Monday, July 23, 2012

Simon Amstell: Numb

Hey y'all I'm going to review some comedy even though I know nothing about how comedy works.  I feel like I have to admit this because Daniel Kitson suggested that critics really should put their reviews in context.  His suggestion was starting a review "As someone who has previously shit himself on a bus, I thought..."

So for context, I spent a chunk of time in the late 90's, early aughts seeing a lot of stand-up when my friends were starting out in that game (I definitely saw my friend do a stand-up set after watching a mostly naked woman dance with steaks taped to her breasts--I guess it was a "variety" show.  I think we were both scarred for life from that incident.).  But it has been a while since I have spent significant time in underground clubs for comedy.  I've only done so this year because Mr. Kitson was in New York doing some work in progress stand-up bits in January.  That said...I'm a gonna review some comedy below.

Simon Amstell has brought his show Numb to Theatre 80 in the East Village.  I'd heard great things about Amstell who is the co-writer and star of Grandma's House, a UK sitcom.  This is the first time he's come to New York to do a "residency" and he was previewing this show here before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe.   Expecting an audience of people unfamiliar with his work he chastised some British audience members who arrived late: "The point isn't to provide a cheap show for people who already know who I am."  It's fun to watch a performer work through material with an audience that is culturally unknown to him.  Jokes land differently.  Some words play funnier and others don't play funny at all. 

Amstell has been compared to a "young Woody Allen."  I found him to be aggressively neurotic or maybe neurotically aggressive.  With a bit of a whiny voice (that he pointed out was his real voice), he presented some intensely personal comedy from a self-deprecating angle but there was a darker edge to this.  He did some crowd work during the show and at some point he commented on a "couple" in the front row who were not having a good time.  He asked if they were engaged and the man quickly said "no."  Amstell had a little fun with that.  But following up on that, later in the show, he pointed out that the previously chilly couple were now holding hands.  He then said to them "Everything ends."  Seriously dark delivery but terribly funny. 

He spent a good deal of this show focused on his struggles with dating, his break-up with his boyfriend, some bits about porn, sex, holidays, and also his tense relationship with his father.  For me the strongest segment of the show seemed to be about his family.  His evolving view of his relationship with his father was mined for quite a lot of humor.  He used a very funny bit about his father to create a nice structural callback at the end of the show.  It's a beautifully structured joke.  It takes a moment to land, you have to think, and then it pays in dividends.  And also it was dead funny.

There were a few jokes that were elegantly structured like this and they took a beat or two to land.  I really liked them but I would have liked more.  Because I am greedy.

His poking fun of the hipster culture whether in London or New York was less interesting.  His observations that Shoreditch was "trendy yet humorless" or that hipsters like to buy objects that look cool, or people who wear cool glasses don't seem to see how funny they are came across a little on the obvious side. 

Not sure if it was planned or an aside, but he did have a bit of fun over Justin Bieber:  "There's something in me that wants to fuck him til he cries." (beat) "I think it's a metaphor."

I found most of the show to be fun but I thought there were moments where the observations could have been sharper, the word choice funnier, and then I realized how spoiled I have been by Daniel Kitson.  It's a terribly unfair comparison.  Simon Amstell is very good and worth checking out as he finds his way with American audiences.  And it's always fun to be able to see a comic in a small venue when it's very possible he will blow up in popularity later (Let me tell you the time when I saw Eddie Izzard when he was UNKNOWN in America.).  Get in on the ground floor now with Amstell.   
Numb plays at Theatre 80 through August 9.  It's an hour long show.

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