Simon Amstell’s new Netflix special is a tender, sincere exploration of the self. The set is both belligerently honest while also being filled with comedy that succeeds in being humorous without being cruelly self-mocking.
In his set, Amstell opens up about his relationship with his father and his struggle coming to terms with his sexuality. He shares intimate details of his previous romantic relations and uses his therapy sessions as a source of humor.
In discussing these personal topics, Amstell is not making light of his struggles. Instead, he demonstrates that personal turmoil and mental health battles are not taboo topics. They can be discussed as openly as any other source of material.
Set Free is ultimately a triumph for confessional comedy. It is enormously introspective and Amstell is unafraid to appear venerable in front of an audience. He tells a room full of strangers that he has intimacy issues and that he harbors resentment for his father’s difficulty accepting him as a gay man.
When the audience laughs, it is not out of a sense of awkwardness or shock that Amstell is being so open about such personal issues. Amstell instead invites the audience to laugh with him at the silliness of some of the situations he has gotten into. He shares stories of sex parties and his post-MDMA poos, innocently confessing to his most debaucherous acts.
By turning his pain into comedic material, Amstell takes the bad parts of his life and recycles them into something that can be shared and enjoyed by a room full of people. This is not him pretending the pain didn’t matter, it’s a way of breaking boundaries and transforming the past into something more powerful.
It’s the kind of comedy that reassures any young men in the audience that may also be confused about their sexuality – that it’s OK. There is no shame in these situations and they are not exempt from humor. Laughter brings people together.
And so, overall, Simon Amstell once again has created masterful comedy, which breaks down boundaries and gives the audience something to take away and to think about later. He challenges the audience to think about their own experiences and to deeply question what it means to be alive.