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Interview: Stephen K. Amos

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Sophy Coombes-Roberts chats to funny man Stephen K Amos ahead of his new tour ‘The Spokesman’.

I could all but laugh when worldwide comedy veteran Stephen K Amos told me he was excited to gig in Exeter next month. A big star in America, Australia, New Zealand and of course right here in the UK, Amos admitted to only having visited the city of Exeter once before.

Naturally, I have promised him a night to remember, when in fact, it is he who will be delivering an unforgettable evening to those in attendance at his show.

His new tour is called ‘The Spokesman’, an anagram of his name. “Not a lot of people spot that” Amos pointed out, “it is very clever of me I think”. He spent the summer testing out his material for the new show at the Edinburgh Fringe “to try and see what sticks - not everything is going to be funny and that’s why you need to go out on a limb and try it, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and if it does then you get that gem of an idea and it’s worth it.” Regardless, he informs me that much of his material did make it into the tour and having seen ‘Work in Progress’ (his Fringe show) in August I predict the full fledged gig will certainly not leave the audience short of laughter.

So how does he write his shows? Strangely enough it differs each time, he tells me: “Sometimes I will sit and be very meticulous about it and do five hours writing and see what happens, and then other times if something comes to me I just write it. Alternatively, I just grab my friends and say can we just have a chat and see what happens; invariably they often come out with the most outrageous things.” Of course Amos is a dab hand at this now having been on the circuit for over ten years, yet he admits it is still “so tempting just to keep rehashing out the same stuff but the point is you need to try and stretch yourself every year in a new show”. Obviously, his die-hard fans love his old sets and Amos seems very aware of that, exclaiming, “What is the point in going out with the same old stuff? I know it works, so it is always a good challenge to try something new”.

Being a global comedian Amos does not just write material to please us Brits, but is a regular performer ‘down under’ and in America. “Lots of audiences are very different,” he explains whilst discussing collating material for his global tours. “What might work really well one night could fall flat on its face the next night, you just have to keep trying and have faith in it, really.” However, the reception his material receives around the globe is essentially the same: we speak the same language, have similar history and all find Stephen’s comedy a hoot.

Nevertheless, things are a little different in the States. He laughs: “When I am over in America the main difference I find is that people tend to scream a lot more.” At this point Amos proceeds to imitate a fanatic shouting after which we both pause for laughter, “and I could do without that, but a reaction is a reaction, right?” He jokes: “the Americans are not used to seeing a British person, let alone a black British person so they always ask: “Oh my gawd, do you know the Queen?” But I just play along with it and usually reply something like: “Of course I know the Queen, I just had breakfast with her last week.”

Over the course of our interview thus far, Stephen has failed to disappoint. He comes across just as he does on the TV: likeable, charming and a really good laugh. I couldn’t help but probe if he was like this all the time, a constant funny man? “I’ve always been a gregarious type of person” he replies, “but I don’t go around being funny twenty-four-seven, how annoying and irritating would that be? The weirdest thing about that is that people think I am funny all the time and expect me to say jokes constantly, so in a social situation where I don’t know that many people I tend not to say anything, because I know if I do they will say: “He’s not funny at all.’”

However, after interviewing the man I find it hard to believe he could disappoint in a conversation, but he hardly seems plagued by the pressures of being amusing: “That must be what it is like to be a doctor; I would hate that. Could you imagine if you were on a flight and someone shouts for a doctor on board? Then you have to stand up and help, but that would never happen to a comedian. I can’t imagine a situation where someone calls “do we have a comedian here? I am in need of laughter.”

Although he might not be stopped on the street to save a life, he does admit to being recognised due to his success. “People usually think I am someone else, which is quite amusing. They stop me, but don’t quite recognise me out of context off the TV or stage so they often ask “did we go to school together” or “are you sure you’re not Regional D Hunter?” Somebody once told me I looked like a black Alan Sugar”. Thankfully I reassured him I couldn’t see the connection, “Exactly!” he responds “We are a different colour and he is Jewish – WOW!”

So on top of touring the world, working on his sitcom, hosting a radio show and being recognised in the street, what does he do to relax in his snippets of free time? “I try and see my friends who just aren’t in comedy in my spare time to try and get a break from it all”. However, he never really pushes comedy completely out of his mind: “I am quite weird as because I always carry around a pen and paper to jot down anything amusing that my friends say so then I can pass it off as my own humorous wit.”

Amos also uses his success to do good. Last year he was asked to do the Great British Bake Off for Comic Relief: “My mum is a massive fan of the show and she told me I had to do it, but I had never baked in my life before… and it showed. Having never made a cake before and being asked to bake a chocolate cake, I was like: “You what?” and when Mary Berry tasted my cake her face said it all, it was the most bitter cake they had ever had on the show.” He also does a number of gigs for charity including the Comedy Store’s 30th Anniversary Comedy Gala. As if that was not enough, Amos tells me he also did an episode of ITV’s game show The Chase for charity a few days ago. Yet without giving anything away he hinted he was not hugely successful on the quiz show saying: “If you need a general knowledge pub quiz team… I am definitely not your man!”

It was never his intention to go into comedy, and after learning how he prepares his material for big gigs I was interested to hear about his first ever time on the stage.

“I don’t think I was very good” he admits, “But at my first ever gig my friends were there, they laughed at my stuff and I thought it was comedy gold. So I did it again, different audience, without my friends and I didn’t get a single laugh.” This is far from uncommon in the world of stand up, but picking yourself up and carrying on is part of the battle. “It was a learning curve; you have to work at these things. I just kept going and thought I am having a laugh, it’s not rocket science or brain surgery, I am just having… and then I got it right, I think.” It surprises me how modest Amos is, considering the fact he has his own sit-com, radio show and sells out tours, but I reassure him that he certainly has got it right.

After he told me his beginnings in comedy, I couldn’t let Stephen go before asking for some expert advice to aspiring student comedians. “I would say find your own voice. Go and watch some comedy, get an idea of what you like, what your friends laugh at and then start writing stuff, book a five minute slot (like I did) and try it out give it a go and what is the worst thing that can happen? They don’t laugh at you? So what?”

This article originally appeared on Exeposé.

Image courtesy of Mines and Money on Flickr

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