Words by Helen Knott
Simon Amstell performs his show What is This? at the Town Hall on Sunday 15 October, as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival 2017. For direct info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.
Despite starting stand up aged thirteen, Simon Amstell is perhaps best known for his presenting roles – interviewing musicians and pop stars on Nickleoden, Popworld and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, where his challenging curiosity and acerbic wit would lead to both a growing fanbase and twitching in the control room.
Indeed, eight years after Amstell left his presenting role on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, his tenure on the BBC 2 quiz show still makes for solid You Tube fodder – from questioning why Jermaine Jackson “looks nothing like Michael” to exasperating Preston from the Ordinary Boys to such an extent that he walked off set and got replaced by a member of the audience.
Buzzcocks had been a natural next step for a presenter who first came to public consciousness on the Channel 4 show Popworld, a show Simon Amstell co-presented with Miquita Oliver. Likewise, watching Popworld clips on YouTube today you can’t believe the ridiculous things Amstell and the equally wonderful Oliver would ask bland pop stars to try and get them to say something entertaining. To Britney Spears, thrown in the middle of a fairly innocuous interview, Amstell asked “Whose chin would you like?” to which Spears replied, without hesitation, “Halle Berry’s. I think she’s beautiful.”
Simon Amstell doesn’t interview pop stars any more. In fact, the last time he was on our TV screens for any length of time was in his beguiling BBC sitcom Grandma’s House back in 2012, which he co-wrote with Dan Swimmer. Since then, Amstell has been concentrating on more personally focused projects – including a mockumentary about veganism called Carnage, and a ‘hilarious and heartbreaking’ book about Amstell’s ‘ongoing compulsion to reveal his entire self on stage’ titled Help.
Simon Amstell has also performed on stage repeatedly as a comedian, with What is This? being his fifth UK comedy tour. And whilst his output across art forms is dependably solid, stand-up arguably distills the Amstell experience into its purest form.
What is This? reportedly explores Amstell’s romantic stability, his new found contentment, his relationship with his father, and possibly ayahuasca – in a show that ‘promises to be a deeply personal, funny exploration of beauty, intimacy, freedom, sex and love.’
It’s comedy as therapy – confessional, neurotic, with no subject too personal to be off limits. And crucially, it’s all bitingly funny. Unless you’re Preston from the Ordinary Boys.
Simon Amstell performs What is This? at the Town Hall in Birmingham on Sunday 15th October. For direct info, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.thsh.co.uk/event/simon-amstell-what-is-this
For more on Simon Amstell, visit www.simonamstell.com
For more form the Birmingham Comedy Festival 2017, including a full programme of events and online ticket sales, visit www.bhamcomfest.co.uk
For more from both the Town and Symphony Halls, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.thsh.co.uk