What Is This?


Recently I found myself in the fourth row of the extremely small Berkeley Downstairs Theatre. A mere 18 hours earlier I had been scrolling through Instagram when I saw that one of my favourite comedians of all time, Simon Amstell, was dropping by Toronto to perform his latest standup routine, What Is This. The UK comedian had been in New York for the last month or so but for whatever reason decided to bring his show to Toronto for one night only. I bought a ticket immediately.

The next night I was thrilled. Amstell would be less than 20 feet away from me making a crowd of under 250 people laugh. The experience was amazing. I didn’t care that I was there alone. I could tell there were a lot of other people around me who had also decided to come alone, probably because of the last minute notice of the show. What amazed me the most was how Amstell managed to have the crowd laughing while talking about some of his most sensitive moments growing up. From feeling unsure of how to explore his life as a young gay man to his frustration that his dad finally made positive changes in his life (“I spent years in therapy learning to accept he wouldn’t change. I’ll never get that money back!”) to realizing that sometimes even life gurus are full of shit, Amstell had everyone in the audience howling with laughter.

But what stuck with me most was a portion of the show in which Amstell talked about the desperate feeling of wishing we could redo parts of our history. There are endless what ifs and fantasizing about what could have been. We all do it but I feel like it’s the kind of thing that really affects me. I’m always wondering what my life would be like if I had taken different paths. So in that moment, when Amstell was standing just a few feet from me and saying quietly and calmly that “wishing we could change the past is just another form of self hate” I paused. I felt what he was saying. And while I still struggle with wondering about how my life could be different, I am trying more and more to push those thoughts away and instead concentrate on the present and immediate future. For me, Amstell is a living example of what can happen when you finally cut away all the bullshit and learn to love yourself. While his anxiety and neurosis had made for great standup material, over time Amstell knew that he needed to change his life so that he could find peace, find a relationship, and learn to be happy. I feel as if I’m still in the very early stages of my own journey but watching Amstell that night made me feel reassured that even the most brilliant people have issues. And more importantly, they work through them. From now on, whenever I’m feeling down about where my life is right now and how it could be different, I will think of Simon Amstell, standing feet away from me, making me laugh while convincing me that everything will be okay.

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