Zoom comedy might not be in-person comedy, but at the Oxfordshire Mind Comedy Gala on Saturday night, it was actually kind of… fun? Stand-ups Ivo Graham, Janine Harouni, Huge Davies, Helen Bauer, Chelsea Birkby, Rosie Jones, and Nish Kumar proved that online comedy works, and MC Alex Farrow kept an impressive crowd of over 450 concurrent viewers comfortable (though, as he joked, they were in their own homes). The show benefited Mind UK, a charity supporting mental health initiatives headed by Stephen Fry, who spoke briefly to the crowd in a recorded address.

There were two questions heading into the night: how much money could the crowd raise, and how well have the comedians adapted their acts to fit the online format? Both questions were answered emphatically, as the audience raised over £3000 and the comedians employed a multitude of fresh tactics.

Helen Bauer and Chelsea Birkby felt most at home on Zoom. Helen’s infectious enthusiasm and high-energy style worked well in what can be a stifling format. Her constant motion and wonderfully over-the-top delivery made it feel as though you were right there with her while she excitedly gossiped to you at a high-school lunch table. On the other hand, Chelsea made you acutely aware that you were watching an online performance by zooming into her face for punchlines and displaying various images related to her jokes. Both of these comedians took advantage of the format, which helped them stand out in a line up crowded with bigger names.

Janine Harouni and Huge Davies chose to lean into the format less. For Janine, this worked fine; though she didn’t necessarily embrace Zoom, she certainly embraced the content of the year with funny quarantine jokes. Unfortunately, the inconsistent audio quality of Huge Davies’ keyboard combined with his deadpan delivery couldn’t bring back the energy lost to the online format, though he still drew laughs.

There were two questions heading into the night: how much money could the crowd raise, and how well have the comedians adapted their acts to fit the online format? Both questions were answered emphatically, as the audience raised over £3000.

The more famous comedians could rely on established personalities and crowd-work to keep the audience engaged. Ivo Graham’s set felt less like you were watching him on-stage at the Apollo and more like he had joined your weekly family Zoom. Affable and quick-witted, he coyly lamented the hyper-active chat and charmingly engaged with the audience. Rosie Jones, a clear fan-favourite, came prepared with perhaps the best one-liners of the night, which landed just as well on Zoom as they do on stage. Nish Kumar drew immediate laughs for his dishevelled quarantine hair and kept the laughter going through an effortless and impressive set containing mostly political humour: Boris, Tories, Paddington Bear (?), and being repeatedly branded a Marxist by the media (in the interest of making him feel better, we found him fascistic).

Though no one’s protesting a return to in-person comedy, everybody left this Zoom show smiling. As Helen Bauer noted, although the comedians were not going to get paid, they were going to get the money back from the charity eventually.

Image credit: Index on Censorship via Wikimedia Commons/ License: CC BY 2.0


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