“Young” Simon Amstell, as the man himself wistfully notes, was renowned for cheek, initially as a pop presenter on Nickelodeon and Popworld, before honing the art of celebrity disdain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
But, as he gets older, he is wary of turning into creepy uncle Simon. And so, in this stand-up tour, Numb, the principal target for the barbs is mostly, as in his acclaimed current sitcom, Grandma’s House, Amstell himself.
Before that, Norwegian opener Daniel Simonsen deserves a mention as engagingly silly company, particularly in the opening phases of his set, poking fun at the discourse of stand-up, social awkwardness, laughing cats and Facebook.
Amstell, in tongue-in-cheek guise of poet and travelling genius – rather than aforementioned creepy Uncle – positions himself throughout the show as an outsider. He didn’t drink, take drugs or get as much sex as he would have liked (these things, he allows, may have been linked).
It’s a neat trick to keep the crowd on side with observational comedy about London showbiz parties, boutique European holidays and a spiritual retreat to Peru. To his credit, he just about pulls it off, until the pivotal conversion of his Peruvian retreat. After all the introspection, the finale sees Amstell railing against a litany of perceived social ills; marriage, organised religion, man-made environmental damage, meat-eating and the exploitation of low paid workers around the world.
It’s all quite witty and engaging, but Amstell himself acknowledges that “preachy Simon” might seem a little weird and, frankly, it is. It’s a little reminiscent of Rob Newman as he tried to find voice and meaning after coming down from the “new rock and roll” comedy of the 90s, with a bit of Bill Hicks’ all-too-mortal “it’s just a ride”, as Amstell argues that we take life too seriously.
There is brilliance peppered sporadically throughout Numb; funny filth, lots of wit, insight and lyrical dexterity. But it is sporadic. While Amstell is certainly not a fitting target for his own Buzzcocks-era ridicule, this is a show which takes itself just a wee too bit seriously to be as funny as it might be.