interview:simonamstell

Simon Amstell: To Be Free - Curve, 10th February 2015

On the 10th of February (Day 9 of Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival 2015) Simon Amstell brought his show ‘To Be Free’ to the Curve theatre.
From the very start of the show, Amstell was addressing potentially risky subjects. When he started talking about autism, a woman in the front row warned him to be careful. This polite interruption created an interesting dynamic in which Amstell could address her fears, as well as the crowd’s, saying: ‘Just because I mentioned autism, doesn’t mean I’m Jimmy Carr. I’m delightful.’ The crowd should have trusted him all along, as he offered original observations on racism, sexism, disability and sexuality, through his reflections on hilariously outrageous personal experiences.
This wasn’t the only audience interaction. Despite a lot of his material addressing his own social ineptitude, Amstell spoke to several audience members very early on in the show. He told one man in his direct eye line to put his phone away – it transpired that he had been checking the football scores. Amstell told him that he was free to leave if he wanted to: ‘It doesn’t matter, I’ve already got your money.’ For fans of Amstell who are already aware of his bluntly sincere nature, this may have come across as a genuine statement. You get the impression that Amstell really wouldn’t have minded if the man left if he wasn’t going to enjoy it. For those less aware of his acerbic manner, this could have been seen as too confrontational so early on.  
Despite wrestling with big ideas, an observational style is at the core of a lot of the show. Amstell discusses issues which are very present in modern society, and it suddenly seems strange to think that the overwhelming majority of so called ‘observational comedians’ don’t talk about them when they are so commonplace.  Perhaps it is because of the vulnerability Amstell displays by discussing them: ‘Look at what I’ll say just to get your attention. I shouldn’t be telling you all this, it’s none of your business.’ His sincerity and constant self analysis endear him to the crowd and keep you constantly unsure whether his amusing assertions of his own importance are tongue in cheek or not. Similarly, he talks about fame and egomania, which humanises him rather than alienating the audience. It’s natural that he would make observations about being famous, because he is famous. It’s far more sincere than attempting to play the ‘everyman’ as so many TV observational comics do.  
It’s interesting that Amstell mentions his friend Russell Brand at one point, because there are similarities between the two. Amstell, like Brand, likes to flirt with the philosophical and the show has the unifying theme of attempting ‘To Be Free’ which involves discussions about beauty, love and happiness. It could be considered similar to, although a lot gentler than, Brand’s current revolution rhetoric. Amstell also has a certain eloquence about him, not the kind of Dickensian-cockney hybrid of Brand, but a seamless knack for vividly expressing himself. Thankfully, Amstell does not have the overly distracting sex-drive which often sidetracks Brand’s work.
Amstell’s support act for the evening was Daniel Simonsen, who Amstell announced as ‘Norweigan Comedian, Daniel Simonsen!’ Perhaps this introduction was intended to take the Mickey out of articles and reviews, such as this one, which feel the need to immediately inform readers of Simonsen’s nationality above all other things. I enjoyed funny comedian Daniel Simonsen’s half an hour set. His thick accent and deadpan style create an offbeat delivery. He catches the audience by surprise with amusingly abrupt endings to his jokes and the unpredictable twists to his stories. Creating the correct atmosphere for Amstell is a difficult feat, but Simonsen’s odd ball persona is well equipped to do so. As he jokingly made reference to before leaving the stage, Simonsen hadn’t warmed up the audience, or whipped them into an excited frenzy, because that’s how you prepare a room for seeing Simon Amstell.
After Amstell addressed depression in previous stand-up show Numb, his dysfunctional family life in his sitcom Grandma’s House, and is now continuing his quest To Be Free, who knows what he’ll do next? Whatever it is, hopefully it’ll be performed at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival 2016. 

by Matt Watts (@Iammattwatts)