Review: Simon Amstell: Numb

By Lee Levitt, August 24, 2012
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I came out of Simon Amstell's postmodern take on stand-up comedy rather numb. Not comfortably numb, to borrow from Pink Floyd, but uncomfortably numb. There seemed so much to assimilate from "one of the most elegant, articulate, sensitive and endearing proponents of Soul Comedy", as he is lauded by The Scotsman on his flyer - and yet I felt quite unable to share the warm, enveloping vibe that had greeted him. Had I not got it? Or perhaps I had: perhaps I was supposed to emerge feeling numb.

But this wasn't about me. Nor, as he said at the start of his angst-ridden act, was it about the girl in the front, who the tortured star of BBC Two's "Grandma's House" and the former presenter of "Never Mind the Buzzcocks" picked out from the sellout audience. Sure, she had a cold. He understood. He had empathy. But, well, this was about him. Both seriously, and, this being postmodern stand-up comedy, ironically - as the unabashedly gay Jewish, vegan, Peruvian-rainforest-shaman-embracing one was after a holistic comedic experience.

"The most important thing is that I should be comfortable," he added, again half-seriously, half-self-mockingly, as he persuaded another audience member to remove some glowing wristbands which might "annoy" him. Then we were off.

Simon took us to the party scene in Shoreditch - "I find myself drawn to the humourless but trendy" - and New York, then on to Paris and Amsterdam (where he combined "forty minutes in the Anne Frank Museum" with an awkward dip in a naked swimming pool), Dublin Airport (where he flirted on behalf of a friend), a flotation tank in a Spanish hotel (cue: amorous feelings for the male tank operator), topped off with a spot of shamanic healing and a rebirth in Peru. All of which made him feel like reciting his pre-Barmitzvah prayer (which he did to a puzzled silence). "And then I became a cat," he said, at which point the comforting laughter resumed.

Amid his metaphysical musings and Justin Bieber baiting, there were witty (but rather jaundiced) observations on marriage, which he saw as a way of solving depression; self-discovery - "We go on a spiritual journey to overcome ego. Fine - but it's an egotistical thing to do"; and circumcision. "We need to embrace the convention to avoid people thinking we're weird."

But several themes kept rearing their ugly head. There was his difficult relationship with his father, whose opening conversational gambit is "So?" (too broad for Simon, though "years of therapy" have reconciled him to having a distant father), along with loneliness and anger. Prolonged joy, he said, half-jokingly demonstrating his abruptly terminated laugh, eluded him. Sad, soulful, screechy and surreal. And his fans lapped it all up.

The Bongo Club, until Aug 26

    Last updated: 12:40pm, August 24 2012