Live Report: Simon Amstell – Numb

Posted: November 15, 2012 in Shows

Live Report: Simon AmstellNumb
Largo at the Coronet – Los Angeles, CA
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 @ 20:00

(Quick note: In case it wasn’t obvious or you haven’t watched the video yet, the clip above is NOT from the LA show being reviewed. It’s from Simon’s Brooklyn Warm-up 2012.07.19)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to brave hellish LA traffic to see Simon Amstell Tuesday night. As I drove, every route my GPS turned bright red, telling me I basically had a better chance trying to walk to Hollywood. Despite angry honking hybrids, largely indifferent trucks, and several near misses, I made it to the theater with about 20 minutes to spare.

The Largo is slightly beautiful. It had a very cozy sort of feel, with three distinct areas- the front room with the bar, the larger reception area with scattered tables, and the coffee counter in the back near the restrooms. I didn’t linger though, being too intimidated to take the time to look around, as well as frazzled from the harrowing ride. I just wanted to find my seat so I could chill out and take in the fact that I was there, sitting at the Largo, about to see Simon Amstell.

As I settled down, it occurred to me to question what I was doing there. I didn’t even know the man existed at the beginning of this year. The last few months have seen a great influx of British comedy in my life, largely spearheaded by the “whimsical musical pop quiz,” Never Mind the Buzzcocks, which Simon used to host. Had the rabbit suit really made that much of an impression?

Apparently so. While I was largely unfamiliar with his work outside the show, what I saw during those episodes was enough to make me curious enough to spend money I didn’t exactly have (even if it “wasn’t that much” according to Simon) to see the man in action. I’d only been to one other comedy show in my life, for a work social. I was nervous- equally for myself as I was going alone, and for him. I’m not entirely sure why. There’s something frightening about getting up onstage and baring your soul in front of strangers, hoping to get a laugh. Maybe I was projecting my own fears onto him.

Before I knew it, the theater had filled up and they were locking us in- I mean, closing the doors. The house lights went down, the spotlights came up, and Simon was crossing the stage with this unsure-but-game sort of stride. He reminded me of a shy child, pushed reluctantly onstage to perform by his mum, despite the fact that he was secretly a ham and couldn’t wait to get out there. He deposited a water bottle onto a nearby stool (or table, or something) and liberated the microphone. He surveyed the crowd with what I imagined to be a shrewd gaze, cleverly disguised by wide eyes and a slightly rabbit-in-headlights look, before uttering his first word.


It was soft, wavering, a bit unsure, maybe even hesitant. It also earned him his first laugh. With one word, he’d confessed his anxiety about the show, simultaneously putting us at ease and in the position of taking care of his seemingly fragile ego. Who could think of heckling this frightened-looking creature who’d come all this way across the pond, in hopes of bringing some laughter to our lives? In that moment, I remember thinking, “Oh he’s good.” He was either the sweetest, most charming person or the most calculating professional comedian I’ve ever seen. The truth, I’m sure lies somewhere in-between.

I won’t go into too much detail about the set. I’d half heard one of the lines before I went in and it didn’t have quite the punch when it was delivered during the show. I wished I hadn’t heard any of it to be honest, to maximize the impact of the performance. The video above is more than enough to give an idea. There was so much material, touching on a wide variety of topics- from childhood traumas to spiritual quests, from breakups to hookups, from boy to man to cat to cat-man. I couldn’t stop laughing, and was in actual pain at one point, clutching my stomach and doubled over in my seat from lack of breath.

As he took his final bows, I had to fight not to run up and hug him. Only the touch of cynicism kept me from acting, reminding me that he was a professional comedian and made a living provoking these types of reactions. By the time I cast that little voice aside (it only rears its ugly head when I’m afraid of being wrong), he had disappeared, saving both of us from a potentially awkward moment.

In truth, I loved every moment of the show. I wanted nothing more than to squish him like a plushie until he squeaked afterwards, and thank him for being awkwardly brave and adorably honest. His talent with words enabled him to deftly navigate uncomfortable subjects, even as he challenged mainstream beliefs and social conventions. His stories, told mostly from the point of view of an outsider looking in, made me want to root for him regardless of whatever situation he found himself in. As someone who is rather shy, uncomfortable in new situations, and tends to stay on the fringes instead of shine in the middle of things, a lot of what he said hit home. Often, I feel like the odd one out because my views aren’t quite the norm. It was so refreshing to hear someone I respected, share and validate some of that. I walked away inspired and hopeful that if he could find a place in this world, so could I.

Numb moves on to Theater 80 at St. Marks in New York, with performances from 11/15-11/17 and 11/19-11/21. Get your tickets here. If there is any chance at all you might get to see this show, either live or perhaps on DVD or TV, watch it. I cannot recommend it enough.


For those of you who might want more of a sneak peek (though I still discourage this) or perhaps have seen the show and would like to relive, here are a few of my favorite moments, written as dryly as possible so as to hopefully minimize the spoiling:

Are you sure?

Are you really sure?

There are spoilers ahead.




If you’re really, really sure…

On guyliner and manbags:
I loved his entire discussion on gender roles, examining why certain behaviors are attributed according to sex. There was a tirade on makeup, then the introduction of the above vocabulary. According to these modified words, guys who use the first apparently do not have eyes, and men who use the second apparently do not have hands. I wanted to point out the existence of the “murse” but it wouldn’t have worked with his line of jokes so I left it alone.

On traveling alone:
His description of what it was like to travel alone included sitting in a restaurant by yourself, pretending to text, and whipping out a notebook to write observations, possibly to be used for comedic effect later on. This struck a particular chord as I was flying solo that night. I had turned my phone off as requested prior to the show so I couldn’t even pretend to text, but I actually did have a notebook out to take notes. Presumably, it was so I could write this with some sort of credibility. My seatmate actually poked me during this segment though, so I’m pretty sure I failed at pulling that off with any degree of finesse.

On making plans:
I’m actually a little sad that this was included in the video above. I didn’t want to spoil the moment but wanted to include some sort of clip to promote the show. This is what’s on his website. On the other hand, since the segment is already there, I can quote it directly.

“You just have to make plans. Especially if you don’t have a normal job. Because if you live alone and you don’t make plans, here is what happens. You wake up… and it just gets darker.”

That sentiment, delivered in that voice that breaks near the end, rings so achingly true, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at the clarity or cry at the tragedy of it. I suspect I did a bit of both. That’s pretty much what I do- work, volunteer, sign up for events, do things to fill the days, hoping something might bring me a bit of joy. Granted, I’m easily amused so I tend to find a lot of things that make me happy but still. There is always that driving need to find something to do and someone to do it with.

On his cat:
There was a moment or two during the show tears actually came to my eyes. This was one of them. Conveniently, it was also included in the clip above.

“I caught myself the other week, clutching my cat to my chest… saying, ‘we’re all right, aren’t we?'”

It is a stone heart that would not melt at that confession. Even the most macho of men I suspect would have even the tiniest bit of sympathy. I know I can be a bit naive at times but I like to think that the only people who could have a chance at resisting that would be either a) entirely unfeeling, or b) a fellow comic who would still at least acknowledge that the line WILL get a reaction even if they are not themselves moved.

In any case, my marshmallow insides didn’t stand a chance. He had me hook, line, and sinker. I actually toyed with staying, with seizing the moment for the faintest possibility of meeting him. But in the end, I succumbed to my social anxiety, allowed my fear of strangers to take control, and fled to the safety of my giant pickup truck. I mildly regret it now but acknowledge I have a long way to go in overcoming these shortfalls.

Making it to the show was a step. Next time, I might buy a coffee and pretend to drink it as an excuse to linger. I might even pull out my notebook, jot down a few astute observations while keeping an eye on the stage exits. Better yet, I’ll bring a friend to plant my ass in the hall so I can’t get away. Maybe then, I might be given an opportunity to say my “hello.” One thing at a time.


Originally posted here.


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