Simon Amstell’s star is shining brightly at the moment.
After a few years in the comedy wilderness following 2010’s Do Nothing tour, Amstell returned to our television screens with the second series of the superbly bleak Grandma’s House in April. He is currently touring the country with his third standup show, Numb.
Last night Amstell brought his brand of anxious philosophically-inclined standup to a packed-out Brighton Dome. The main motif is his social-awkwardness, as he details a number of scenarios in his life that have left him feeling “numb” –speaking to strangers at parties, living alone with his cat, and making conversation with the trendy but humourless Shoreditch crowd – one of whom is actually called Merlin.
For all his social woes, by radiating emotional honesty on stage, Amstell comes across as articulate, personable and, crucially, hilarious; frequently addressing the audience directly during the hour-long set.
In Numb Amstell opens up about his quest to find meaning to his own existence. During one particularly self-loathing section he recalls going on holiday alone in order to be anonymous and find himself, but he is of course strangled by social-anxiety and struggles to suppress his urges – “people say you discover who you really are if you go travelling alone… and I found out I’m a sex pest!”
He details his experience in the Peruvian jungle where he met a shaman and indulged in some hallucinogens, inserting a freewheeling surreal moment into the fraught narrative as he recounts his trip, though one that perhaps doesn’t quite sit as well alongside the rest of the material.
Amstell talks about how he struggles to continue to trade on being young-looking since he passed 30, and makes reference to his attire on the night being more akin to middle-aged poets. He describes his Damascus moment when he noticed his reflection in the window of a shiny building, coming to the realisation that “my face is too old for these clothes”.
Given the timing of the gig so close to the diamond jubilee, Amstell aims a few barbs at the “low self-esteemed peasants” who will be gallivanting in the streets in celebration of our monarch. This segues neatly into a segment on a glimpse into the future as reported by media, neatly parodying 24-hour news coverage; though there is a nagging feeling that this is a particularly well-worn conceit in comedy.
Numb builds on the confessional, despairing elements of Do Nothing, providing proof that Amstell is the genuine standup article, and not merely some guy off the telly having a go at being funny. Some routines and anecdotes are stronger than others, but overall the show is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.