With his show opening to the sound of young girls squealing and shrieking ‘WE LOVE YOU SIMON’ over loud, blaring pop music, you’d think Simon Amstell was a rock star, not the presenter of a late night BBC2 pop trivia game show. Not expecting a support act (as one hadn’t been announced), I think the 1,300 strong audience in the stinkingly hot New Theatre did well not to riot as Arnab Chanda took to the stage. The moment passed peacefully however, and Chanda turned out to have a very similar style to Amstell’s, generating some good laughs through the use of the acerbic wit one might be expected to develop when one has what sounds like ‘knob’ in one’s name. Born in Yorkshire, brought up in Saudi Arabia, now living in the UK and sporting a strong U.S. accent (but with an excellent command of the British vernacular), he barely brushes on any of the obvious material you might expect to result from that, instead skitting gleefully into the surreal with camp abandon. And yes, he is 27, though he does look like a twelve-year-old in his tracksuit top and mop of unruly curls.
Amstell (who most will know as the slightly mocking co-host of Popworld who succeeded Mark Lamarr on Never Mind The Buzzcocks) flounces onto the stage in skinny jeans and bright white trainers, announcing that he thinks his trendy new haircut might be shit. Russell Brand he is not - and that’s just what’s so nice about him. His Eeyore-ish outlook on life is endearing, and whilst his extremely personal anecdotes (yes! He’s gay! - Gasps from the adoring shrieky girls) and biting attacks on Big Brother (and The People Who Watch It) may not be what most of the audience was expecting, it’s hard to see how anyone could fail to warm to this shy Buddhist-nihilist-pessimist-thinker trapped in the body of a 28 year old TV presenter. A combination of reasons means that the biggest laughs seem to emanate from a 50-ish-strong chunk of the circle, however. This big audience is Sunday-night-sluggish, hot and finding it hard in places to keep up with his sharp wit and sharper tongue, and Amstell flags a little too, suffering when some of his un-PC material hits the wrong (or unwittingly, the right) target, or expected laughs don’t materialise. The show itself could probably do with a little work, as it feels a bit thin, but overall his meandering musings on Life, the Universe and Everything are charming, and it’s good of Simon and Arnab to either a) provide living proof that sarcasm is not the lowest form of wit, or b) provide proof that indulging in the lowest form of wit can be a big fat guilty pleasure.
Investigate further at www.myspace.com/arnabchanda and www.simonamstell.co.uk.