Simon Amstell: ‘To Be Free’ comedy review

October 7, 2014, Article by Richard in Reviews, Theatre & Comedy

‘Painfully honest’ has become the cliché when describing Simon Amstell’s stand-up. That unravelling of the self on stage, the spotlight burning, isn’t a new thing in comedy, but Amstell is proving to be the modern master of it.

At the start of ‘Do Nothing’, his first full-length show, the first line (after a sheepish ‘hello’) is: ‘I’m quite lonely, let’s start with that.’ Perhaps an early warning to those who’d come to see him expecting the kind of snide, celebrity piss-taking Amstell was famous for on Popworld and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, it set the scene for the next hour of introspection, naval-gazing and self-exploration. Cut to his new show, ‘To Be Free’, and not a huge amount has changed, other than the fact the show is another gem.

He might have resolved his feelings of romantic isolation now that he’s currently in a relationship, but the inability to live in the moment is still a constant battle.  The only time he can achieve the honesty and lack of filter he craves is when he’s being funny, but that can massively backfire – for instance the joke he made on Radio 1 on the day of Nelson Mandela’s death. Whilst the joke wasn’t the ‘offensive’ storm the media tried to make it, it obviously struck a deeper chord with Amstell. Why must he be so crippled with insecurity one moment yet punished when the filter comes off?

There are some beautifully constructed routines here. This was still a work-in-progress show and it was interesting to see Amstell had the whole show printed out as a script – this is a pruned-within-an-inch-if-its-life monologue, every word carefully chosen. At one point he agonises over a choice of word, in the end leaving the audience to decide for him.

‘To Be Free’ doesn’t quite catch the bitter lows and hilarious highs of his last two shows, but it’s still a brilliant and thought-provoking performance.

A quick word, too, for the venue. The Invisible Dot is the best kept secret on the London comedy scene. Stewart Lee, Tim Key, Josie Long, Liam Williams, Bridget Christie and now Simon Amstell have all done shows in the last couple of months. For the price and intimate space, it’s an absolute treat.

Simon Amstell is on tour now with ‘To Be Free’. Details here: