Tab Meets: Stephen K Amos

STEPHEN K AMOS talks stand-up, dream venues, and pre-show nerves

aung san suu kyi cambridge junction carey marx Comedy eddie izzard globe Madison Square Garden Nelson Mandela redd foxx richard pryor Stand Up Stephen k amos terry waite


When did you first become involved in comedy?

A long time ago somebody told me I was funny and I thought ‘You know what, you’re right. Let’s do this.’

What’s the best joke you’ve ever heard?

It belongs to a comic called Carey Marx.

‘My girlfriend is paralysed from the waist down. What an insensitive cunt’

Who are your comic influences?

I have no comedy influences because I don’t want to sound like anybody else, but there are people I admire, like Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, and Eddie Murphy in his heyday. Some of the stuff Eddie Izzard was doing in the early days was really great, and at the moment I love Rhod Gilbert. There are also so many jobbing comics you’ve probably never heard of, Carey Marx being one of them.

How would you describe your style?

Semi-autobiographical social commentary. I delve into subjects like race, sexuality and popular culture.

Do you feel comedy should address serious issues or focus on entertainment?

Comedy is a means for questioning things and also a medium for entertainment, a way for people who are otherwise unheard to put their voice out there. It depends on the individual, but if you’re affected by something then it’s up to you how you use that.

Is stand-up comedy is a skill which can be learnt, or are some people just innately funny?

Some people are inherently funny, and there are those with very strong analytical minds who can think outside the box. Certain comedy techniques can be taught, such as the structures of a joke or microphone technique, but you can only learn how to do it by doing it.

Do you ever get nervous before you go on stage?

I think everyone does to an extent, but it’s how you challenge that nervous energy that counts. You either use it as a form of adrenalin, or you crumble and have panic attacks, which would suggest maybe it’s not the career for you.

What’s the best gig you’ve ever performed?

Thankfully my career’s not quite over yet, so I think the best gig is yet to come. There have been high points and low points and you’ve got to learn from them all – the good thing about this job is that you never know what’s going to happen next.

If you could give any advice to up and coming comics, what would it be?

Find your own voice.

Work out what makes you happy and what makes you laugh.  There are so many styles of comedy for people to feed off of, from slapstick to political comedy to social commentary, and we’ve all got a story to tell. Believe in your voice, and then practise a good five minute routine over and over again until you get it right.

What would be your dream venue to play?

Madison Square Garden in New York. Or maybe the Globe, with its rich history of theatre and drama.

What is the best thing about your job?

I can say whatever I want on stage in a live situation to a captive audience – I can criticise the government or a company or an individual, and act as my own self censor. That kind of freedom can’t be beaten.

But do you think that comedy can ever go too far and someone can say something too outrageous?

The thing about freedom of speech is that if you believe in and absolutely defend the notion of it, then you have to accept the notion of freedom of expression. With comedy, your intent has to be clear – if you can’t back up your thought process, then the audience has the right to respond in a negative way. Often, however, people hear an inflammatory word, such as the C-bomb, or ‘nigger’, and instantly turn off, instead of listening to the whole joke. As with the Carey Marx joke (quoted above), you have to listen to the actual words being said and then make an informed decision. They are, at the end of the day, just words.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a comedian?

I’d be travelling around the world, all my possessions wrapped in a napkin, just getting by as a nomad, a wandering soul.  I’m a big fan of the simple way of life.

Who would be your dream dinner party guests?

Terry Waite, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.

I’d like to ask them where they found the strength of forgiveness after having been held in captivity for so long. To be set free, finally, and not be bitter – I find that so dignified, so humbling. You only have one chance in this life, and if someone took away a large portion of that, I don’t know how I’d react.

Stephen is performing at the Cambridge Junction this Friday – get your tickets here