Simon Amstell

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett


'Ooooh,' I overheard a teenage girl shriek excitedly into her phone a few hours before this show. 'I've just seen Simon Amstell WALKING IN THE STREET!' She could barely believe it, as if he would usually hover.

This is the sort of adulation you get when you've been on youth telly ­ and been rather good at it. Amstell brought a refreshing barbed irreverence to the celebrity interview on Popworld, the sort of Channel 4 show half the comics in Edinburgh are desperately trying to land.

But Amstell is doing it backwards. He's jacked that in and is busy reinventing himself as a proper stand-up, with all the credibility that entails. Minor celebrities who fancy a go at comedy is the sort of career change that has gone embarrassingly wrong before, but Amstell's smart enough to realise it's not as easy as it looks, and is prepared to put the work in.

It means his come up with a more-than-decent Edinburgh debut that stands its own alongside more experienced acts. It's not brilliant, but has some good ideas and better jokes ­ and, crucially, doesn't rely on Amstell's profile nor a diet of insider showbiz stories to sustain it. Feel that credibility rise.

He takes to the stage and with barely an acknowledgement to the audience launches into his material, a promising mixture of the vicious and the self-critical. He's funny on categorising people, on self-doubt, and on dating (what he wants is a version of himself only better, which relies on someone else wanting a version of themselves, only much, much worse).

He's slightly geeky, even to the extent of performing in a shabby cardigan, which he harnesses to his advantage. Ditto his obsession with what people think of him, right down to his addiction to reading audience feedback on Chortle.

A few gags misfire, sometimes because they're not quite good enough, sometimes because the audience doesn't quite get them. 'I will be using irony tonight,' he says sarcastically when one line sails high above people's heads. He's disarmingly self-effacing about it when things do go wrong. 'What we have here is a punchline that doesn't work, but it doesn't matter,' he admits.

Some segments are weaker than others, an overlong story about the ethics of buying a £2,000 suit while passing homeless people stands out for the wrong reason, and a couple of other tales end anticlimactically. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule, with his best routines being more than up to scratch. And any time he makes a sideswipe at a celebrity, from Jimmy Carr to Vernon Kay, it's always deliciously savage, demonstrating a cruel streak that Popworld viewers would only have seen the surface of.

It was a risk, but Amstell's hour-long debut does prove that he's a more-than capable stand-up, with a keen understanding of what he's doing and of what makes him funny. It's not quite fully realised yet, but I hope he's back next year ­ another12 months' experience will do him a world of good.

Steve Bennett


Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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