast now via podfollow.com/hamhigh/ or on your regular podcast app.

Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health

Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health - Credit: Archant

Ham&High editor André Langlois

Ham&High editor André Langlois - Credit: Archant

Charlie George

Charlie George - Credit: Archant

Rich Wilson

Rich Wilson - Credit: Archant

Ro Dodgson

Ro Dodgson - Credit: Archant

Tash Alexander

Tash Alexander - Credit: Archant

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