I can’t remember how I came to see it, but somewhere or other, it came to my attention that Simon Amstell was coming to Glasgow to play the Comedy Festival. I used to watch Never Mind the Buzzcocks when Amstell presented. Hell, I used to watch it BECAUSE he presented. He was funny, sharp and witty. I may have watched an episode or two of Grandma’s House but never really took to it. Then a year or so ago I saw a stand-up show of his on telly. He was funny, sharp and witty. Very funny. As well as insightful, endearing and thought-provoking. That’s a lot of qualities for one person to convey. So I was keen to see him in person.
Having persuaded my often-time partner in musical adventures, Susie, to come along we met up beforehand for a bite to eat and a much needed catch-up then headed down to the Citz. The Citizen’s is a beautiful theatre, but a tad out of the way. Nevertheless we boldly set out on a chilly March evening. We were so glad to get into the warmth we headed straight to our seats. We had pretty good seats at the back of the stalls. I didn’t think Amstell was that kind of comedian, but I would be very wary of taking seats right down the front of a show just in case.
I also wasn’t expecting a warm-up act, but that is what we got. A Norwegian stand-up called Daniel Simonsen. He was good, and funny, but I was bothered by his accent and couldn’t get over the thought that it was an exaggerated put-on heavy Norwegian accent. I have met many Norwegians, and visited Norway and have never met anyone who speaks English like that. Certainly not one who lives in England. Maybe it was part of his act? I don’t know. But I found it too distracting. Probably not an issue for the majority of the audience. He did get some proper laughs though, and served his purpose as a warm-up.
After a too-long break, Simon Amstell came on. Whilst there was a little of his awkward on-screen persona, he was very comfortable on stage, immediately engaging with the audience, talking to the front row (actually telling one person to uncross their arms and cheer up, so definitely glad we weren’t there) and shouting back to people declaring their love for him. He spoke to almost everyone who stood up and left for the loo/bar/whatever, asking what they were doing and building it into his stories. But none of it was rude, it was genuinely funny without making fun of anyone. Plenty other comedians could learn from this.
His show brought in usual themes that I’ve seen him cover before – social norms and their absurdity when scrutinised, his father’s enthusiastic Judaism, his own homosexuality and relationship difficulties and a fair amount of introspection. But it wasn’t too dour or heavy on the shoe-gazing, it was properly laugh-out-loud funny throughout. He retained the wittiness, sharpness and thoughtfulness that makes him so appealing. He spoke so passionately about some issues – including his veganism that for a moment I thought, “Yes, that makes sense, we should all be vegan!” then I remembered that I was allergic to nuts and soya (and eggs, but that would be less of an issue here) so I’d pretty much have to be a fruitarian. I think even Amstell would think that was going too far. He talked intelligently about feminism and people with autism (separately).
One of his messages was to live in the moment, not to let opportunities pass you by. Amstell is the same age as me (35) and I definitely think there’s something about no longer being “young” but in no way being ready to be “middle aged” that makes you evaluate your life so far and start planning what to do with the all too short remainder. It certainly chimed with me.
I had a great time, a good and much-need night out filled with laughter, but found myself thinking about what he said for the days afterwards. I found the opportunity to put some of this into practice a couple of days later during my “wee dance class” as I usually call it. When I was off on maternity leave with baby no. 2 I took her and child no. 1 to a “Dance with Babies” class where mums put babies in slings and danced everything from Cha Cha Cha to Belly Dancing and Ballet. It was enormous fun, and I didn’t mind being a complete novice dancer among others in a similar position, and anyway we had babies strapped to our chests which we could hide behind. We have recently started going to “Dance with Toddlers” where the small ones gambol around our feet while we dance. No hiding behind baby. No sling to hold in flabby post-baby tummies. And on Friday I was the only one there that wasn’t the instructor or the trainee-instructor. Was it more embarrassing to admit I couldn’t handle it and leave, or stay and dance, effectively on my own? I stayed, and tried to bear Amstell’s advice in mind while shimmying and swaying and learning new Rock ‘n’ Roll steps. I tried to live in the moment, let myself go with the flow, enjoy it and not feel self-conscious. I think I succeeded. Life lessons from a stand-up. Who knew?