Venue: Harrogate Theatre
Little was left unsaid by Simon Amstell when he visited Harrogate Royal Theatre on the 22nd as part of his To Be Free tour. From racism to the grease filled sex dungeons of his dreams and from sexism to missed encounters at obscure performance art pieces, Amstell poured his inner turmoil onto the audience like we were an unresponsive therapist. He is aware of this himself, quipping that he has probably actually overcome most of his issues, but must complicate them in order to stay funny on the stage.
Amstell’s set was filled with an honest and unashamed narcissism that was surprisingly refreshing and somehow even humble in its self-awareness. He notes, for instance, that his friend Russell Brand is starting a revolution while he is just talking about himself to strangers. His appealing openness along with a dynamic mix of brand new and older material (for better or worse Amstell was clearly experimenting, honing his performance for the later legs of his tour) made for an uninterruptedly engaging set.
A particularly long leg of the performance saw Amstell discuss his relationship with his devoutly Jewish and homophobic father. While this made for some hilarious moments – most notably in revealing his father’s desire to become hair dresser to the stars via his son’s contacts – it also opened a relatable vulnerability in the comic. For instance, he told of his surprise in finding, upon meeting his boyfriend’s family, that someone could actually like their father.
Throughout the set Amstell engaged with his audience directly, either mocking the actions of one particularly odd member in the front row, or else criticising his audience for laughing at a dubious joke: He escalated an off handed remark after accidentally characterising an elderly rabbi as sneaky in order to punish the audience for laughing (‘sneaky Jews… sneaky women… sneaky ISIS… you didn’t laugh at that one did you!’).
In the set’s final fifteen minutes Amstell diverted from his more traditional stand-up routine and opened up for questions. This was a slightly novel (and definitely unexpected) event, but the comic managed to navigate the potential for awkwardness to create some of the set’s funniest moments, closing the performance on a high.