It’s easy to slag off a show that’s just won an award, just to look a bit clever, but I genuinely think this show is rubbish. I watched it looking around me and wondering what I was missing. I suspect it comes down to that ineffable thing about whether you find someone intrinsically funny or not. When you do, you question nothing; when you don’t, you question everything.
For the uninitiated, Sam Simmons is a moustachioed Australian comic who does pumped-up, semi-absurdist comedy with little ditties in it and a fair bit of shouting. His new show is, in the main part, a list of “Things that shit me”, making it more like observational comedy with absurdist dressing. It won the Fosters Comedy Award for best show, and got a bunch of 5-star reviews.
Since he arrived on the British scene in 2011, and was nominated for Best Show, I’ve never really grasped Simmons’ appeal. His shows seemed to me to be a hotch-potch of things that Nick Helm, Harry Hill and Tim Key do much better. Then last year’s show, Death of a Sailsman, was much better, benefiting greatly from him having an actual story to tell. I wondered whether his award-winner might tip me over into being a fully-fledged Simmons fan, instead I’m back to square one.
Personally I found it a confused splurge of the aimless and the careless. Some of the writing is sloppy and the jokes old. On the list of things that shit him are the difficulty of opening plastic bags, discovering your first grey pubic hair, and the awkwardness of doing chip and pin – this is hack material, plain and simple, regardless of whether he’s performing it in an unconventional style. Then he has the cheek to go on a rant about how he can’t do mainstream comedy and positions himself against “Russell” comedians (something Stewart Lee does better, and with more justification).
Some of the “Things that shit me” don’t even work. “The first time I tried an olive as a child” maybe at a stretch, but there are things like “my impression of a small shy guy” – which isn’t something that shits him, just a set-up for him to do an impression of a small shy guy, which is quite amusing in itself, but what’s it got to do with anything? Like I say, I wouldn’t question these things if I found Simmons intrinsically funny from the get-go, but even so, you’d expect such an acclaimed show to stand up to the mildest scrutiny. Instead the show feels to me like a random parade of unrelated skits and observations and stunts, with the odd call-back to give the illusion of structure. An emotional, personal revelation is tacked on at the end, despite his insistence that it’s not an emotional, personal revelation tacked on at the end.
In fact, that’s something that shits me – Simmons’ constant commentary on what’s just happened or what’s just about to happen. This sort of thing is pretty trendy at the moment, but here it adds absolutely nothing. It makes the show feel saggy, like a rehearsal. Part of this ongoing commentary is Simmons pretending that half the audience hates him, when quite obviously most people are laughing. He confects the idea that people find him too weird, too shocking. This show is neither of these things. No one who’s genuinely weird bangs on repeatedly and loudly about how weird they are. And I’d be surprised if many people thought he was especially out-there anyway – Soho Theatre and the Edinburgh Fringe are hardly conservative arenas for comedy. Simmons has picked imaginary fights in every show I’ve seen of his and it’s got pretty boring now. It only works (for me) if there’s any vague truth in it.
That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy any of the show. Some of his list of things are carried off very funnily, and he is a hugely likeable performer. You couldn’t fail to be on his side, egging him on in his breakdown – he’s the good guy who doesn’t give a fuck anymore, and that makes it pretty cathartic to watch. Another big part of his humour is how deadly serious he is, and how committed he is to whatever he’s doing.
But ultimately, I found this show to be substance-less, and I’m completely baffled by its appeal. That happens sometimes.
Review written by Paul Fleckney