Simon Amstell’s stand-up weaves together stories of anxiety and insecurity with grains of wisdom which are always astute, always funny. His new show, What is this?, settles on the latter.

Brighton Dome was packed with loyal Amstell fans who enthusiastically agreed when he said close to the start of the set: “you remember the lonely years?” 

Six years into a relationship, likely longer in therapy and after having experimented with all manner of drugs and spiritual experiences, Amstell is out of “the lonely years” but still has many stories of how he edged out of them punctuated, as always, by astute observations about human suffering. 

The tone of What is this? is set by Amstell’s proclamation: “we don’t die quick enough!” It’s clear from the outset he still mulls over the futility of life and a sense of bleakness still abounds. 

This is a show structured around stories of self-analysis starting with his coming out story, in which the repeated refrain “oh yes, gay”, is comedic yet, with the hindsight of all these years, self-affirming. He recounts his struggles with his parents and newfound discovery that he needn’t perform or “tell these stories so well” either in therapy or with his boyfriend, amongst many other anecdotes.

What is this? explores with humour and plenty of insight not just what life is all about for Amstell today but what we’re all doing here. He jokes towards the end about a fleeting desire at a party to tell someone to let go of the pain, guru-like – but the truth is there’s something of the alternative therapist to him now, healing himself through comedy but also clearly telling us to laugh in the face of the pain which he sees in life.

Freya Marshall Payne