‘How can there still be homophobia, when Elton John wrote the Lion King? What else does he need to do?’
This wonderful one-liner from Simon Amstell quite neatly sums up To Be Free: astute, absurd and very funny.
In terms of style, Amstell is actually more conversational: his one-liners are more like punctuation, keeping the energy up. In this latest show, Amstell talks about the concept of freedom: from insecurities, from the ego and from social norms and restrictions.
First and foremost, Amstell is known for introspective and neurotic stand-up – you can definitely see a resemblance to Woody Allen. Humour comes as he tries to ‘live in the moment’ rather than overthink. His realisation, for example, that as a comedian he has no skills to bring to an orgy is painfully funny and the phrase ‘satirical rimming’ will be ringing my ears from some time.
On the flip side is Amstell’s over-inflated ego, which he juxtaposes with his failed attempts to satiate and escape it. His occasional god-like delusion leads him to embarrassment rather than triumph and while he longs for admiration and worship, ends up realising he is not, in fact, Jesus.
To Be Free also goes beyond Amstell as he questions the audience’s (and society’s) complicity in upholding ridiculous societal conventions. He gets quite close to the bone at times, touching on many of the classic ‘controversial comedy topics’, such as paedophilia, mental illness, racism and, of course, a little scatological humour. On the whole, he handles them deftly, but you feel sometimes he’s working to a list, checking them off.
The one lull in the show came when he began to preach about veganism. He took it to an extreme, comparing eating meat to concentration camps. It’s not that you can’t use taboo subjects in comedy; but to use it to guilt your audience about non-conformity with your own beliefs, that’s a bit much.
Amstell’s support, Daniel Simonsen (aka Bob Mortimer’s son in House of Fools) was, unfortunately, not so hot and his awkward humour mostly came across as plain awkward. He had the odd moment, but there was a lot of audience silence during his set.
Amstell’s warm and effective stage presence quickly swept that away though and his well-crafted show left you with laughter and just a little neurosis of your own as you went into the night.