Simon Amstell - No Self

Eschewing much of the audience participation from last year's show, the comic fully justifies the decision to point the mic his own way

Review by Evan Beswick | 05 Aug 2007
Skinny and effeminate, yet with a deceptive capacity for brashness, Simon Amstell farts around with his own stage persona in some pretty impressive ways: while politely wishing an audience member "good luck with the aids", he successfully retains childlike potential to shock with innocuous swearing. Eschewing much of the audience participation from last year's show, the comic fully justifies the decision to point the mic his own way.

Frequently admired for his self-deprecating quips, Amstell in 2007 never automatically reaches for the self-censurious option, particularly where the option to do so presents itself. More productive, in fact, is the way he knocks about an acute awareness of the image he projects: a camp performer, Amstell leads the willing audience down easy avenues concerning gay icons. Mindful of the facile laughs he is getting, though, he delights in sharp turns which reveal the lunacy of stereotyping 'the gay'. Elsewhere, a twenty-minute session on the Asian tsunami is consistently funny without ever being tasteless, though much of the exhilaration is tied to a suspicion that Amstell would, in fact, relish the reaction to his dropping of a tawdry bomb.

Entitled No Self, Amstell's struggle with the concept of identity directs the whole performance. Extensive research – on YouTube and Wikipedia, no less – nearly culminates in a dead serious point about the clutter required to vindicate identity. The material means that Amstell can tackle comic favourites such as religion from a fairly unique angle: bypassing trashy jibes at priests, the sight of a camp man in tight jeans justifying his claim, "I am God", is a gem.

In the same way that Amstell's act consistently probes this central problem, the show's structure is strengthened further by several running gags. A joke juxtaposing juggling and rape doesn't feel like opportunistic repetition of an amusingly absurd combination. The ratio of rape to juggling in the quip is adjusted to suit. Where he trips over the highly controlled material, Amstell's improvisational skills easily break his fall, capitalising on slip-ups by long and frequently hilarious turns. Sure, he occasionally dips into less impressive material – the nineties nostalgia might be best left on Popworld – but the strong central theme quickly returns to sew up any tatty edges.

As the process of hacking up his own identity continues, Amstell notes that any performance guarantees him a "five star of David" review in The Jewish Chronicle. Sandwiched cleverly between two iterations of the same, quaint anecdote, Simon Amstell's unreserved satirisation of Simon Amstell bags him five stars from this Gentile.