“We’re always on the lookout for that moment, to see if we can go with it” – an interview with Stephen K Amos
Stephen K Amos doesn’t wait for work to find him. He’s currently at the Adelaide Fringe, performing six nights a week at the Arts Centre, as part of a three-month Australian tour that includes two nights in Canberra, Melbourne’s International Comedy Festival, a whip around the Tasmanian coast and dates in Hobart, Perth and Sydney. He may be the most successful person I’ve ever spoken to on the phone. If he’s exhausted, I can’t tell. He has the alert tone of a person who either avoids caffeine or is being kept from caffeine, but he’s definitely enthusiastic about being back in Adelaide again: “It’s beautiful, the sun is shining, there’s a heat wave and I swam at the beach for the first time yesterday.”
The bulk of this tour will feature his new show, The Laughter Master, whose Ticketek blurb promises “hilarious tales and stories of finding laughter in this crazy world we inhabit”. To people unfamiliar with the work in question, the preceding sentence might read like one of the most refined non-descriptions of a comedy show ever devised. But Stephen K Amos delivers on this promise in a way that few comics can – he is frequently and consistently hilarious, and his hilarity comes down to actual stories of an actually-crazy world, a world clearly shared by audiences across the globe.
I ask him about his second Festival show in Melbourne, the aptly-named Talk Show, on the 3rd and 10th of April. He describes it as “The kind of show you might see on TV, in a live setting”, featuring “guests from the world of music, theatre and comedy” in an open and unscripted chat format. According to Amos, nothing’s gone “disastrously wrong” yet, but the element of surprise and improvisation is definitely part of Talk Show’s charm. “We’re always on the lookout for that moment,” he says, “To see if we can go with it.”
From what I’ve seen, Amos’ standup is a heady mix of observation, recollection and character work, providing actual stories of “finding laughter” night after night. On stage, he succeeds with a viciously-refined wit and presence of mind, which shifts effortlessly between topics like family, race, international relations and public transport. I ask him about this approach, and what’s changed between The Laughter Master and his Edinburgh debut in 2003.
“Anyone who knows me or who’s been to my shows knows what to expect,” he says, doubling down on his commitment to “finding the funny” in everyday life, especially in the face of “24/7” bad news and “fearmongering”. He makes it clear that his goal is to provide a certain kind of relief or escape to his audience: “If I can take someone out of that for an hour or so, then I’m doing my job”. Later, I manage the faux pas of asking about reviews, and his response is strictly professional: “You’d have to ask that reviewer. I like what I’m doing, and the audiences who come to my shows like what I’m doing, so I don’t read reviews before or after the show, because they’re just one person’s opinion.” In a word, his outlook on himself, his comedy and his audience is “positive”.
And it’s also very persuasive. While there are a hundred and one new vocabularies for talking about comedy today, Amos’ certainty around the subject is refreshing, as is his commitment to numerous and various projects outside of standup. Having taken on theatre, created and directed documentaries and kept up a dazzling array of television and radio appearances – including of course the MICF’s Great Debate, where he made his first impressions on this writer – Stephen K Amos has proven himself time and time again to an international audience.
I ask him what he wouldn’t do, and he points out “I haven’t done reality television yet”. Otherwise, the sky’s the limit. “If the project excites me,” he says, “I’ll keep saying ‘yes’ until I’m dead behind the eyes.”
‘The Laughter Master’ is currently showing at the Adelaide Arts Centre until the 14th of March, and heading to Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre from March 24th – April 10th.
‘Talk Show’ will be showing at the Melbourne Town Hall on April 3rd and April 10th.
A full list of dates can be found at http://stephenkamos.com/live.html.