Comedians often become many things: television personalities, film stars, or sometimes even award-winning musicians. But itâ€™s not often that theyâ€™re praised for being role models.
Thatâ€™s what Stephen K Amos has become, even if it wasnâ€™t exactly by his own design. As a black, gay man, Amos is an inspiration to thousands of people across the English-speaking world. And while he didnâ€™t ask for the title, itâ€™s something heâ€™s steadily gotten used to.
â€œI didnâ€™t think that was going to be the case,â€ he says down the line from his London flat. â€œBut when I look back on my own life and look back at the British entertainment industry, there were very few role models. And if I did see somebody, then I would actually think, â€˜Wow!â€™ and be a bit proud. All I can do is be honest with my comedy, be honest about who I am, and if by definition, that makes other people relate to me or think they can also be honest about who they are despite their struggles, then that is a mantle I will take with pride.â€
It of course goes hand-in-hand with Amosâ€™ rising profile on the international comedy circuit. The Londonerâ€™s ability to couch his wry social and political observations with an easy-going wit has proven a powerful tool at converting audiences not only in the UK, but also in the United States and Australia. â€œThis is the only profession I know on this planet where a man can go up onstage and say exactly what he wants and thereâ€™s no other agenda. Iâ€™m not a journalist, I donâ€™t have an ulterior motive â€“ my first thing is to make people laugh. If in that process I can get people thinking about issues such as race, religion, sexuality, diversity, then yeah, Iâ€™ll do it. And basically, when I do my comedy, I do know that I can look back and back up every single thing that Iâ€™ve said.â€
Amosâ€™ trips across the Atlantic seem to be becoming more and more frequent, which is worth noting given heâ€™s always been a big believer in the value of America to young British comedians. â€œI did my first trip over there about four years ago,â€ he says. â€œI did a little season in New York, I did a few of the comedy clubs, and I just had a ball. Because my point of view isnâ€™t from that of a black American stand-up but being black and British, which is something that Americans, be they black or white, have no point of reference for.
â€œAmericaâ€™s great for aspiring comedians from these shores. Even though comedy is booming here in the UK, in terms of getting big ideas off the ground everyoneâ€™s holding onto their purse strings at the moment. Thereâ€™s so much competition and there are so many people to choose from that it makes it a bit more difficult. Whereas with America, as a Brit you can go there and be seen as something completely different.â€
Amos also agrees that the comedy coming out of the States is currently a little edgier than the material produced by his fellow Brits, but he sees the demand growing again for comedians who use stand-up to tackle the shaky state of global current affairs.
â€œAbsolutely. But I think thatâ€™s just a natural sign of the times, when you get discouraged and disappointed with the promises your governments make or a financial crisis brought on by a banking sector that has ruined much of Europe. Of course comedians are addressing that and tackling that â€“ itâ€™s everywhere.â€
Australians too have become enamoured with Amosâ€™ freewheeling combination of good humour and societal issues.
â€œI would like to think that first and foremost Iâ€™m funny,â€ he laughs. â€œIâ€™m a bit different and my comedy is slightly autobiographical â€“ I speak about my experiences and my truths. I donâ€™t know how many other black British comics or Black American comics that Australia sees, but the connection is England. A lot of Australians have a close connection to England, and then I have another perspective of being a black British man. If I go to Australia, I can empathise with the indigenous people, so I will say things that are maybe contentious because I want to get a reaction from the room. I want to get people to think. If I can come over and make some people laugh and show people that weâ€™re actually all the same â€“ all of us â€“ then, yeah, bring it on. As long as people want me Iâ€™ll keep coming back.â€
And Amos is coming back, this time for a whopping three months. It will be his longest stay so far â€“ and although jokes about it being an excuse to miss the London Olympic Games, itâ€™s really about seeing more of Australia. A firm favourite at the comedy festivals in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, Amos is looking to get to the farther flung regions for the first time.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of Australia that I havenâ€™t been to and havenâ€™t seen, and itâ€™s nice to be able to go out and do my stuff in all these places. Iâ€™m going to Canberra for the first time, going to Darwin, going to Perth, and I get loads of people writing or sending me messages on social networking saying, â€˜Why are you ignoring us?â€™ So I thought if Iâ€™m going to come out I should actually make an effort. I tour â€˜round the UK so why not take a bit of time to tour around Australia.â€
The sojourn will be on the back of Amosâ€™ latest show, â€˜Laughter Is My Agendaâ€™, in which heâ€™s looking to touch on the wide-cast nature of media in the modern world. â€œBasically, I was thinking about all the things we are told by people in all the different mediums, be it TV, be it newspapers, and thereâ€™s always an agenda,â€ Amos says. â€œAnd my main agenda is laughter. However, what Iâ€™m going to try to do is present the show as if Iâ€™m doing a speech like a politician and in that speech should be lots and lots of laughs, but the underlying current will be a little agenda. Thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m hoping the audience will spot.â€
STEPHEN K AMOS PERFORMS AT THE POWERHOUSE, AS PART OF THE BRISBANE COMEDY FESTIVAL, MARCH 13-18.