You have to laugh – mental health and the role of comedy in our lives

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

Tash Alexander, Charlie George and Rich Wilson - Credit: Andy Hollingworth/Head Held High/Rich Wilson

Few of us would deny that a good laugh can benefit our wellbeing, and in recent years more and more comedians have used their work to address mental health issues.

But where does humour fit into our lives, and how important is it to us to make people laugh?

On Friday (May 21) this newspaper is hosting the free event Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health, a day of interviews, advice and panel discussions.

For a discussion about laughter and wellbeing, we'll be joined by comedians Charlie George and Rich Wilson, and Tash Alexander from the social enterprise Head Held High, which runs  Stand Up For Yourself, a programme which focuses on building confidence and helps participants find the humour in life.

Tash told the Ham&High: "I would say that revealing the comedy and finding the funny in the darkest most challenging of times reveals our bigger self.

"We all have wisdom, courage, and inner strength, and comedy taps directly into that source. Comedy is so powerful and empowering in so many ways."

Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health

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

Rich Wilson is an award-winning stand-up comedian, well known on the comedy circuit since setting out in 2004.

In 2019 he started his hugely successful Insane In The Men Brain podcast, which deals with the topic of men's mental health and getting men to be more open about their thoughts and feelings. Guests have included David Baddiel, Heston Blumenthal, Nicholas Pinnock, Great British Bake Off's Tom Allen and Romesh Ranganathan.

Rich Wilson, from Insane In The Men Brain podcast

Rich Wilson, from Insane In The Men Brain podcast - Credit: Rich Wilson

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Charlie George is an award-winning stand-up comedian and writer. A former circus performer and dancer, Charlie started doing stand-up in 2018. She was runner-up in both the Funny Women and So You Think You’re Funny? comedy competitions of 2019. As well as launching Crack-Up Comedy Cabaret in aid of Hackney mental health charity Core Arts, she co-hosts the podcast Happiness...and How to Get It.

Charlie said although comedians can talk about any subject, it is a great was to highlight the most pressing issues, "be that love, relationships, awkwardness and of course what's going on in our minds and the challenges we face there".

She said: "I love how comedy is a space to be brutally honest about everything that's important to us, and there's lots of great comedians talking about what it's like to live with conditions like OCD and how anxiety, depression, addiction and suicide/suicidal ideation affect us." 

Comedian Charlie George

Comedian Charlie George - Credit: Andy Hollingworth

She said that although the wider conversation about mental health is happening now, it can still be difficult to share personal experiences.

"I think comedy gives us a space to be silly and ridiculous about pain in a way that relieves tension and allows us to both look at and laugh at it - Maria Bamford has a hilarious bit about bumping into someone she knows whilst on a psychiatric unit," she said.

"Comedy can't change the issues of poor mental health provision and cuts to mental health services that have a huge amount to answer for in terms of perpetuating the challenges people face in their daily lives, but it can shine a light on the experiences that lifts the feelings of shame and inadequacy people may feel for having mental health problems.

"Comedians are no stranger to pain and examining and facing their demons, it's part of their role, so when they do that in public, ie talking about their neurosis and irrational fears on stage, they make others feel at ease with that reality."

Ham&High: Our Community's Mental Health takes place on Friday May 21 and is free to attend for anyone who registers through Eventbrite. The events, which will be held as Zoom webinars, will include expert advice, panel discussions and some entertainment along the way.

The event is supported by Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, Thrive LDN and SANE. It is sponsored by Barnet Fostering and UCL Academy.

To register for free, click here