World renowned funny man Stephen K. Amos will be gracing us with his presence at the Perth Comedy Festival once again this year after touring Australia for the last month, and is currently featuring at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. NATALIE GILES had a chat with him ahead of his appearances at the Regal Theatre, Subiaco from May 4 to 7 and discovered that he is just as sweet as cherry pie, and twice as nice.
Your show is about the people you meet and the ridiculous things they say. What’s the most ridiculous you’ve heard out of an Australian’s mouth lately?
If I wrote a show that was just about the ridiculous things I’ve heard or that were said to my face in Australia, I think that people would just be so embarrassed! In my mind, I try not to get offended by stuff, but try to see things through to their illogical conclusion, and thereby you’ll find your joke. But in terms of the show itself, that is indeed how it started, but it’s also a bit of a red herring. I don’t want to give too much away, but the point that I’m trying to make is that we are all actually the same. We’re all born, we live and one day we will die, so why don’t you try to make the best of your time on this planet, letting go of all the small stuff, and talk about those things that can and will affect us all – illness, death, people who are anti-gay. There might be someone in your family who’s anti-gay. Some people are quite racist. Somebody in your family might fall in love with someone from another race. You know, there are so many more things that link us all together, than divide us.
That’s beautiful. You should be a motivational speaker – or our next Oprah!
(laughs) Well, Oprah’s still there, but when she wants to pass the baton on… But yes, I’ve got a very positive disposition, and I understand in this current climate in the world, there is just so much fear going on. Fear and divisions. And I think that fear and ignorance keeps spreading more fear and ignorance. I mean, we live in an era now where we have something called fake news! Who would have ever thought that. And we also live in an era now where everyone can voice an opinion on some form of social media, and we’re all affected by it, even though you might like to think that you’ve got your own circle of like-minded friends, stuff is out there that you just can’t ignore any more.
I’ve heard you speak about social media on previous occasions. You’re not much of a fan of it, are you?
I think it’s a great tool to pass on knowledge and facts, but when it starts going into the realms of fake facts, and people manipulating things, when you have a system like Facebook or whatever it is, where they’re now targeting your patterns online, of course it can be dangerous. We’re all very complex people.
You’ve managed to fit an awful lot into your lifetime – authored a book, a variety of television shows and appearances, world famous funny man of the stage. What’s your favourite medium?
I have to say, my favourite medium is doing live stand-up comedy. When you do television, or radio, or even a play, or write a newspaper column, you are constrained by the editorial policy of whatever organisation you’re working for. When I do stand-up comedy, I am my own self centre. I have an audience there who may have come from all walks of life, who have differing points of view, but I can say exactly what I like. And it’s the only job in the world where you can do that.
So given that you can say what you like, what are your thoughts on political correctness in comedy? Are there taboo topics that we shouldn’t be making the butt of a joke?
I think the problem is that political correctness has now gone so wide, in terms of a net, that nobody knows quite exactly what it means anymore. Personally, I think that any and every subject is fair game for a comedian, as long as that comedian knows exactly what to do with it. By that I mean, if you have a position that you can back up, back it up. If you want to say something to spark debate, but have something to back it up, go ahead. Making jokes for shock value factor, for me, doesn’t really wash, because we’ve all moved on. The world’s moved on. There was a time when we used to do very sexist jokes. There was a time when we used to do very racist jokes. There was a time we used to do very homophobic jokes. We’ve moved on from that, and while you can do a joke about sexuality or race, it needs to be a good joke. You know, I hear this thing all the time – that political correctness has gone mad. You can challenge someone, “what do you mean, political correctness has gone mad? Do you mean that it’s because you can no longer do a racist joke in front of someone you don’t know? Or does it mean that you now need to think before you speak?”
You mean actually giving consideration to the person you’re addressing? Madness!
Absolutely! You hear “people can’t take a joke”, but we all know that there are certain jokes and subjects that you would talk about with your friends and family, but you may curb in different company, because that’s the way the world has moved on. In the right hands, though… I’ve got some very good friends who do amazing, thought-provoking stuff about the power of words, and how people are affected by them, and in those hands, great comedy can make you think. In a lesser comedians’ hands, it can be just a cheap joke at the expense of someone else. Most of these routines are based on stereotypes, but in this day and age, a lot of stereotypes have gone out the window! It just doesn’t make sense anymore.
Women in comedy are a minority, and as someone who is a minority within a minority, can you tell us about your thoughts on the boys club in comedy?
This is my personal take on it: when club comedy started in England, it was full of blokes, men made up 90% of the audience, and in that era there were racist jokes, there were sexist jokes, so why would someone feel comfortable in that environment? Fast forward all these years, when those attitudes are disappearing, we get more and more women, and more and more ethnic minorities, and more and more people of different sexual identities coming to the shows. I don’t want to sit and watch a comedian just do jokes about black people, for instance, unless it’s really clever and funny. If that club isn’t open to you, you feel like you don’t belong. And then it’s all about playing catch-up because there’s a very big, strong ethnic comedy scene in London, and I’ve seen many comedians who are women just come straight through to the forefront because they’re just plain funny. We were talking about stereotypes, and that one, that women aren’t funny, is just another blanket, ridiculous statement. It’s like somebody comes to my show expecting me to only talk about race and sexuality, whereas in fact, I talk about all sorts of things. So what you want to do is just not bring your baggage and throw it onto someone else.
Speaking of sexuality, unfortunately you’ve been here to witness the recent debacle around marriage equality, with Coopers beer getting involved, then our immigration minister telling private companies to stay out of the debate etc. As a visitor to our shores, what are your views on this?
For many years, politics in Australia, particularly in the last five years, was kind of a laughing stock around the world. Different prime ministers, back stabbing, someone’s back again, then they’re gone, it just made me laugh. Then Brexit happened last year for us, and we’re now in the same position. But I think there’s a very fine line because you want to listen to the people and gauge public opinion, but I think public opinion has to be measured, in terms of who are the politicians who are speaking up, and what they are speaking about. Coming here and seeing Mardi Gras, the biggest parade of its kind in the world, that lasts a week, and you’re still debating about this issue?! Because you’re scared? Of what, exactly? It just doesn’t make sense. I also understand that this week, they’re trying to pass laws around the rewording of the race discrimination act in parliament. I think it’s because of a lot of conservatism, and people living in a climate of fear. We see this around the world – refugee crises around the world, terror around the world, and we saw it just recently with the incident in London. Not even an hour after that incident, people are speculating about who was behind it. Then we get a statement from ISIS claiming responsibility, but nobody knows the truth! Five days later, we now hear from our secret service people that there was no evidential link between the guy that did this atrocity and any terrorist organisation. So what’s the truth? We’re now battling what fact and fiction is. And I think that when you have a country like the UK divided by Brexit, when you have a guy like Mr Trump in office, which has divided the world, is it any wonder that people are looking over their shoulders all the time?
Lastly, why should the people of Perth come and see your show? Sell it to me!
I will sell it to you because it’s a comedy show and I’ve got something to say. I know that some people just want to go to a comedy show and not think about things. My thing is funny, funny, funny, and if there’s something in there that you pick up on in the show, fine. People need to remember that when you go and see a comedy show, there are other people in the audience who may have completely opposite political views, they could be a completely different religious faith to you, a different sexuality to you, but in that moment, everyone is laughing at the same things, at the same time. That bond is important, and it reminds us that, at the end of the day, we’re all just human beings on this earth, struggling together.