Simon Amstell has carved out a niche for himself as the undisputed king of the stand-up confessional. Over the years he has bared his soul so many times onstage it is a wonder he has any more emotional layers to peel back. Worry not. His entertaining latest show Spirit Hole confirms that there is still a rich seam of Amstell angst to mine.
Having said that the former Never Mind The Buzzcocks host certainly circles around some familiar themes. Nearly a decade ago he talked about the liberating effects of taking the hallucinogenic drug ayahuasca in Peru. Maybe it did not liberate him enough though as this performance includes a gloriously self-mocking anecdote about a recent return trip where his uninhibited behaviour even shocked the local shaman.
Shame, acceptance, dread, sex, veganism and the need for validation are regular motifs, but there are fresh angles here. He is horrified at being 41 and explains how pre-pandemic he went through a mid-life crisis. Not for him a ponytail or Harley. Instead it was a peroxide makeover and a hedonistic escape to New York with hilarious consequences.
Perhaps, however, he has reached a turning point. One of the notable new developments in his life is that he is wondering if becoming a father might bring him happiness, something that he has never previously considered. He has mixed feelings about parenthood though – a smart line which it would be unfair to spoil underlines how unprepared he feels for such a long-term responsibility.
Throughout the show the trademark arch awareness was in full effect. Stories were analysed almost as soon as the punchline was delivered. This was a preview before he sets out on his UK tour so whenever a quip did not quite land there were “needs more work” verbal notes, a tic which was so endearing maybe he should keep it in.
And despite this not quite being the finished article there were still plenty of pithy pay-offs. On the subject of selfies the curly-haired consummate narcissist mused wistfully on the good old days of admiring one’s appearance, “when we used to have to look in a pond.”
If much of the set covered previously trodden terrain, it covered it beautifully. Whether Spirit Hole will win Amstell further fans is debatable. He is very much an acquired taste operating just outside the mainstream. More indie hipster than Live at the Apollo jester. But previous admirers of his work will find much to enjoy here as he picks once again at his existential scab.