Comic Relief 2019: It’s a laughing matter

Written by: Laura Wilson | Published:
Image: Comic Relief

Red Nose Day 2019 takes place on Friday, March 15. Laura Wilson from Comic Relief offers some ideas for using laughter to boost student welllbeing while also raising vital funds

Secondary schools across the country are facing extremely challenging times. Cuts to funding, changes to exams, mounting workloads and problems recruiting teachers are putting staff under immense pressure.

At the same time, schools are facing a student mental health crisis. A PISA report into student wellbeing in 2017 found that around one in six students in the UK say they are unhappy with their life (putting us 38th out of the 48 countries surveyed). And in its report Wise-up: Prioritising wellbeing in schools (April 2017), mental health charity YoungMinds warns that we are facing a mental health crisis in our classrooms:

  • An estimated three children in every classroom has a diagnosable mental health problem.
  • Rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers have increased by 70 per cent in the past 25 years.
  • Ninety per cent of school leaders have reported an increase in the number of students experiencing anxiety or stress over the past five years.
  • Eighty per cent of young people say that exam pressure has had a significant impact on their mental health.

These problems are clearly extraordinarily complex and, while some young people will need specialist or clinical support, schools can play an important role in creating healthy and happy spaces and in promoting emotional wellbeing.

There are a growing number of resources available to help schools do this and develop a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. As part of this, why not consider making a conscious effort to bring more laughter into school life? It may sound like a facile response to such a serious problem, but getting people laughing can bring real benefits.

A laughing matter

It was back in the 1300s that a surgeon first prescribed humour as a therapy to aid patients’ recovery from surgery. Since then laughter has been widely used as a way to help people cope with physical and mental illness, from chronic pain to depression. So why is this? What happens when we laugh?

  • Laughing releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals that increase our sense of wellbeing.
  • It improves our mood and reduces negative emotions – it’s hard to feel sad, anxious or angry when you are indulging in a belly laugh.
  • Laughing decreases the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine, relaxing the whole body by reducing tension.
  • As a result, it can defuse tension and conflict, encouraging people to see the funny side of a situation.
  • It improves the function of blood vessels, increasing blood flow and boosting heart health.
  • It improves our resistance to disease and increases our pain threshold.
  • Laughing together strengthens relationships and breaks down barriers.
  • It simply brings joy, fun and happiness to life.

Whereas young children laugh hundreds of times a day, by adulthood we are down to a mere 15 or so laughs on average. As a school, what can you do to reverse this trend as your students hit adolescence and beyond? How can you try to stop the humour rot and inject more laughter and fun into their lives at school?

Make them laugh

At Comic Relief, our key focus is making a difference through comedy and laughter. Over the years we have seen all sorts of fantastically funny initiatives in schools that have brought together students, staff and the local community. Here are our 10 ideas.

  1. Set up a weekly lunchtime comedy club, where budding comedy writers and performers have an opportunity to watch comedy classics and write and try out their own materials.
  2. Hold lunchtime open mic sessions, where would-be comedians in school have an opportunity to strut their stuff.
  3. Create your own school comedy show, with comic sketches written by students and staff, stand-up turns, jokes, impersonations. Get students writing material in English lessons and practising performances in drama. Put on an evening performance and invite parents to watch.
  4. Stage a classic comic production once a year, either as a whole-school event or as part of drama coursework. How about one of the Shakespeare classics, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Or a comedy of manners, like The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde? Or a comedy musical, like Sister Act?
  5. Set up a comedy film club after school, where you show a comedy classic each week. Everything from The Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy to School of Rock and Clueless will get your students laughing and improve their understanding of how humour works. Or how about setting up a lunch time sitcom club, where you watch funny TV shows?
  6. Organise an annual comedy festival – a mini-Edinburgh festival. Get the whole community involved in the laughter. Could parents join in with sketches and jokes? Are there local drama groups or comedians who would like to take part?
  7. Organise a sponsored joke-a-thon. How many jokes can students tell in one minute? Five minutes? Can a class perform a non-stop stream of jokes for the whole of break time?
  8. Hold an impersonation competition and encourage students to show off their best takes on famous people (and perhaps even their teachers)!
  9. Ask each tutor group to vote for their joke of the week and share them in assemblies.
  10. Organise a weekly caption competition – distribute funny photos to tutor groups and ask students and staff to come up with their own witty captions. Display the best entries around school to brighten up your corridors and classrooms.

Make sure the staff – teaching and non-teaching – are included in any comedy activities you organise. As well as raising morale, laughing together will help to unite the school community. And next time a staff outing is suggested, why not make it to a comedy club, a funny film at the cinema, or a comic play at the theatre?

Just remember, laughter is contagious.

  • Laura Wilson is Comic Relief’s schools and community fundraising lead.

Red Nose Day 2019

Red Nose Day 2019 will take place on Friday March 15. For school resources and more details, visit


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