Review: The Laughter Master

Stephen K Amos’ thoughts on social media etiquette, paraphrased: “Wow this is all pretty full on, can’t we all just calm down and talk to one another like people?” This is a laudable yet vaguely uninteresting take on the subject, which does seem to account for and exhaust the centerpiece question of Amos’ The Laughter Master: “Is it all just doom and gloom in the headlines?” If this is how you choose to put the latter question, then I can happily report that for Amos, it is not all doom and gloom, and there are huge laughs to be had at this year’s show.

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My concern is that those laughs don’t really come from the show’s central conceit, even though that conceit is as broad as “hilarious tales and stories of finding laughter in this crazy world we inhabit”. If I’m leaning too hard on the show’s press release – in my interview I described it as “one of the most refined non-descriptions of a comedy show ever devised” – it’s because without it, I have virtually no basis on which to distinguish this year’s offering from any other Stephen K Amos show. Think of it this way: how would you convince someone who hadn’t heard of Stephen K Amos to check him out this year, off of that show concept?

Having been a fan of his for some time, and having seen The Laughter Master, my dilemma’s only gotten worse. Do Stephen K Amos shows have central conceits? Do they need them? Does his audience give a shit one way or the other? And given that I do give a shit, am I not the intended audience for this sort of comedy?

I hope that I am, because I was consistently laughing throughout the show. Cynicism aside, Amos is one of Britain’s most gifted comedic performers, and he brings a warmth and enthusiasm to his material that is uplifting. Earnestness aside, Amos is also one of the sharpest wits in the business, and has consistently dismantled stupidity wherever he’s found it – the best parts of the The Laughter Master take up idiocies like racial prejudice, Aussie parochialism, and commercial breakfast television, among others. And though he certainly slips into the role of lecturer at times (he is not a fan of punters dropping things or eating chips during the show), Amos’ comedy is not really didactic – that is, it doesn’t really depend on the audience arriving at some kind of sophisticated ‘point’ about the world.

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In other words, all this rambling might just be coming from someone who is used to reviewing smaller acts, where the show concepts are way more refined and targeted to particular audiences. This is a lot easier for reviewers, I think, because it helps us review the show on its own terms. But when the terms have been so broadened that they basically read “COMEDY!!!”, it’s difficult to disagree – or, for that matter, to agree, assess or extrapolate.

On the other hand, if you’re sick of comedy with a definitive ‘message’, ‘concept’ or ‘point’ – or if you’re sick of reviewers disappearing up their own rhetoric to find said point – then I think you’ll love The Laughter Master, and encourage you to check it out.

 

The Laughter Master is on at the Athenaeum every night (except Mondays) from now until the 10th of April. Alternately, you can catch Stephen’s award-winning Talk Show on the 3rd and 10th of April, though be quick as this one may sell out. Tickets are available online or at the Athenaeum box office.

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Mitch Cunningham

Mitch Cunningham is a Melbourne-based writer and academic, currently completing a PhD on the short fictions of David Foster Wallace. Mitch enjoys alt comedy, psychoanalysis and David Lynch, and also writes songs in the band Martians of Error.

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