我知道很多人关注Simon是因为Ben Whishaw。很长一段时间我都不喜欢任何人提到Simon的时候总是要说到Ben（就像不喜欢一说Rafa Nadal就一定要提到Roger Federer（白眼）），而且他们都各自有自己稳定的感情了，再说总是有点尴尬。所以Help里Simon把那么私人的细节说出来我还蛮惊讶的。
I did fall in love about five years ago but with somebody I invented, which isn’t ideal. He was based on somebody who existed but because I had such low self-esteem, I took every negative attribute I felt about myself, converted those into positive attributes and projected those onto him. Thus he would heal me and complete me in my life. Initially, I just liked him because he was really thin. I really like that, like thinner than me, ill thin. I don’t know why I like that, I just like the idea I could go on a date with someone and it could be their last date.
I’ve realised my type is me but better, which I think is OK, I just need to find somebody who wants himself but much, much worse.
I went to see him in this play … and he was really vulnerable on stage. Weeks had been building up to this moment and all I could manage when I saw him at the party was a kind of polite nod and I don’t know if he saw it, he didn’t nod back, and then I felt awkward about approaching him at all.
An hour went past and I couldn’t approach him and then I saw him leave, I saw him leave the theatre, his rucksack on his back, his little beanie hat on his head, and as he got further and further away, it became harder and harder to move … And he was gone. Gone. Three weeks go by of sadness, pain, regret, I’ve turned him into the only person I can possibly be with in my life.
A lot of it was ego. I just felt like he was going to become a great actor, he could make people cry and I could become a great comedian and make people laugh and if we were together we could be like a two-man Robin Williams. All the talent of Robin Williams but in two separate, thin men.
I didn’t know how I was going to meet him again and then I was in a shop in Covent Garden that sells vintage clothing and he was there in the shop. I felt in that moment that God had brought us together. I don’t feel that now so much because it feels like the thought of a deluded moron.
I’m not an atheist. I’m a big fan of Jesus Christ, there’s nobody more thin and vulnerable than Jesus Christ.
The actor was in that shop at the same time as me and I don’t believe in coincidence. Coincidence is a word we invented for something we don’t quite understand yet. I read a book called Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. On the cover of this book is a blue feather because the character/author of this book believes in the philosophy ‘thinking makes it so, we create our own reality’. He tests this by visualising a blue feather in his fingers, he believes … that everything has already been achieved, time is an illusion, so if he feels he has the blue feather already, it will come to him because there is nothing opposing that idea. Later in the book the blue feather appears. I tested this myself with a white feather; I thought I had the white feather in my fingers, not that I needed the white feather or desired the white feather, it had already been achieved. Later I was at a picnic, I put my hand in a packet of crisps, which is something I wouldn’t normally do, I pulled out a crisp with a white feather on, which is disgusting.
But there he was in the shop and I don’t know how you feel, maybe he walked into that shop at the same time as me with his own legs. No, I put him in that shop with my God mind.
Now some people will say, ‘If we do create our own reality, what about the Holocaust, what about things like child abuse, do they create that in their world?’ And the thing that you need to understand about that is: ‘shh’.
In an ideal world I would have been able to go up to him and just say, ‘Hey, how are you? I saw your play the other week, it was great.’
‘Oh, thank you, of course, I remember the nod … Why are you crying?’
‘I have too many sinks.’
Here’s what actually happened. I saw him there, he hadn’t seen me, I was standing about a metre away from him. And what I thought would be really cool and seductive would be to just stand in the middle of the shop, and shout his full name.
He turned round, alarmed – I could see the terror in his eyes – but because I started at a certain volume I thought it would be too odd to get any quieter. So I was then just shouting at him about the good reviews his play had and he says, ‘Oh, I don’t read reviews.’ And he’s all timid and vulnerable, which is why I love him!
And I think the difference between us – because I think we were both quite shy as children, I say ‘I think’, I did a lot of research on him – he retained that shyness and it made him beautiful and sensitive and I decided shyness was something to be overcome … He went to a really good acting school in London where he was taught to nourish his sensitivity and nurture his vulnerability and that’s what makes him a great actor. I went to a Saturday-morning stage school in Essex where we were taught that whether we were singing, dancing or acting, just do it loud. So I didn’t become good at any of those things, but when I danced, people heard.
But now I was in London, talking to this actor and I suggested this club on a Monday night which he hadn’t heard of. Which meant that I could say, ‘Well, I’ll email you the details’ – that casual.
He then said, ‘OK.’ I had his email address, he gave me his email address … I went home and composed the most beautiful, funny little email – six friends confirmed it was a beautiful, funny email. I pressed ‘send’ and this is very much the end of the story. He never emailed back.
All this self-hate led me to think that if I couldn’t have the actor, I would have to become him. I began taking acting lessons, went to see many plays (not all of them starring him) and co-wrote a BBC2 sitcom called Grandma’s House, in which I played a disillusioned TV presenter seeking a more meaningful life as an actor, as well as the love of a semi-fictional actor.
MUM: Do you want to be with him or sleep with him?
SIMON: Both, that’s normal, isn’t it?
Grandma’s House, 2011
At the same time, I continued to stalk the actor, just in case he changed his mind. A friend of mine was in a play upstairs at the Royal Court and he was in the play downstairs, or it could have been the other way round. Downstairs is the bigger space, but as an actor of such integrity, he would have been drawn to the material rather than the size of the room.
I remember exactly what I wore the first time we met again. I went for clothes that I thought he would have worn – a thin green jumper over a lightweight shirt with grey trousers. My hair had never looked so curly or delicious and knowing that I couldn’t possibly look any better than I did made his indifference quite tricky to accept.
When both plays were finished, I spotted him in the bar and found the courage to ask him how the play had gone and if he wanted to find somewhere to sit. We found a quiet corner and I then spent the next hour trying to appear to be the most calm, sensitive and connected version of myself that anyone had ever experienced. I was not, in any way, funny. I didn’t know how to be, I couldn’t tease him about anything because I thought he was perfect. How do you make an angel laugh?
So I spent all my energy trying to appear as pure and mysterious as him. I thought if I could do a really good impression of him, then surely he would like me. Writing this now, I realise he could have had his own self-esteem issues and therefore found meeting himself quite upsetting.
I asked him, as someone so good at acting, if he could give me some acting advice, which was an odd combination of intense flirting and genuine need for advice.
‘How does acting work?’
‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘it’s just sort of magic’, which I found incredibly appealing and totally useless.
I should have remembered what my mum used to say to me, about how ‘you can be or do anything you want to do in this life because everyone you see on TV or in films, they are all shit’. She used to say that a lot. She would point at the television and say, ‘Shit comes out of them; you’ll be a star!’
Maybe it’s difficult not to have low self-esteem if you’re born in a Kingdom. I wrote this next bit of stand-up as a way of expressing how ridiculous I think it is that we still have a monarchy, but I think it’s really about me feeling like a peasant.
We have a Queen in this country, and not in the past.
I suppose what’s fascinating about her is she doesn’t seem to be embarrassed! She walks into rooms, there are trumpets – if that was me I’d say, ‘No you mustn’t, it’s ridiculous.’ But she stands there, and she thinks, Yes, this is appropriate.
And then people sing ‘God Save the Queen’ … like she’s more important than them … If there’s going to be a song it should be something like: ‘[sings] we’re all basically the same thing – blood comes out of us and shit and there’s sexual fluids and there’s phlegm and there’s snot …’ Somebody would have to write it, but that sort of thing.
People love her. I think I preferred it when we thought she’d murdered Diana. I’m really just worried for her, you know, because she’s a person and there must be so much denial in her life. Every morning she must wake up, do a shit, and for the rest of the day have to pretend that that didn’t happen. Because if she accepts that she’s just a person who does a shit, those trumpets are going to start to sound sarcastic.
to be free
Meanwhile, the lady teaching me to act must have become frustrated by how defended I was. I refused to let her in, even though I was paying for the sessions and desperate to be broken down, to be present, to be able to feel something real. She suggested I spend a month at Phillipe Gaulier’s clown school in Paris, so I could let go of my inhibitions and free my vulnerable, inner clown.
On the first day, Gaulier asked us to stand up, say our names and what we did for a living. I thought, Well, this is going to go quite well, I’ll say, ‘I’m Simon and I’m a stand-up comedian.’ And he’ll say, ‘How wonderful, we have a professional in the room.’
Instead, he said in the most appalled French accent, ‘Ugh stand-up comedy, so you say a funny thing and everybody thinks it is so funny that you have said something funny, there’s nothing more disgusting than stand-up comedy!’
Once the introductions were complete, we spent the whole month performing in exercises designed to strip away context, so that we were forced to be funny in some pure, childlike way. A performer has to have some vulnerability and joy or they stink. Gaulier had a drum and every time he thought someone was being too boring or disgusting he’d bang it and then take a vote on whether anyone would mind if the person on stage was eaten by a shark.
In one exercise, I was paired up with an Australian girl called Tessa. Gaulier said, ‘Here is the scene. You are circus performers and the lions have eaten the lion tamer, so there is no lion show today. You have to fill for twenty minutes.’
I wasn’t sure what to do but Tessa started saying ‘ragghh I am a lion’ and jumped around the room. I completely froze. All I could think was, Tessa is not a lion.
So I decided to ignore her and announced, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the lions are not available …’ Gaulier banged his drum. He said, ‘No talking!’ and I didn’t know what else I could do. Tessa carried on being a lion and I couldn’t join in. Gaulier banged his drum again and said, ‘Tessa, I want you to hit Simon until he is funny.’
I thought, OK, at least this a new scene with some context – Tessa will do some play-fighting and I’ll be able to respond in some funny way. But she hit me, hard. I screamed in pain and everyone laughed. I thought, I’m in a lot of pain, but my vulnerability is getting laughs. And then Gaulier banged his drum, and said, ‘Very good, but Simon, you know, these laughs are not for you, they are for Tessa’s joy in hitting you.’
A few years later, a week after the first series of Grandma’s House was broadcast on BBC2, I spotted the actor who I’d based one of the characters on, standing outside Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Instant terror and excitement. Apparently we’d both booked tickets for the same contemporary dance show on the same night and yet, somehow, we still weren’t living together discussing art.
I thought I would casually go up to him and try to bring up the sitcom in a way that suggested I was clearly over him but had used all these ridiculous former feelings to create something beautiful. I wondered how he’d feel about me now. He hadn’t been that fussed about me as a TV presenter but now I was a proper comedian, a sort of actor and a writer who had written things about him.
I approached cautiously, said ‘hello’ in a way that suggested I was someone completely at peace with himself. He said ‘hello’ in a way that was hard to read.
I said, ‘I think I should maybe apologise to you.’
He said, with genuine sensitivity and concern, ‘Oh, what for?’
I replied, ‘I sort of fictionalised you in something that was just on TV.’
He looked a bit confused and then said, ‘Oh, I think I heard about that.’
He’d heard about it. He hadn’t watched it? I thought, What do I have to do to get your fucking attention?
I actually felt quite good that evening. I was on a date with someone I was really falling for and as we watched the show, I was incredibly happy to be with him, perhaps even happier than I would have ever been with this ethereal actor person.
Six months later, that relationship ended and he went on to write a beautiful album. I listened to it, thinking, I imagine a few of these songs will be about me. None of them. You mustn’t date a singer-songwriter. Date a plumber, then you don’t know who they’re dedicating their piping to.
I want someone to write about me. Why can’t someone else write a book connecting all these bits of stand-up and deconstruct who I am? It’s so undignified to be sat here doing it myself.
Maybe the worst moment was seeing a photograph of my ex online, hugging the actor who had also rejected me.
I put my hands over my face. I wasn’t in the picture. I was sat in my flat alone and there was no way either of them were saying, ‘How’s Simon?’
A year later, the actor was in another play at the Royal Court. So I thought I’d give myself one more go at making him love me. I felt I’d written and performed all the insanity out of my head and was now ready for something real. I believed this because it would have been unbearable to accept that after all that transformative, healing comedy, I was still the same lunatic.
I found him in the bar and we got talking again. I felt more relaxed than I ever had with him and l wasn’t pretending this time, I was actually relaxed, though I was also very impressed with how relaxed I was, so I can’t have been that relaxed.
We must have sat talking for around an hour, and it was actually a really grounded, relationship-building conversation. The only moment of panic came when he told me that he’d seen a photo of me as a little boy somewhere, which he thought could have been him. The sudden lack of distance between us was too much for me. I started ranting about what a brilliant, sensitive child he must have been and what a stage-school maniac I was. He offered me a moment of connection and I couldn’t receive it. And then he revealed he was very happy with a boyfriend. A composer. I thought, OK, Simon, we tried our best, he’s happy, it’s enough now, he’s with a composer, we can’t beat that. Can he juggle?
He also told me he couldn’t email me back all those years ago for reasons more complicated and personal than anything to do with me being less brilliant than him. He hadn’t rejected me. I put on my coat, we hugged goodbye and I went to the toilet feeling relieved it was over. As I walked out of the toilet, feeling a real sense of completion, he walked in, which I wasn’t expecting. We’d had our hug goodbye and I didn’t know what else to say, so I said, ‘Composer, huh?’