Women & Theatre regularly deliver community comedy courses which engage a wide variety of different groups of all ages and backgrounds. Since 2008 W&T’s Artistic Director Janice Connolly (aka comedy star Mrs Barbara Nice) has delivered over 25 community comedy courses thanks to the support of wide ranging funders including Time to Change, Comic Relief and The Baring Foundation.
Promoting wellbeing and building community ties, our comedy courses have seen us use the strand as a vehicle for tackling areas such as mental health stigma, inter-faith relations, dementia and community health. We’ve combined the comedy expertise of Janice Connolly with the company’s dedicated mission to address contemporary issues in partnership with diverse groups. This has resulted in courses that build experience, encourage skills development and help to nurture essential life skills.
The courses are structured to enable participants to devise their own comedy material and develop skills in performance. Each course culminates in a comedy event where participants perform alongside a professional headline act to an audience of peers, friends, family and the wider community.
W&T originally launched its Community Comedy Club strand in 2008 with courses at Stanhope Hall Community Centre in Highgate, targeting sufferers of low level anxiety or depression. The course was run with over 50 participants grouped by gender and age who proceeded to perform to packed audiences in a number of public comedy events. The wellbeing outcomes showed positive changes for participants including 72% feeling more cheerful and 76% feeling closer to other people (measured through the Warwick Edinburgh Wellbeing Scale).
The success of these courses paved the way for the development of different incarnations of Community Comedy Clubs and in 2011, the concept won Birmingham & Solihull’s ‘Big Ideas Bonanza’ which rewards innovative ideas for improving community health.
Projects have included:
- Half term interfaith comedy courses for Christian and Muslim young people encouraging interaction and knowledge sharing as well as the development of new friendships.
- Comedy courses in elderly residential homes under the banner “Comedy with Care” promoting the emotional wellbeing, self assurance and mental stability of elderly participants including some with dementia.
- A year-long programme called “Laughing for a Change” funded by Time to Change, using comedy to tackle stigma around mental health. We delivered community comedy courses, trained volunteers and also worked with professional comedians to develop material from their experiences of mental ill health. The comedians went on to perform as part of triple bills for the Laughing for a Change national tour. Volunteers with lived experience of mental ill health facilitated conversations with audiences at all events. Evidence suggests that this kind of contact is one of the most effective ways of breaking down discrimination.
- Six courses with older adults, young carers, bereaved adults and bereaved boys. This project was funded by Comic Relief and delivered between 2014-2015 in partnership with Extracare, Spurgeons and Edwards Trust. Structured in relation to the age and ability of participants, the courses either involved weekly sessions or a three day intensive where participants worked professional comedians to produce, develop and hone a comedy routine. The project culminated in a celebration event at mac birmingham in May 2015. Representatives from all six courses performed to an audience of over 100 during an afternoon of fun and laughter.
Brilliant! Heart warming and heart healing!
My son came to one of the comedy courses and it has benefitted him a huge amount, as he lacks a lot of confidence. This (course) has really helped him with that
How inspiring Janice is and all her young (and older) protégées. Long may the work remain
Thank you for letting me take part in your comedy course. It has helped me so much find the person I lost last year that was myself – this is something I got from taking the course. Participant, Stanhope Women’s Course
Good to see Kerria Court residents enjoying themselves and taking part. The residents were treated with respect and with love and their personalities were encouraged to shine.
Worker, Kerria Court
The impact has been massive. It’s given me back my confidence, given me more purpose. I’ve been bitten by the comedy bug!
Participant, Laughing for A Change
Lead Artist: Janice Connolly
Associate Comedians and Support Artists: Annette Fagon, Andy Robinson, Jo Enright, Joe Lycett, Karen Bayley, Steve Day, Craig Deeley, Shaista Aziz, Nicki Prestage, Helen Tomblin, Annette Fagon, Nike White, Kate Green, Catherine Pitt, Cory Smith, Karen Bayley, Kerry Leigh.
PARTNERS & FUNDERS
Funders of our Community Comedy Clubs strand have included Heart of Birmingham PCT, BCC Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, Westhill Endowment Fund, Near Neighbours, The Baring Foundation, The Rayne Foundation, Cole Charitable Trust, Grimmitt Trust, the GJW Turner Trust, Time to Change, Comic Relief and Norton Foundation.