Comedian, TV presenter and filmmaker Simon Amstell has spoken exclusively with The Big Issue about his quest for fame and acceptance in a Letter To My Younger Self.
On his new film Benjamin, TV comedy series Grandma’s House, and most of his stand-up to date, he said: “I think everything I have ever done has been an attempt to reach a hand out to my teenage self and tell him he is ok. As a teenager, I found a lot of courage through people on the television being funny or subversive. I felt that in the television there was safety, there was a place where you could be entirely yourself and be celebrated rather than put in prison.
I understood my younger self. A kind of healing happens.
“Whether I am doing stand-up or writing a film, it is trying to figure out what is or was wrong with me,” he continued. “I wrote my new film Benjamin to figure out what happened in my 20s. When I finished, it felt like I had shot my 20s out of me and I understood my younger self. A kind of healing happens.”
He also spoke openly and frankly about his teenage angst over his sexuality. Amstell, 39, said: “I had to lie about who I was between the ages of 13 and 21. Or I felt I did. Because I liked boys. I felt very alone, I didn’t think it was possible to like boys without ruining my entire life.
“I went to Paris on my own when I was 18 to kiss somebody and see if I really did like boys. It is a romantic notion, but didn’t feel like that at the time. It felt like the desperate act of a terrified child. Only recently did I think about how brave that teenager was. But he achieved his mission.”
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As his new film, which stars ex-Merlin actor Colin Morgan in a role based very closely on the writer, opens, Amstell says he has come to terms with his younger self’s single-minded ambition to get ahead in showbusiness – “where equality exists” in the audience for Oprah and Eddie Izzard’s sartorial style bucks societal norms. But he admits fame did not solve all his worries.
Happily, Amstell concludes: “What my younger self would be most thrilled about is that I am creatively free and I have a boyfriend. He would wonder how that is possible: You have a boyfriend, in real life, living with you? Good for you! And he’s hot? He would be really pleased having felt so troubled and ashamed and alone.”
Benjamin is released in cinemas and on digital on March 15.