IT’S good to be back!” said comedian Angela Barnes with a mix of excitement and relief as she surveyed the Saturday afternoon crowd at the Oxford Playhouse. “What a two years we’ve had... and with the worst Government imaginable in charge.”

It’s certainly has been a weird old time since we last convened in the Beaumont Street auditorium for the Oxfordshire Mind Comedy Gala, and it was indeed good to be back.

The event – a Live at the Apollo-style show by five comedians which raises funds for the mental health charity – has become a local institution, a jolly beacon of cheer in the midst of the most depressing time of the year... and for a good cause, to boot. And Saturday’s matinee and evening show was more needed than ever – last year’s event having been online only, which is not the same at all.

The gala is presented by Oxford’s Jericho Comedy club, which seems to have uncanny sway on the national scene in its ability to pull in big names. The line-up was interesting, being, with one exception, all-female.

Headliner Barnes is a big-hitter – her harsh estuary tones and acutely well observed, profanity-studded, routines seeing her all over the telly and Radio 4. She was joined by Rosie Jones, Esther Manito, Jamie D’Souza and local Chelsea Birkby – and hats off to them all for braving the freezing fog to supporting mental health work here in our county.

Oxford Mail: Angela Barnes headlined the gala

Angela Barnes is slick, quick and had the audience in her hand

The comedic glue that held it all together was compere Alex Farrow – a well-spoken, amiable, but razor-witted comic maestro whose off-the-cuff sets not only warmed the crowd up, but at times cranked them into a frenzy. His second half opening set was so uproariously funny, he had to make comedic apologies to the two big acts apologising for over exciting the audience.

To be fair, much of that cackling came from the same small pocket of the crowd, but still...

Manito opened with a brilliant set. An Essex comic with Lebanese and Geordie parents, she described herself as half Chav, half Arab – or ‘Charab’. Kicking off with risqué jokes about ‘paedos’ was a bold move and set the tone for a show which revelled in rudeness and, in Barnes’s’ words much “effin’ and jeffin’”

Manito was quick-witted, fast and fun, while laid-back D’Souza was self-deprecating and confessional. He also riffed on his mixed heritage, a rich source of observational laughs for any comedian lucky enough. D’Souza is half-Indian and we were treated to amusing stuff about meeting his girlfriend’s parents and their excruciating efforts to make him feel comfortable with an over enthusiasm for curry and so on.

His confession that he dabbled in goth metal as a younger man, but that his attempt at looking like a bad boy made him look like a Bollywood villain, had us chuckling. So did his meta quips about his self-obsession and very funny section on an ill-fated relationship and his part in its break-up.

We’ll see a lot more of him, I’m sure.

Star in the making Chelsea Birkby is no stranger to these galas and is a real talent, outshining the big guns with her easy charm and sparkling anecdotal humour. Her warm delivery and engaging stage presence belie a wicked, and frequently smutty, streak. Her barbs were spot on and her observations relatable and very funny. Her openness about her bipolar disorder unsurprisingly won over this crowd in particular, and gave her set a frank honesty which made it all the more relatable. Her stuff about the rapper Pitbull may have lost most of the crowd but was daftly funny.

Best was her stuff about Milton Keynes, where she grew up, and her thoughts on Oxford as an outsider.

Oxford Mail: Chelsea Birkby was hilarious

Chelsea Birkby was hilarious

On seeing people on an upper floor of the Radcliffe Camera, she asked “how do you get there?” “Academic excellence!” came the amusing reply.

A weirdly over-long interval was followed by Rosie Jones. Jones has cerebral palsy but but makes clear from the off that she hates being patronised and detests being singled out for special treatment. So she would absolutely hate platitudes about her pluck and courage. She has huge amounts of both, nonetheless.

She has turned her disability into a comic gambit, her slow speech pattern leading us to unexpected conclusions designed to make us feel uncomfortable. Her routine is based entirely on her disability and sexuality, and is hard-edged and dark. She admitted that her dirty material – particularly a section about her infatuation with the actress Gillian Anderson – makes her sound like a sexual predator, and she was right. 

Barnes, who is no shrinking violet came across as positively family friendly in contrast – even with the fruity language which bookended practically every sentence.

“I’m from the south of England,” said the metallic red-haired comedy star. “What we lack in H’s we make up for with F’s!”

She is polished, rude and hilarious. She laid into Boris, an easy target, but also ‘billionaire’ Rishi and, in a fond blast from the past, Theresa May. Her stuff about the difficulties facing today’s teenagers was bang on as well as funny. To quote Stewart Lee (who I would love to see at one of these galas), she had us “agreeing the ****” out of her.

It all made for a fun afternoon and, a few cringeworthy moments aside, it was all good fun and for a great cause.


Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok

Got a story for us? Send us your news and pictures here

List an event for free on our website here