Simon Amstell: What Is This? at Latitude 2017 | Gig review by Steve Bennett

Simon Amstell: What Is This? at Latitude 2017

Gig review by Steve Bennett

Simon Amstell’s stand-up has been built on his insecurities and his misery… but his new tour show, being previewed at Latitude, comes five years into a contented relationship. What’s so funny about that?

Well, therapy is an ongoing process – and Amstell is definitely in the camp that uses comedy as a form of therapy – so there’s still plenty to discuss: not least his daddy issues with his distant father, the regression into how he came to accept his sexuality (and how his family weren’t immediately delighted by the news) and how his former unhappiness stemmed from his inability to love himself.  And its expressions like that which give away his time on the psychiatrist’s couch.

He’s tried other treatments, too. In a previous show he told of taking psychedelic drugs in a Peruvian retreat, while here he speaks of going to a ‘sweat lodge’ and self-medicating with MDMA, which he recommends with all the cheeriness as if it were a cheeky white wine. Well, since fame didn’t cure what ailed him, where’s a man to turn?

It’s all emblematic of someone always examining his life… even the happy Amstell mulls the futility of existence and the expanse of empty years spanning out in front of him.

Still, the self-excoriation in What Is This? isn’t as brutal as in previous tours, and that does come at a cost of darkly funny lines driven by bleakness. But clowns don’t have to have tears to be amusing, and even as a less tortured artist, Amstell has his share of witty, incisive bon mots on the human condition.

Even a couple of months before the tour starts, What Is This? is as mature, thoughtful and thorough a self-analysis as we’ve come to expect.  Amstell says one of the things he struggled to learn was that it’s OK to tell his partner everything… yet he has no such qualms when it comes to telling an audience his most intimate secrets.

Review date: 16 Jul 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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