Simon Amstell | Comedy review

Bongo Club, Edinburgh

"If I can be in a room with Keanu Reeves," says Simon Amstell, "then nothing is real any more." This new show from the ex-host of Never Mind the Buzzcocks keeps worried vigil at the border between fantasy and reality. It develops the theme of Amstell's last show – the construction of the self – and adds what many have long craved in his standup: a little passion to supplement the thought. Erudition was already in the bag. But the greater Amstell's emotional investment, the better he becomes.

He now finds himself where philosophy collides with anxiety; where Heidegger meets Woody Allen. The show's most prominent strand recounts Amstell's passion for two handsome actors he sees in the theatre – then contrasts his dream relationship with them against the crap reality. Forever oscillating between injured pride and self-doubt, he is frustrated by the personality he's stuck with. By his voice, so agitated and un-seductive. By his need to derive confidence from imagining he's on TV – a typically vulnerable and surprising admission. And by the fact that, inside, he's the same "scared, crying child" he's always been.

So far, so neurotic – but always entertainingly so. Amstell doesn't pull any self-inflicted punches. The two sinks in his bathroom were intensifying his loneliness, he says, until he found a use for both: "I now brush my teeth in the right one, and in the left one, I mainly cry." The tormented sense of self rings true. Likewise, the admission of his own absurdity was never more keenly felt than when meeting Keanu, or his childhood crush Jared Leto, or when Amstell finds himself seducing the straight 18-year-old son of one of his keenest female fans.

But the show isn't wholly solipsistic. There is a section about his family's opposition to his brother's gentile girlfriend that applies his thoughts about the contingency of identity to the real world. And even Amstell's existential angst has a wider application. Why do we find ourselves thinking "this will be a good memory" rather than living in the moment? Is "do nothing" – the title of the show – the best course of (in)action? This is cerebral comedy backed up by a newfound depth of feeling. Amstell may disagree – but I'd say he's the real deal.

Brian Logan

Until 30 August: Box office 0131-557-2827


Brian Logan

The GuardianTramp

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