sat 13/04/2024

Simon Amstell, touring | reviews, news & interviews

Simon Amstell, touring

Simon Amstell, touring

A feast of humorous soul-searching

“Let’s start with ‘I’m so lonely’,” says Simon Amstell at the top of his show, Do Nothing. As an opening line for most comedy evenings, that would be about as enticing as the oyster special at the Slurry Pond Inn but thankfully the ex-host of BBC’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks serves up an evening as witty as it is intellectually nutritious.

Amstell’s previous stand-up shows have certainly been full of erudition, but some critics have complained they lacked in passion. Well he more than addresses that criticism here, as his emotions are often laid bare and his soul well and truly searched. If that makes the show (which I saw at Richmond Theatre in London) sound worthy or dull, it emphatically is not, as it causes frequent laughter. Amstell is a storyteller and many threads don’t have punchlines as such, but no matter, the material is often outrageously honest and very, very funny.

He talks about his youth in Romford - ”Nobody told me London was so close!” - the trappings of fame, and of the frustration of being single at the age of 29. He makes much of the “anxious child” inside him who prefers to invent a fantasy life rather than deal with what he describes as the illusion of reality, and this can lead to very amusing (for us, if not Amstell) situations. So a mention of once being in the same room as Keanu Reeves doesn’t go where I might expect a gay comic to take us, but rather to the realisation that Amstell really is bit pathetic when it comes to being a grown-up.

His introspection could become neurotic solipsism - OK, it sometimes does - but is saved from being mere navel-gazing because Amstell is always the butt of the joke, regardless of how bad a light he is shown in. He pulls no punches, even when describing semi-stalking fit actors and seducing a lad rather younger than himself after discovering his mother is a fan.

The bitchy, sarcastic persona from Buzzcocks is absent here (although there is a cracking Lady Gaga joke). Instead we have the beautifully articulated thoughts of a sensitive soul, tempered with a delicious abundance of ego. There is minimal audience interaction, for instance, and it’s almost as if he has gone off script when he asks a couple in the front row how long they have been together. Almost before the husband has finished his answer Amstell snaps “Back to me” and we are treated to another story.

Amstell says he feels unable to live in the present because he’s either looking to the past to explain his present single state, or to an imaginary utopian future where both of the two sinks in his bathroom will be able to serve a useful purpose - was there ever a more painfully eloquent image of unwanted singledom? There are references to his parents' divorce and his conflicted Jewish family (if his aunt and uncle feel unable to accept Amstell’s brother’s Gentile girlfriend, I bet they just love the fact that he is happily gay), but this isn’t comedy as therapy. It’s a touching and elegantly crafted hour of comedy, and the cleverness of the writing is evidenced by frequent laughs of recognition despite it being so specific to his life.

By the way, the show’s title - a life philosophy in itself, surely - suggested itself to Amstell after a meeting with that rare thing, a cabbie with insight. I must ask for his number.

Simon Amstell is touring until 17 November. Book here

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