Simon Amstell On The Irony Of Cancel Culture And Eating Magic Mushrooms
Simon Amstell shot to prominence through Popworld and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and his enduring comedy work has led him to Spirit Hole, his new stand-up tour.
As a comedian and filmmaker, Amstell has had a busy few years. From writing and directing Carnage and Benjamin to his successful stand-up, showcased in Netflix’s Set Free.
With normality on the horizon, Amstell is back with a new show and a focus on sex, love, shame and mushrooms. UNILAD sat down with the comedian, via Zoom, to talk about his Spirit Hole stand-up tour, his travels in South America and his career, which began at the age of 14.
A provocative title like Spirit Hole makes the mind wonder about its meaning, and Amstell explained why he chose the name:
Well, I suppose partly, I thought it sounded quite funny as a name [laughs]. It has a double meaning to me, so one part of it is I think the big hole that we have in this culture is one of spirit. And then the other thing is I went to Peru, drank ayahuasca, and ended up placing my finger in my spirit hole. You’d need to see the show for a full detailed explanation of what I mean exactly there.
Discussing whether we have a spirit hole as a tangible orifice, the comedian explained jokingly, ‘I don’t know if I can go into it. I had a vision of a new orifice opening up, but in the reality of what was actually happening in that Tipi – I did not enter an orifice.’
In this experience, the comic had learnt to surrender, and this would play a part in his approach to lockdown. With this spirit in mind, the comedian added rewrites to Spirit Hole and invested in magic mushrooms. He went on to joke that ‘thanks to the pandemic [Spirit Hole‘s] now even funnier than it would have been. I don’t know if it was worth it… but that’s what happened’.
Given that Amstell has been a comedian and entertainer in one form or another for almost 30 years, it was interesting to discuss the impact of cancel culture on his show.
Contrary to some of his peers, Amstell wasn’t concerned about the term:
The stand-up I do has always been very personal and I think a lot about it. I think about who is in the audience. I am very conscious of wanting to bring joy to the people in the room and anybody who’s watching once it’s shot for Netflix, for example.
I don’t want to upset anyone. The stand-up that I do tends to be very self-deprecating and I’m interested in it being something that heals me and sets me free. I want the audience to feel free of their shame, I don’t want anyone in the audience to feel more constricted or scared to be in the room with me – that’s not what I’m after. For me, [stand-up] hasn’t changed.
The comic added sagely, ‘I think often the people complaining about cancel culture, are doing so very loudly on platforms where they’re allowed to say whatever they want – so I don’t know what the complaint is exactly.’
Thinking about the enduring nature of his comedy, there was a brief conversation about the return of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and whether he had been asked to be involved after his notorious tenure as host. In response, Amstell said cheerily, ‘I’d be up for anything that brings people joy.’ However, when pressed about a potential return, the comedian simply laughed and reaffirmed the answer ‘no’ multiple times.
With that firmly out of his schedule, the comic talked about what lies ahead. He explained, ‘I decided quite a few years ago that I’d like to write and direct a film or some kind of TV project every two-to-three years and do stand-up. That seems to be what’s happening now, I feel really fulfilled doing those two things.’
When asked about another film in the coming years, Amstell wasn’t keen to give too much away but he did say that it would be loosely based on some of his experiences – as Benjamin and Grandma’s House were – but would also focus on a female protagonist in her 30s. The next mission was securing money for the project.
However, Amstell wisely noted that his ability to surrender had allowed him to focus on the present and Spirit Hole. He concluded, ‘I tour till the end of the year, writing other things, all the walls are covered in post-it notes. Hopefully, the film will be next.’
Simon Amstell’s ‘Spirit Hole’ stand-up tour begins September 8. For dates and tickets see www.simonamstell.com
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