The Conversation: Comedian and TV presenter Simon Amstell on poking fun at celebrities and why nothing is too embarrassing for stand-up


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The Independent Culture

You've been in the US performing your show Numb. How did it go down?

All I talk about really is the terrible suffering of being a human being and that seems to be the same everywhere ... so it wasn't a problem.

You talk about how you didn't have sex until you were 21 and realising you were a "horny sex pest". Is there anything that you won't use in your routine?

Only things I can't find a way yet to make funny. The reason it's satisfying for me to write and perform stand-up is because I get to find out who I am. There's a healing aspect to doing it. Why would I leave something out? If it's too personal it has to go in. If it's too shameful it has to go in. If it's too embarrassing it must go in.

There's a good line when you say, "Because I couldn't speak about this with my dad I'm going to speak about it with you all now, on TV".

The whole thing, I suppose, is quite dysfunctional. I could just be doing this with either a therapist or a friend. But there's something about hearing people laugh after you've said something that you thought was so shameful you couldn't admit it to anyone. Because in their laughter they're saying, 'We do that too! You've just told us something that we do and we were a bit concerned about saying out loud'.

Moving on: Popworld or Buzzcocks?

Is that a question?

Yes, it's a question. There's a question mark at the end of it. Popworld or Buzzcocks?

I think Popworld because we invented it from the beginning. I took over a show with Buzzcocks. And also, I was younger and I didn't know what I was doing. It's always sweeter, when people mention Popworld. There's a bit of nostalgia there. But I think, mainly, I'm just thinking of McFly.

Paul Kaye always said he regretted asking Steve Martin 'Why aren't you funny any more?'. Looking back, are there any moments that make you wince, or think, 'Oh, I wish I hadn't done that'?

I don't think I have any regrets, it's a waste of energy because what can you do? There are things I did that I wouldn't do now. But what we always tried to do was poke at some of the inauthenticities. It's a risk: people build up very strong and reliable defence mechanisms. The aim was to make people laugh and I don't think anything was ever mean or spiteful, because the intention was only ever pure joy.

I feel pressure now to poke at your inauthenticities.

Yes, you can figure out that I'm desperately trying to sound clever and the reason I keep rambling away is because I don't know what the hell I'm talking about really and I'm just an idiot...

Yes, you do ramble quite a bit.

There's a pressure you know, that even these words right now possibly could be put in print and judged, and you're feeling like you want to choose the right words, whereas if you're just in a conversation with somebody in a restaurant, you'd be having some nice food and everything would be fine. OK, I'm rambling again. What else have you got?

One last question... do you know what Preston [who famously stormed off Buzzcocks] is up to now?

No. When he walked off, he just kept walking


Born in London in 1979, Simon Amstell launched Channel 4’s ‘Popworld’ at the age of 20. He wrote and starred in the sitcom ‘Grandma’s House’ and presented ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ for three years. His latest stand-up DVD, ‘Numb: Live at the BBC’, is released on Monday