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Simon Amstell’s ‘Numb’


The British comedian explores the humor in life’s tragedies, both great and small

"How old are you?" asks comedian Simon Amstell to a youngish girl in the front row of his packed show last night at the East Village's Theatre 80.

"Twelve" she responds.

I kiss my teeth. Some in the audience giggle, and Amstell grins. The inappropriateness of bringing a child to this particular gig isn't lost on the crowd--or the comic. It's not that Amstell's work is particularly blue, in fact, his comedy is actually rather light on choice four-letter words and graphic descriptions of sex (though he does have plans for Justin Bieber if he ever gets the chance), but it's that his comedy will go right over her little head. Amstell, well aware of this, tells her that much of the show won't make sense to her now, but it will in eight years.

Amstell's show, Numb, explores the humor in topics that the preteen interloper could not begin to comprehend, let alone have experienced. The desire to live in the moment, emotional numbness, the constantly moving targets of self-improvement, and all the deep soul searching that comes with them are all parsed and explained hilariously in Numb.

The comedian, who served as co-host on Channel 4's Popworld and host of the BBC's Never Mind the Buzzcocks, became known in the UK for his quick and acerbic wit and his sometimes brutal mocking of celebrity persona. He has more recently written and starred in Grandma's House, a somewhat autobiographical program about his life post-Buzzcocks. In his stand-up, like in Grandma's House, Amstell opens up about himself for our amusement.

If there were one word to describe Amstell's performance, it'd be "intimate." He lays himself bare onstage, admitting to the inner struggles and torments that only come out in therapy and the social missteps and awkward moments that we all try and pretend don't happen to us. While telling stories from his own life, he digresses and tries to focus on the universal. It is through this focus on the bigger picture that his comedy works so well. We've all been there. We've been lonely, confused, unfulfilled, and awkward. The audience can relate to his shtick; it is, in a way, "What's the deal with airline food," but on a deeply existential level. His introspections, charmingly delivered, make for a brilliant and uproarious hour.

Numb continues at Theatre 80 through Aug. 9

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Alex Panisch