Simon Amstell: Do Nothing tour review

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Strange thing celebrity. As Simon Amstell walks on stage, he’s greeted by the shrieking ‘we love you’s of a dozen teenage girls, whose devotion doesn’t apparently extend to even the most fundamental research into the erstwhile Buzzcocks host’s sexual preferences.

Yet had this show been billed as an hour of existential angst and philosophical musings from a chronically lonely 29-year-old Jew with a predilection for young, skinny, vulnerable men, it probably wouldn’t have been scheduled for two nights in the 1,800-seater Brighton Dome.

Amstell does a fine job of squaring this circle, admirably refusing to pander to his TV fans, yet ensuring the mighty ideas contained in this ambitious show are both accessible and funny. It’s an unflinchingly honest, and unashamedly thoughtful hour-and-a-bit that brilliantly combines the confessional, the aspirational and the intellectual.

Like all the greats, Amstell mines his own neurosis for our pleasure. You might imagine his life is one whirl of showbiz parties in which he dazzles adoring acolytes with the quick wit that served him so well on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. But the picture he paints is of a painfully introspective young man, so prone to overanalysing everything that he can never live spontaneously in the moment. It means he misses out on the thrills of living, but even that provides him more to cogitate upon in this unbreakable circle of angst.

There’s a redemptive tale here of him breaking this pattern, conquering his shyness, and having some fun; but any uplifting moral is tempered by the fact you know he secretly likes the self-diagnosed status of ‘genius recluse’ that allows him to be semi-detached from the world, only able to shine in the artificial environment of a TV studio or stand-up show.

That sense of not fitting in is nicely exploited in the tales from his youth; of realising his grandmother’s praise was empty, and finding little fun in the suburban discos of Romford, yet returning week after week as that’s what social pressures demanded. It’s a situation that will be painfully familiar to so many.

Amstell is an astute observer, not of deeds or actions as a Michael McIntyre might, but of emotions and motivations. He has the insight of an philosopher, but the wit of a panel-show host – and it proves a thoroughly satisfying cocktail.

As well as the big ideas of love, paranoia and the self, Amstell touches briefly on the insular racism of his Jewish family, sexual hang-ups and the naivety of religion with the dry, mordant wit that runs through a show that’s well-structured and tightly written.

Forget the screaming girls, this is intelligent, grown-up comedy that’s as funny as it is perceptive.

Review date: 13 Oct 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brighton Dome

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