A funny thing happened to one of comedy's most incisive depressives, a man so dedicated to inner anomie that toured with a show called Numb: He got happy. British comedian Simon Amstell is a longtime fixture of UK television — via the sitcom Grandma's House and game shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks — and occasionally graces our shores with hilarious, incisive stand-up shows. In his new show What Is This? and book Help, Amstell talks about how he got over himself and got a boyfriend. The relationship has lasted seven years, and Amstell dives into what made that possible: Basically, get a shaman, tell each other everything and attend the occasional orgy. The message: If he managed to do it, you can too. (Not really. But it's a nice thought, right?)
Some writeups of the show include the sentence, "Simon Amstell drank ayuehasca and it cured his depression." Was that the key?
I went into an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru with that depression, and I came out having gotten to what seemed to be the roots of all my anxiety and depression, and I felt much stronger and somehow reset.
I think I'm going to try that, because I'm incredibly depressed.
It's quite an extreme thing to do. You really have to feel it calling to you. I kept hearing the word: ayahuasca, ayahuasca. My boyfriend said, "I keep hearing the word 'skiing.'"
Have you done other substances?
I had some magic mushrooms many years ago, and I think after that I became permanently funnier. Which has been an incredibly good for society. So we should look into how we can use these medicines, rather than throwing them all together as "dangerous" or "evil."
So you've been together for almost seven years now. What came first, the depression lifting or the boyfriend?
They happened at about the same time. It's not a controlled experiment. However, my hunch is if I hadn't have gone to Peru, the relationship wouldn't still be a thing that's happening. I think I probably would have made mistakes over and over again. I did meet someone so incredible that he would've been very good about me being deranged, but ultimately it wouldn't have lasted as long as it had.
What's the trick to making it last?
Talking about everything that feels scary to talk about. And we're not lying to each other. There's no deception going on. Everything that needs to be discussed ends up being discussed. It sometimes takes a minute, but eventually the truth comes out.
I loved your bit about attending a hipster sex party in Los Angeles together. It's refreshing to hear about these things, because a lot of couples are struggling with monogamy and sexual boundaries right now.
Yeah, we settled on something that was quite specific to us. I think once you come out, and you've been in a place where it's tricky to come out, that's so subversive in itself that the idea that you would then conform to any other convention expected of you is a little silly to me.
As you say, ultimately we're all perverts.
What other projects are you working on?
I'm wrapping the edit on a feature film called Benjamin. It's about a young man desperately seeking love from an audience, when what he really needs is to experience the intimacy of a relationship with one person in his life. Wild imagination I've got.