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FIND THE FUNNY WITH BLACK BRITAIN’S KING OF COMEDY

 

By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson

 

Friday, 29 May 2009.

 

Stephen K. Amos is a busy man. Recently returned from Australia, the comedian has just finished playing to 25,000 plus audience with Find The Funny. The one-man show, which began life at last year’s Edinburgh Comedy Festival, is the latest of his now traditional performances at the comedy jamboree.

 

The comedian acknowledges the importance of finding new ways of delivering his self-written material to guarantee that the routine stays topical and gets refined over the months of being on the road.

 

It just gets better. Every audience reacts differently to different things; you add new bits to the joke or the routine; it evolves and you put new things in there as well,” he says.

 

This freshness is what the London-born comic brings to Hackney Empire this June.

 

“I’m really looking forward to it. The show in Hackney is not the exact same show that happened in August 2008. It will be a good growth. I’ve played Hackney a couple of times before; but this is the first time on my own so I am very much looking forward to it. It’s kinda like coming home, even though I’m from south London.”

 

The award-winning comedian is known for his busy touring schedule. As well as Australia he has performed in the USA, Canada and New Zealand. Finding the funny is important, and he knows humour is different in different places.

 

“As long as English is the first language they understand. The thing is they have no point of reference for any other Black British comic apart from Lenny [Henry] so if you go out there and you’re funny they will come out and support you. I also tried to do gigs not just in the big cities, but out of town - so I did do some for the indigenous aboriginal population as well.”

 

The world-renowned Edinburgh Comedy Festival is becoming a second home for the seasoned performer, having appeared there annually since 2001. It’s an environment he revels in. Acknowledging the importance of the month-long jamboree to his career, he encourages other Black comedians to check it out.

 

“In the old days when you wanted to get well known you had to play not just the Black circuit but also play the mainstream circuit. TV producers don’t go to Black comedy clubs. When I first went to Edinburgh, I didn’t know whether the audience would get the kind of stuff that I do. The thing is people at Edinburgh are from all over the world.  I get a really good audience out there now; so I just keep going back; and I try and keep it fresh. There are not enough of us trying it.”

 

As to the burgeoning Black comedy circuit, he’s clearly happy in his own skin, but not prepared to limit his ambitions.

 

“As a performer it’s up to you to grow and experience different kinds of audiences. A lot of critics say that Stephen K. Amos only talks about being Black.  Well I am Black; that’s my perspective. But I don’t want to marginalise myself.  I want to appeal to a wide cross section of people. I see more and more young Black comics coming through and doing the other circuit as well.”

 

Amos got his start in comedy in an unorthodox way. In the final year of a law degree, a friend who was about to open a comedy club asked him to perform. Never having seen any comics live he took up the challenge anyway. Sixteen years later he hasn’t looked back.

 

Paying tribute to the greats such as Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby and to a lesser extent Eddy Murphy, he’s glad he started out in this way, as it allowed him to develop his own style and stage persona.

 

“To be honest, it was me just being me because I don’t what to be influenced too heavily by someone else’s style. When I first started I used to go on stage with an A5 pad with my jokes written on it.  That was how bad I was and I didn’t know it was the wrong thing to do.”

 

The past year has been one of his most successful to date. As well as TV [Live at the Apollo, The Royal Variety Performance] appearances at Prince Charles’ 60th birthday show and a controversial conversation with Prince Harry his profile is constantly rising.

 

As you would expect Amos takes it all in his stride. “I am very lucky to be asked to do those types of shows and hopefully it will continue and open the doors for other people.”

 

Talking about Harry’s 1970s era comment that he “didn’t sound like a black chap” he jokes that: “In a way I should thank my lucky stars over what he [Harry] said. It happens all the time; people know you are a comedian and think they can say anything to you, without even thinking.”

 

As well as experience with straight acting and chat shows at Edinburgh he has an eponymous show in the offing for the BBC, as well as a pilot for a new sit-com [Simon Nye’s In My Country].

 

He says it’s exciting and that it is necessary, not just to be more diverse but because there are many young talented Black comics out there and “we are just not being given a chance.”

 

One of Stephen K. Amos’ most controversial shows was last years Channel Four documentary Batty Man which purported to address the issue of perceived homophobia in the Black community. Demonstrating a serious side to his character he proclaims his pride in the programme stating: “It wasn’t having a go at my own community. The reason I did it is because someone I know was killed.  I said if I don’t stand up and be counted or make a point for these younger people who is going to?”

 

A theme in the Jamaica and London filmed documentary was Dancehall music and young people’s attitudes towards homosexuality and Amos is emphatic is his views.

 

“We as a Black community have to stand up for our own rights and beliefs; we have to be open and honest and teach our children the right way.  Back in the day in this country, people abused us and that was [supposed to be] acceptable; people in the comedy clubs were doing racist jokes and homophobic jokes. People shouldn’t be doing that stuff any more because it sends the wrong message out.  It’s all about positivity now,” he emphasises.

 

As to his warm-hearted and observational material he says his writing is mostly from things he sees and observes, and sometimes done with a team of trustworthy writers. 

 

He’ll also be appearing in the play ‘The School For Scandal’ in Edinburgh where his latest one-man extravaganza The Feelgood Factor will debut before hitting the road again for another nationwide tour.

 

Talking abut the credit crunch, MPs scandals and the air of despondency he sees in the society, he says: “I sat down one day and tried to write down all the things that made me feel good and I thought if I focus on those and  pass that on to somebody else…it would be really good thing.”

 

The multi-tasking performer’s hectic lifestyle isn’t due to end any time soon though.

 

“When you go to Edinburgh you are sometimes asked to do to other things.  I do my own shows and a chat show as well. If it leads on to other things then great.”

 

Shaun Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.

 

 

Stephen K Amos

Find The Funny

Friday 05 June 2009 

Hackney Empire

0208 743 6837

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