Simon Amstell is funny – if you take him on his word. After seeing this British comedian’s stand-up, however, I’m not sure I entirely agree. Sure, there were numerous and sometimes thickly clumped pockets of laugher emanating from the audience the night I saw him, indicating that he can certainly make people laugh, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly consistent and I wasn’t joining in – for the most part. A few giggles, quite a few more smiles, the odd actual laugh. But that’s about it.
Look, that’s a deliberately contentious opening two sentences. Absolutely, by most measures, Amstell is funny. I’ve watched and enjoyed Grandma’s House, and seen episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the English Spicks and Specks-style pop-music quiz show he hosted, and on which he was frequently – and ruthlessly – very funny. And a few giggles, a few more smiles and a bit of laughter undoubtedly qualifies as a successful comedy show for some. It’s just that during the Comedy Festival the bar is set so very high and I expect more.
But maybe the fault was mine. Maybe, as Amstell says, I’m just one of those "humourless people". But this was part of the issue I had with Numb: his frequent, presumably meant-to-be-funny statements that the problem lies not with him but with the people who don’t get that he is funny. And his consistent arrogance in telling us that he is funny. Really, that’s for us to decide, mate. Not you.
At one point, when a joke didn’t get quite the reaction he desired, he blatantly blamed a front-row audience member for distracting him by taking a photo. Later, when it happened again, he scored a few cheap laughs by complaining that it couldn’t have been that same audience member again because they weren’t being distracting this time. Lawd knows how he would have handled a heckler?!
But where he really lost me was when he forgot his train of thought mid-joke and then tried to laugh off having to sneak a peek at his notes. This wasn’t a preview night and as a professional stand-up comedian he should be able to handle that situation better.
Which left me all the more disappointed because, in general, Amstell’s show – about not fitting in, about wanting to connect with another human being – and his thoughtful, pulling-no-punches but softly spoken performance style is right up my alley. I wanted to love it, and there was plenty to love but, for me at any rate, it just wasn’t quite connecting.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Simon Amstell – Numb
Melbourne Town Hall, Lower Town Hall
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
March 28–April 22