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I ENDED UP TAKING ALL OF MY CLOTHES OFF; Simon Amstell is over-sharing in his first Netflix comedy special. He talks to Gemma Dunn about his insecurities, his sexuality and his psychedelic epiphany in the Amazon.

ALL Simon Amstell has ever wanted is to make an impact. Family, friends, strangers, a jeering studio audience: "It's been all of my training since the age of 13," he declares. "How do I impress people? "Oh OK, let's learn to juggle. Magic? Let's try stand-up comedy. Oh, that seems to be going quite well. OK I'll be funny. I'm safe if I'm funny," he lists, not pausing for breath. "But then a sadness develops..."

"There were times," he recalls, "when I was standing on stage annoyed that people were laughing because I thought, 'I should just be able to stand here and not be funny, and you should laugh anyway!"' Growing up in a Jewish family in London, Simon began performing on the comedy circuit in his early teens, before making waves as the youngest finalist to appear in the BBC New Comedy Awards.

But it was his subsequent TV career that would propel him to new heights with a job first on Nickelodeon (before he was sacked for, in his own words: "Being sarcastic and mean to children") and soon after, Popworld, where he quickly garnered a Marmite reputation due to his off-beat presenting style.

It was that same trademark wit that landed him the host's job on hit panel show Never Mind The Buzzcocks in 2006.

That was more than a decade ago. And having suffered with depression and anxiety since, it's only now - on the cusp of turning 40 - that he's at his happiest.

His latest work: Simon Amstell: Set Free, is his first original comedy special for Netflix.

An amalgamation of his What is This? Tour and his previous show, To Be Free, the stand-up performance is billed as a personal exploration of mental health, masculinity, sexuality, love and the journey to finding peace.

It was a chance for Simon - who hid his sexuality for years - to finally tell his truth.

"The harder thing is to lie," he explains. "To wear a mask the whole time and to pretend to be somebody else, and to pretend not to have these feelings. To pretend not to feel sad or embarrassed or ashamed."

ON THE SMALL SCREEN " "The whole point of this show for me is saying the thing that I feel most ashamed of, out loud, because then the shame can't breathe anymore," he reasons.

"If you want to be free, you have to tell the truth."

Simon credits an ayahuasca-led epiphany in the Amazon rainforest for granting him this newfound freedom.

"What's funny is that I drank ayahuasca (a psychedelic fungus) seven years ago," he remembers, "but when I wrote and performed the show before drinking it again recently set free. And now I'm even freer!

"I let go of a lot of absurd insecurities and it was great," he adds.

"I ended up in a ceremony, taking all my clothes off, and dancing like an absolute lunatic.

"The shamans found it very amusing."

Does he hope his show will empower others? "The truthful answer is that I'm not really motivated by helping anyone - I'm not actually motivated by anything," admits Simon, who's also seen success with sitcom Grandma's House, and the release of his critically acclaimed feature film debut, Benjamin, about a young film-maker who finds love.

"I was a very motivated child, and he got quite a long way with those goals. Now I feel myself guided by pure inspiration.

"So, in a small way, when I'm on stage, I don't have an aim for a kind of show, but I see what comes up and I go with it. I just follow my spirit - and that leads to funniness," he explains.

"I guess I'm looking at, 'How can I heal myself?' And then, when it resonates with people, that's a really lovely bonus."

What does his family think of his compulsion to reveal all on stage? "My mum came to the live show - my dad is yet to see it," says Simon, who has spoken of the difficulty he faced coming out to his father.

As for his boyfriend: "It's really freed us both," says Simon. "It's only the truth, it's not over-sharing from my perspective."

"For me, in this country, we don't over-share, we under-share," he states. "So all I'm doing is redressing the balance."

| Simon Amstell: Set Free launches on Netflix on Tuesday. Benjamin is available on DVD now
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Aug 16, 2019
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