Venue: Grand Opera House, York
Date: Thursday May 31st
If stand-up comedy makes you think of a fat man, a pint, and offensive gags, then you’d like Simon Amstell for being none of those things. He is a scrawny, pale man who is genuinely funny without needing to be crass, or drunk – he doesn’t drink.
If you know him though, his current tour Numb isn’t really anything particularly new; Amstell doing what he does best – an angst-ridding monologue, peppered with intelligent anecdotes of his alienation from normal people, and a desire to just belong. We, the audience, are supposed to a) be endeared towards the ambitions of this poor, gawky man, and b) to feel slightly better about our own highly competent social skills in the process. Of course, it turns out we’re all just as awkward as he is, and that’s why we like it.
It’s not that Amstell doesn’t succeed in this project, it’s just that it’s becoming a bit old now, indeed he says himself “this whole act relies on me being young and trying to work things out”. It seems like Amstell has pretty much worked things out, and is in quite a good place, so much of his musing is very retrospective. He is creating comedy by being a parody of his former self.
However, having said that, even though he admits himself that his character is now one that he ‘acts’, the beauty and profundity of the show as a whole isn’t compromised. He delves into familiarly painful places such as his father’s gluten-related inadequate parenting and their emotionally anorexic relationship, “seeing my dad is like going to a restaurant with no food”, and his failed exploits with drugs and sex; “I don’t do drugs, unless they come in balloons or contain magic (mushrooms)”.
The anxiety and depression of being alone is seen through the glasses of a man on the peripheries of cool parties in Shoreditch, making insightfully accurate comments about people called Jasper and Merlin who can’t laugh at the parodies of themselves that they’ve become. It’s this almost autistic simplicity and clarity of his perceptive abilities that has defined Amstell’s character and career.
Indeed sometimes he’s almost too open, “when you spend time alone, you find out who you really are, and I discovered I am a raving sex pest, who has no sex”. He amusingly tries to reconcile the fact that his fridge is full of Fairtrade and Organic, but his porn is definitely not. This sexual neuroses sets up Amstell’s possibly most offensive joke about being in the Anne Frank museum, but it’s very funny. And it’s ok, he’s Jewish anyway.
In fact, he doesn’t try to draw out too many gags from easy cards like his Jewish heritage, or the front row, (“Sorry, but can you sit up, you look like you don’t want to be here. Oh, you’re just short”). His gags are, for the most part, original (the Shaman experience in Peru) and very entertaining, they just don’t come from a place of pain anymore. But that’s ok, Simon Amstell is allowed to be healed from his T4 teenager days, and we should be pleased for him, his cat, and his new ‘grown up outfit’.