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Best Medicine Gala review – uplifting stream of health consciousness

Mar 28, 2021

Angel Comedy Club online Comedians led by Jordan Brookes and Tim Key turn lockdown worries into riffs on parenting, personality and body hair in a night of infectious live fun Vital comedy … Jordan Brookes. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian Last modified on Sun 28 Mar 2021 08.53 EDT “Let’s do it. Tonight. Let’s fix mental health.” That’s Jordan Brookes talking, not the first man to whom I’d trust my mental wellbeing. But maybe he should be? After all, “comedy can destigmatise, normalise and raise awareness of mental health issues” – or so claims the Best Medicine festival , which marks one year of lockdown by exploring how those two worlds meet. Brookes appeared in this gala show on the festival’s final weekend, with a set that parlayed self-loathing, anxiety and regret into 10 vital minutes of comedy. One of the (rare) upsides of Zoom comedy has been watching experimental comedians adjust their shtick to new exigencies. Brookes is a restless trickster on stage, but Zoom has introduced a more intimate note to his performances. Here, we find him lodged in his parents’ house, working on self-improvement (“I’ve somehow managed to worry myself buff”) – then haunting the girl who spurned him at primary school. The laughs come from Brookes’s amusement at the depths of his own dysfunction, and the hubris of self-healing while the world burns. No one else on the bill stakes as strong a claim to that territory dividing – or uniting – comedy and mental ill-health. But several are as funny. Jessica Fostekew delivers a pleasingly blunt set about her lockdown experience, be that growing out her body hair (“At one point, I used my shin as a towel…”) or imagining what a Covid museum of the future might display. There’s nothing topical about Sindhu Vee ’s contribution, which ramps up the cynicism with tales of tough-loving motherhood. The English, Vee tells us, pamper their kids, whereas she scorns her son for inadequacy at football and her daughter for the sin of honesty. It’s a bit one-note – but it’s a note she sings well. The balance is always critical in Ahir Shah ’s shows between how stark he’s being, and how comical. Even pre-pandemic, he was (like Brookes) a comedian who found the world hard going, politically and personally, and wanted us to know it. That’s not changed, in a set that mines the Covid era only shallowly for laughs and just as often lingers on the bleak surface. But when the jokes come, they’re excellent – like the one about voting against your economic self-interest, or the one about the Janus-faced convolutions of ethical consumerism. Aggressive conviviality … Tim Key. Photograph: Jonathan Birch No pandemic-era gig is complete without Tim Key , or so it can seem. It’s clear why. He’s totally at ease in the Zoom world, pulling the “front row” (ie visible) audience members into his world, bantering with MC Barry Ferns throughout. And spinning his whole headline quarter-hour seemingly out of nothing, save for the short poems that play stepping stones through that off-the-cuff fun. He doesn’t give you much choice whether or not to find it funny, roaring with laughter himself throughout the set. Add to that his conspicuous swigs on a tankard of ale, and an atmosphere of aggressive conviviality marks Key’s contribution, which riffs on how films are dubbed in Russia, and makes play with an audience member bending lockdown rules to holiday in (two words) “Thai land”. His poems are the highlights though, whole headspinning worlds conjured in little stubs of verse; all casual idiom and falling cadences. No one’s pretending Zoom comedy can offset the effects of this dreadful year for the nation’s mental health. But in grim times, there’s some solace to laughing in company, digital or (soon!) otherwise. Topics

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