Comedy review: Simon Amstell / Victoria Theatre, Woking

New Victoria Theatre, Woking

"Is anything worse than being alive, Woking?" Simon Amstell is experiencing existential angst. A recent relationship ended due to a personality clash, so he wants to see if he can escape his personality. The resulting (self-) exploration has revealed that identity is constructed, our separateness from one another is an illusion and we are all just "stimulus response machines". Are you laughing now?

You probably would be. This show, Amstell's first to tour nationally, develops last year's Edinburgh offering, and makes for erudite, frank comedy. The themes of the self and separateness allow Amstell to range widely, deriving from his own - and his audience's - liberal white identity jokes about the tension between being ethical and seeming ethical, or being anti-racist and actually having black friends.

But one of Amstell's personality problems is also his problem as a stand-up. After 9/11, he tells us, "I really wanted to feel something, I'm always so detached." His tendency to analyse rather than go with the flow can hamper comedy. His set doesn't build up a head of steam; he's forever stepping back from his material. The compensation, though, is Amstell's wry demeanour, and the thoughtfulness of the gags. Indeed, the comic point is usually that Amstell thinks too much, hence his frustration at his gran's bluntly un-intellectual take on the success of her 50-year marriage: "Well, he's no bother." Still only 28, Amstell's well on his way to constructing himself an impressive comic identity.

· At Sheffield City Hall (0114-223 3834) on Saturday, then touring.


Brian Logan

The GuardianTramp

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