Heads Together for Young Minds Comedy Gala
Star Rating: *****
Shepherds Bush Empire
Review Date: 18th September 2017
Early on in proceedings Compere Frank Skinner made a topical, venue related joke about three things dying out in the country. It was a neat, original gag that went down a treat in a packed Shepherds Bush Empire and set the tone for a star studded night of top comedy. Fortunately for ticket holders for this ‘Heads Together – Young Minds’ charity fundraiser/awareness raising show stand up comedy isn’t one of those things dying out. If anything, English comedians are world leading when it comes to stand up comedy.
In a superbly entertaining show the audience were treated to a high calibre show featuring a wide variety of comedic styles from the high energy, hyperactive Russell Kane to the whimsical Tommy Tiernan; clean, highly relatable everyday tales made funny by Michael McIntyre to the rude, crude and witty repartee from Jimmy Carr.
Heads Together is the very high profile campaign fronted by Prince Harry, Prince William and his wife Catherine to get people of all ages and backgrounds talking about mental health. Young Minds is a charity, as its names implies, focused on getting young people to talk about their mental health.
Considering the subject matter, Russell Kane must be commended as the only act of the night to perform a set predominantly based on the very subject matter of the event. That’s not surprising as his most recent tour was entitled ‘Right Age, Wrong Man’ which was largely centred on his rites of passage journey from boy to man to father. I really, really enjoyed his set, which was by turns, quite literally, as he ran about the stage like a spinning dervish, both extremely amusing and thought provoking. Amongst other things, he joked about men of a certain age being more interested in not laughing, not having a good time and saw that as a one way street to an early death in your 60’s, whereas if they looked at life differently, more optimistically, they could live a happier, healthier life.
Women have it more sorted he said. They talk to one another. They share life experiences. They get real with one another. Men need to talk to one another more and not bottle things up. You could tell he passionately cared about the subject and that earnest energy and commitment really got the message across loud and clear without being overtly preachy. Bravo Russell Kane.
Frank Skinner was similarly on point, though in a less obvious, far more restrained way. I suspect he can’t be asked to run around the stage… though he mentioned losing 1.5 stones at one point and looked pretty trim on it, so he must be doing something right off. He got his point and jokes across in a way that many comedians do by seemingly over sharing about their relationships, the arguments, tensions that go on within them. I say over sharing, but perhaps it shouldn’t be seen as that. How audiences knowingly laugh when he jokes about the furious rows with his girlfriend of 17 years or the dreaded silent treatment. P.S. Why is it that only women do that? Such was the animosity in his relationship he even feared for his life whilst on a break in Paris, the so called most romantic city in the world. Wow!!
The silent treatment material was responded to, somewhat ironically, with loud laughter all around the vast theatre. The silence is something that I’ve no doubt countless men in long term relationships have endured. Some like naughty Jimmy Carr get particular pleasure when his partner is giving him the ‘silent treatment’! All this was good to hear really, totally and frankly embraced the theme of the night. Talking. Sharing. Oh and of course women need to stop with the silent treatment thing as it’s so off point and un-helpful!
In a way, it’s a good thing that comedians ‘overshare’ as the reason people find it funny is that they identify with their pain and suffering! It normalises it, which is reassuring. Reminds people that they are not alone. Shared laughter can be cathartic. The need to and benefits of talking things through are universal and if anything that was the key message of the show. People need to put their heads together and come up with solutions, not keep their heads apart from one another in silence where problems can fester, resulting in unhappiness which, at worst, can turn into sadness, depression and mental health issues that require psychological treatment.
Canadian Katherine Ryan was on good form and arguably on rather safer terrain, joking about familiar areas of singleness and being a single mum. It was somewhat ironic that I was sat next to two Montreal women who’d timed a 2 week vacation in England deliberately to catch this gig. One was practically choking with laughter during the sets of Michael McIntyre and Tommy Tiernan.
Michael McIntrye was brilliant as usual with an original set finding the funny in everyday life situations. It was quite masterful watching him transform innocuous tales of driving, motorway service stations and men’s toilet etiquette into side hilarious routines.
Irishman Tommy Tiernan was entertaining with physical health related yarns comparing the health of his health with ticker with his dick(er)! As with Kane, he skillfully combined humour with getting across a much needed message about the need for men to take care of their health and not let pride or a busy life stopping them going to the GP to get checked out.
Surprisingly and very sadly for such a talented man, Harry Hill was the big disappointment of the night. Considering the great heights of popularity reached with his TV shows this was a great comedown as, for some reason, he really struggled to connect with the audience. By his standards it’s fair to say it was a shockingly bad performance, woefully short on funny gags. There was a lot of silent, physical movement material that was watchable but alas it just wasn’t that funny. Surreal, character comedy was his former stock in trade before creating hit TV shows, so trying to pull this off on a stand up comedy show starring some of the best in the business was always going to be a tough ask.
I don’t think Hill has done that much live work and certainly has not done stand up comedy, for years and that was reflected on stage. I’m sure there’s better to come with future performances as he gets his live comedy groove on.
It could have been redeemed by the finale singing ‘My Way’ but for some bizarre reason he chose to sing it backwards. Kind of impressive, but somewhat pointless and irrelevant. Nonetheless it was the best bit of his show and in fact sung normally it would have made for a lovely close to the whole show as it actually sounded really good. The 02 Empire is more used to concerts so that’s not surprising. It was noticeable that most performers said that this was their first time performing there.
As it was, we had Jimmy Carr closing the show with a quality set of rapid fire gags that as always, didn’t just cross the line, but ran right past it leaving it well out of sight! The audience lapped it up.
Considering the evening was about encouraging young people to talk about mental health it was a missed opportunity to not hear from one or two young people about how they had benefited from talking about their mental health and/or at least have representatives from Heads Together and Young Minds taking to the stage to talk about their work. Furthermore, in a night targeting young minds it might have been nice to at least include one young, 20 something comedian on the bill. Notwithstanding that, this was an outstanding night of high class comedy for a very worthy cause. It was fitting and poignant that Frank Skinner closed the night with a personal account of losing a family member to a mental health condition. I’m sure if enough well meaning people put their heads together his show can be repeated again for the benefit of our young and not so young alike.
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are spearheading the Heads Together campaign to end stigma around mental health. Heads Together aims to change the national conversation on mental health and wellbeing, and is a partnership with inspiring charities with decades of experience in tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing vital help for people with mental health challenges.
The Young Minds charity exists so that young people have the strongest possible voice in improving their mental health. We need your help to make sure that voice is heard.
We champion children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing across the UK. Driven by their experience we create change so that children and young people can cope with life’s adversities, find help when needed and succeed in life.
Young Minds: Our Goals
- To keep ourselves focused and on track, we’ve set out 4 key strategic aims:
- Foster innovation to meet the needs of vulnerable and excluded children and young people.
- Promote good mental health to more children and young people than ever before.
- Champion the voices of young people and parents to influence mental health policy and practice.
- Inspire excellence to achieve transformed, integrated services.