tue 11/08/2020

Simon Amstell, Netflix review - wisdom and wisecracks | reviews, news & interviews

Simon Amstell, Netflix review - wisdom and wisecracks

Simon Amstell, Netflix review - wisdom and wisecracks

Confessional existential angst

Simon Amstell's latest show charts his journey to emotional enlightenment

Who knew in the early days of his career, when Simon Amstell was taking the mick out of celebrities on Popworld and then Never Mind the Buzzcocks, that he would turn into one of the cleverest comics of his generation, with a special talent for making existential angst funny?

And now the latest of his amusing navel-gazing stand-up shows is Set Free (recorded late last year). In it he turns his soul-searching – for which read his search for his father's approval – into a form of group therapy with a barrel of laughs thrown in.

The comic sets out by saying: “The problem with humanity at the moment is that we all feel we're special.” And for the next hour he chips away at all those things that he thought made him special and deserving of love – being funny or intelligent or interesting – but which he now acknowledges were never going to make those he wanted to love him, love him.

In a tight hour, Amstell describes his relationship with his largely absent father – both physically and, it would appear, emotionally – as he was brought up mostly by his single-parent mother. Our truth is, of course, our own but the fact his dad didn't see his two previous shows because “they're not my kind of thing” does rather give the game away. (Although there is a marvellous addendum to this story later in the show when we encounter his dad again.)

Amstell tells us about his therapy, his desire to overcome his intimacy issues and the need to stop chasing men who were, for whatever reason, mostly unavailable – as well as what he calls a mild eating disorder when he was younger.

He describes, with several stories where he is the butt of the joke, his search for enlightenment, whether by taking MDMA, being game for a threesome, visiting a sweat lodge or following a guru who taught him meditation techniques. Where once he may have scoffed at meditation, Amstell now enjoys it; it has gone from “from discipline to blissipline”.

He's painfully honest, too, about bouts of depression and his attempt at cracking America. He felt “lost" in Los Angeles rather than having found any sense of accomplishment about performing there, despite it being a notable achievement.

Despite the serious subjects he raises, none of this feels self-indulgent or heavy-going. Quite the opposite, in fact; he even has some poo jokes in the set, and hilariously recounts his overkeenness to lose his virginity on a teenage trip to Paris, where his schoolboy French wasn't up to snuff.

Some of this show is just wise, Amstell tells us at one point. Indeed it is, but it's very funny too.

Despite the serious subjects he raises, none of this feels self-indulgent


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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