Just days after returning from six weeks “doing stuff in Europe”, stand-up Stephen K Amos talks scary times, James Bond and his new live show with Sam Bennett
So Stephen, have events in the UK and beyond, these past couple of years, reminded you of why comedy exists?
I think it’s fair to say they do. Everyone can see what is going on in the world, and there seems to be a very strong division down the middle; left/right, Brexit, Trump, all sorts of things. And I think we can all make our own fun observations about it, but it’s prime season for any decent comic to make observations that people don’t necessarily see themselves and to make light of the situation.
Do you ever feel frightened or concerned as a black, gay man in a Britain people are currently calling divided?
I do feel somewhat threatened because I think any minority has a right to dignity, and we live in an era where people are free to say whatever they like on social media without having to qualify what they’ve said. And there is a lot of misinformation out there – we live in a scary time. I’m quite thankful that when I was finding out who I was, I wasn’t living in this particular era.
What are your strongest memories of growing up in eighties London?
I think eighties London was going through a fashion and music boom – London was really put on the map. I seem to recall my love for the music scene, and it was quite diverse just coming off the back of the late seventies which musically and culturally had a lot of crossover in terms of white, black and race relations. It was quite an exciting time.
Do such memories continue to inform your comedy?
They do – you compare what was going on when you were a youth to what’s happening right now. There are obviously leaps and strides in terms of technology but not necessarily in learning the lessons of the past. There’s a whole new thing now where people talk about how “the world’s gone too PC”, whereas back in the day you could literally say what you wanted. But that wasn’t necessarily a good thing; it just means that nowadays other people have a voice and they’re fighting back.
Your new stand-up show is called Bouquets and Brickbats – talk me through the title (which you can probably pronounce better than I just did).
It’s a tongue twister, isn’t it? It’s yin and yang for me; it’s the good things and then the bad things. We raise a glass, and receive flowers and bouquets on great, special occasions, and then get tall poppy syndrome where the brickbat is sent to knock you down. I’ve sort of mirrored my own life and what’s happened to me personally as well in the last two years.
Does what’s happened for you personally overlap with what’s been happening on a wider scale?
I think they do coincide because when you watch the news, or you’re exposed to the news on your phone, it’s really awful stuff and it stirs up the same emotions as when you’re receiving bad news yourself. I guess the lining is trying to see the good in people. If I actually thought that there wasn’t any point in living on this planet because of all the horrible things that are sent to us, and there’s no hope whatsoever, then I’d consider ending it all – I mean, what’s the point?
Your show is meant to cheer people up. Is that hard to do if you’re not cheerful yourself?
It is very difficult to pretend. The way I think about it is: if an audience comes to my show and they’re all sad, hungover, drunk, or they’re not in the right frame of mind, I wouldn’t like it – so I would never go to work myself in that frame of mind. At the end of the day it’s my job, I’m there to make people laugh, and yes there might be times within the show which are designed to get people thinking, but not on a low for too long because it is after all a comedy show.
In what way has your act changed as you’ve gotten that bit older?
I think it’s more reflective. Ten years ago I was doing “look at me, let's just laugh at stuff”. Now I’m tackling subjects that are really important to me, be they race, sexuality, legislation around the world regarding same-sex marriage etc.
Speaking of marriage, you wear a wedding ring.
I’ve worn this wedding ring for about 20-something years. I bought it myself when I did my first ever trip to Australia. That’s all it signifies for me and it always throws people. Do you think I’ve just done myself a huge disservice? People might assume I’m spoken for – and that would be terrible.
I met Tom Stade at the Fringe last year and we talked about the sitcom M.U.F.F, which he wrote with Daniel Sloss, and which you featured in. How much fun was that to do?
It was very good fun. When someone of Tom Stade or Daniel Sloss’ quality rings up and says “do you want to do this thing?” I don’t even have to say “show me the script”. I was just like, “Yes. I’m there.” It was a really great, original idea – I was very proud to be asked.
Do you have your sights on any more acting gigs?
Never say never. At the end of this tour I’m going off to America and then Australia and then I’ll put my acting shoes on. I would like to play something very different to my onstage persona – maybe the next James Bond, I’d be quite happy with that.
What else have you got coming up?
I’ve organised, with fellow comedian Jo Caulfield, a very huge benefit show [at the Comedy Store for Royal Trinity Hospice and St George’s Hospital Charity]. It’s on 3 December, the bill has sold out, we’ve got Graham Norton coming to do some stuff, John Bishop – the list is incredible.
Bouquets and Brickbats is at Didcot Cornerstone 17 January and South Street Arts Centre, Reading 31 January-2 February. The Stephen K Amos Talk Show is available on Audible.