Chris W R Cox Photography

It was all a bit of a decadent, if slightly naughty, way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but the third Oxfordshire Mind Comedy Gala’s matinee sold out as quickly as the evening performance, and was therefore not to be missed.

An what an absolute treat it turned out to be. My cheeks are still aching. Just what was needed to eradicate the January blues.

Comedians Hal Cruttenden, Ahir Shah, Nigel Ng, Alex Farrow, Isa Bonachera and Chelsea Birkby starred in the event at The Oxford Playhouse which this year raised a staggering £30,000 for the charity.

The gala is a collaboration between Oxfordshire Mind, the local mental health charity, and Jericho Comedy, local comedy club organisers, who ran its first gala two years ago at The Old Fire Station with five shows back to back. 

Last year the comedy team took over the Oxford Playhouse and raised over £20,000 in a day performing two shows back to back.

The show was hosted by Jericho Comedy compere Harry Househam, and the fantastic line up for the matinee show did not disappoint.

First up was Nigel Ng who made his TV debut on Comedy Central shortly followed by Roast Battle. He had the crowd on side immediately with hilarious tales of bland English food, and before we had a chance to catch our breath, our ribs were cracking again with a brilliant performance from Alex Farrow- a teacher and stand-up comedy genius who, of course, drew on his classroom experiences for a hilarious performance and got lots of knowing nods from teachers in the audience!

Just when we thought we really couldn’t laugh any louder, the supremely talented and brilliant Isa Bonachera took to the stage with her winning formula of well crafted and distinctive original comedy, killer punchlines and superb, hilarious life observations.

Double Edinburgh Comedy Award ‘Best Show’ nominee Ahir Shah has performed stand-up on Live At The Apollo, The Now Show and Stand Up Central. His performance in Oxford was brilliant and eluded to his own mental health challenges as well as some very entertaining relationship observations.

Nish Kumar at last year’s gala

Jericho Comedy regular Chelsea Birkby also appeared – a rising star and star of the previous gala, who has since been made an Oxfordshire Mind trustee. Chelsea had the crowd roaring at her alternative take on subject matter for murder mystery TV shows with a stunning performance.

Last, but definitely not least, was Hal Cruttenden, the well-known and much-loved comedy favourite as seen on Have I Got News For You, The Apprentice: You’re Fired, Bake Off: Extra Slice, and Live at the ApolloHal rounded off the afternoon brilliantly and left us all rolling in the aisles at his superb, witty and acerbic humour, making sure everyone left the theatre with aching cheeks thanks to his collection of hilarious anecdotes and one-liners.

This really was an excellent event – all the comedians gave their all to an appreciative audience and worked hard to entertain and enthral us with clever, observational and ultimately hilarious sets. To have smashed last year’s fundraising total and topped £30,000 just made it all the more brilliant.

Superb compere Harry Househam explained how Jericho Comedy had got this far: “We’ve been fundraising for Oxfordshire Mind for the last four and a half years by running Saturday night comedy shows at the Jericho Cafe.

“The first comedy nights we ran in Oxford were charity fundraisers in Oxford University colleges. We made a list of the relevant issues shared by both Oxford students and comedians and, as it turned out, it was a list of one issue, mental health,” Harry adds.

“The team at Oxfordshire Mind are so helpful, supportive and understanding, they make us incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved through our Jericho Comedy Saturday.

Chris W R Cox Photography

“For us it made complete sense to fundraise for Oxfordshire Mind, mental health issues are so prevalent in both communities. Talking about mental health can be so difficult, but stand up can often be a great tool to make difficult conversations not only palatable but also engaging and entertaining.

“It can also be a great outlet for comedians to talk about their own mental wellbeing.”

To find out more about Oxfordshire Mind go to www.oxfordshiremind.org.uk and make sure you book in early for next year’s gala, because tickets will be like gold dust.

Sarah Edwards

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