Comedian Simon Amstell on the book that changed everything

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Stylist Team
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five minute philosopher interview

Five Minute Philosopher is a weekly series in which Stylist gets profound with people we love. What will the comedian and filmmaker make of our existential questions? 

What is the meaning of life?

In Peru a few years ago, I had a vision induced by ayahuasca [a hallucinogenic drink] of a gorilla who told me it was joy. So I wrote the word ‘joy’ in my notebook. I now try to do everything for the pure joy of doing it, rather than for any hunger to get somewhere else.

What is the difference between right and wrong?

I think you can feel it. A while ago I asked a lawyer friend if we’d eventually get to a point where laws were unnecessary and he said ‘no’.

Where is your happy place?

I’m really just happy to be alive. But London.

Nature or nurture?

Both. And if nothing exists outside of nature, then nurture is also nature.

Is it more important to be liked or respected?

If you focus too much on being liked or respected, it will be difficult for people to like or respect you.

If you could be remembered for one thing what would it be?

I just directed a film called Benjamin. I think if people could watch Benjamin and then remember it, that would be great. Benjamin is about a young filmmaker, desperately seeking love from an audience when what he really needs is to fall in love with a beautiful singer called Noah.

Who or what is your greatest love?

I think this is too personal for a questionnaire-based interview in a magazine.

When did you last lie?

I can’t lie.

Does the supernatural exist?

I think nature is super enough. Have you ever seen a squirrel?

Are you fatalistic?

I think I may be a determinist.

What is your greatest fear?

Regret. And climate change.

Animals or babies?

Babies are animals.

What talent do you yearn for?

I’d really like to be able to play the piano.

Do you like to be complimented?

I liked it when I was a child and then I became quite anxious about it and now I’m fine again.

Do you have a high pain threshold?

I’m very sensitive.


James Righton, Simon Amstell and Keira Knightley at the Benjamin world premiere

What book do you recommend most to others?

I couldn’t finish writing the screenplay for Benjamin and then a friend recommended The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. If you’re feeling creatively blocked or sad about your terrible life, this book will change everything. Good luck.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?

Forgiveness was quite hard. I eventually realised that people who cause you pain are also in pain. What they’re doing isn’t the truth of who they are, it’s their own unprocessed trauma.

What food sums up happiness?

I think that this is too much pressure to place on food.

What have you never understood?

The idea that time is an illusion. I think it is though.

What is the one thing you want to know before you die?

The cure?

Are you scared of dying or what happens when you die?

I’m mostly scared of not living enough and then dying.

Quinoa or Quavers?


Benjamin is in cinemas and available to download on iTunes from 15 March

Images: PR Shots / Getty