Award-winning, Eddie Izzard-approved, British comedian brings his new and painfully honest show, Numb to New York City– now through Aug. 9.
If it were up to him, Simon Amstell wouldn’t do interviews. It’s not that he doesn’t like to talk. He loves it, actually– if his delightfully verbose nature is any indication. It’s just that he can never find the words to perfectly express himself. And for a guy who makes a career – and a damn fine one – perfectly expressing himself on stage and on screen, that’s got to be frustrating. I can hear it in his voice: he feels like he’s letting me down, like I’ve been delivered pristinely polished prose from every comedian I’ve ever interviewed.
“My ideal situation is that I’m some sort of mysterious genius recluse who occasionally goes onstage,” he tells me, “and people just come, because they just sort of feel it within them. They MUST come and listen to this mad man. I had a little go at that in England and it doesn’t work. I’ve been informed that it’s important to do interviews and tell people that you exist.” He concedes: “I’m getting more comfortable with that idea.”
The fact that comedic icon Eddie Izzard has befriended Amstell and periodically sings his praises — “Very funny British comedian, Simon Amstell, is about to play New York. Do check out his show,” he recently tweeted — should help Amstell cut down on the amount of times he needs to self promote.
Still, the 32-year-old Brit doesn’t give himself enough credit. But this type of self-doubt and introspection isn’t entirely unexpected, as his live show (and his hit UK sitcom Grandma’s House, where he plays a slightly fictionalized version of himself) is the marriage of those two things enveloped in pure, white honesty. And by Amstell’s estimation, his newest show, Numb – the follow up to his well-received debut special and DVD Do Nothing in 2010 (see clip below) – is his most honest, most personal work to date.
Lucky for Stateside audiences, Amstell is performing Numb in New York City through Aug. 9 at Theatre 80— and if you’re into the brutally honest, vulnerable and sensitive-type, you’ll want to snag some tickets before the award-winning comedian returns home next month.
To get a better sense of Amstell, check out more of the conversation I had with the super-slight (Izzard calls him “too thin”), curly-headed comic.
At what point do you say to yourself that it’s important for you to come to the States and try comedy there?
It isn’t important, I suppose. But, I quite like being new. I like expressing who I am to people. So I guess I got to the point where I expressed who I was to a lot of the people in the UK, and it felt like a good time to tell some new people who I was. There’s no reason to do this. Nobody was asking me to. But, I also like that there’s no preconceived ideas of what I might end up doing. There’s a newness to the performances here. There’s just something more pure about performing for people who don’t know who you are.
After watching your previous special and seeing you in past interviews, it’s clear you’re very concerned with making your shows personal. You’ve even said that sometimes you think you’re not personal enough.
I’m just quite fixated on authenticity and making things truthful. To me, the point of the comedian is that they tell their truth. It’s one of the last places where people can see somebody telling the truth. I don’t think there’s any point of doing it, unless it’s going to be the truth. When an audience laughs at my shows, it feels like they’re laughing because I’ve said something that connects with them—it’s a truthful experience. It’s honest; it’s exposing. You’re talking about the most shameful, upsetting moments of your life. And it’s a helpful thing to the performer and the audience.
If it’s not completely honest, then there’s lying going on. And, especially with the type of comedian I am, I don’t want to be lying onstage. The point of being onstage is to be the most authentic version of myself. That’s where I get to be fully me.
Are their parts of your life that you don’t yet feel comfortable talking about onstage?
Part of the show I’m doing at the moment, there’s a real journey of self-discovery. But there were also things in my life that I discovered on this journey, which were profound for me, but there’s nothing funny about them. Normally for me, the saddest, most awful things, turn into funny. But these other things [that happened in real life] are pretty straightforward. There’s nothing sort of complicated or peculiar about them. They’re just not funny. So, they end up not being in the show. You can do whatever you want to do on that stage, as long as it’s funny. And there are thoughtful moments and there are insightful moments in Numb but they come from or lead to funny.
While I’m interested in being the most truthful I can be, I’m not interested in just going onstage and exposing myself gratuitously. There has to be a reason for saying these things. It has to be part of everything else that’s being discussed. And it has to be funny. So if it isn’t funny, it doesn’t go in.
In England, you’re very well known for your work on your sitcom Grandma’s House (clip below). But you’ve been performing stand-up in earnest since you were 21. Do you care what you’re more known for— or is the television and stand-up work equally important to you?
I only care that I get to do what I want to do. I’m not really interested in fame, apart from you need a bit of it in order to do what you want to do. I just want to be able to express myself the way I want to, to people. But you have to tell people who you are in order for them to become interested in coming along.
Is there any difference between UK and Stateside audiences?
I don’t think so, other than there’s no pre-conceived notion of who I am. A city is a city. And I think I work quite well in cities, because onstage I’m talking about disconnection, loneliness and detachment. So these things connect with people in a city.
Is there anything about the New York shows you’re worried about?
No. (laughs) I can’t think of anything. As long as people come. I suppose any anxiety I might have would be because nobody came. But they seem to be buying tickets, so I guess it will be ok. I feel all right.