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on Wed, 19 Dec 2018
A combination of quality material and an effortless ability to strike all the right notes with his audience has made Stephen K Amos one of the UK’s best-loved comedians. His current success is a far cry from his early years in the business, when opportunities for black comics were few and far between and Stephen would joke that his only chance of working on TV would be if Lenny Henry died. What’s On caught up with the London-born comedian ahead of his late-month appearance in Coventry...
There’s good reason why Stephen K Amos is considered a seriously feelgood comedian. His years of touring the nation with crowd-pleasing shows have seen him build up a loyal fanbase who know that he’ll provide them with an evening of non-stop laughter.
With his new show, Bouquets And Brickbats, Stephen is promising the usual quota of gags and funny stories, but on this occasion he’s also being contemplative about the universe.
“I picked that title because the last 18 months have been awful, both personally and for the world at large. Some things are so joyful on one hand, and on the other, so devastating. So I was trying to find a way of saying that some days are rosy and other days are downright shitty.”
Across 2017 and ’18, Stephen has lost both his mother and his twin sister, and working through this sadness has given his comedy a different perspective. “I never thought I could do something like this, as my whole thing has been to keep them laughing and not to hold the silence. But I’ve now found out that it’s more powerful to hold the silence. That whole thing about losing people and death is a bit in the show where there’s a silence in the room and you can hear a penny drop. For me, that’s a bit weird.”
Not only is Stephen a highly popular stand-up, he’s also a potent social commentator, a fact he’s proved across the years with touring shows like The Spokesman and World Famous, his award-winning Channel Four documentary Batty Man, and radio programmes such as What Does The K Stand For? You can rest assured that he will be looking to tap into the issues of the day during this latest tour, albeit in his own distinctive style. “I don’t want people to sigh when I mention the likes of Trump and Brexit, but I try to tackle them by using another example of something just as ridiculous. But I don’t mention any names and will try to do it in a subtle way. At the beginning of a tour, I start off with a script, but it changes depending on world events and my own mood. Things are constantly happening.”
One thing that Stephen most certainly won’t be doing is shouting down the opinions of anyone in his audience. He knows full well that there will be people coming to his shows from both sides of the EU referendum debate, and he’s more than willing to hear their viewpoints. Not all current comedians are of the same mindset, though.
“I was doing a late-night show in Edinburgh with a mixed line-up, and a very well-respected comic slammed down a woman who admitted that she’d voted for Brexit. I thought that wasn’t very fair because people are entitled to their own opinions - and instead of tackling this in a creative way, he’d just slagged her off and probably made sure that she’d never admit to anything like that again in any situation. I think we should be able to sit down and discuss things in an adult way. When it descends into abuse, you’ve lost the argument.”
In this fractured world, how does Stephen stay positive? “I get my positivity from human beings. Something good happens on a daily basis: a text from someone, a stranger doing something nice for you on the street, or someone just saying something positive. We all have a story to tell; you might see a façade, but you never know what’s going on inside a person. Sometimes people have come up to me after this show with tears in their eyes or wearing a badge for breast cancer or something, and it’s about being touched by other people’s stories. I haven’t really had time to stop, take stock and think. It’s all about going out there and listening to people’s laughter or their reactions to what I’m saying. At one show, one lad felt confident about being out and proud at the age of 15 - something I couldn’t have done. Those moments make it all worthwhile.”
As well as making people laugh in the live arena, Stephen also has his own podcast, The Stephen K Amos Talk Show, the first series of which came out on Audible in August and reached number one in Australia. A second series should be available sometime during the tour. Meanwhile, he has plans to spend a few months working in the US during 2019. “I think this is the right time to go to America, as Brits are doing very well out there - the likes of James Corden, John Oliver, Gina Yashere and Idris Elba.”
For now, though, Stephen is very much looking forward to getting out and about in the UK and meeting his fans. “I love touring, and I’m very grateful that people still want to come out and see me because I don’t do that much on TV these days. I try to mix it up and go to venues and cities and towns that I haven’t been to before, or I’ll go back to places and play bigger venues. Travelling around does give you an idea of the mood of the nation. Live comedy is thriving, and people are coming out to see lots of different kinds of comedy. It’s great that people are prepared to listen to a person on stage saying whatever they like. That’s one of the beautiful things about this job. Unlike television, radio or newspaper print, I can literally say whatever I want.”
Stephen K Amos plays Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on Saturday 26 January