Comedian Stephen K Amos: ‘Nowadays any f***er can give a bad review’
- Credit: Archant
Soon to play the Hackney Empire, Stephen K Amos tells Alex Bellotti about dealing with the mad world of social media.
Let it be known: Stephen K Amos does not feed the trolls. Despite having joined Twitter four years ago on the advice of Eddie Izzard, the comedian seems to mostly view social media with a tone of utter bemusement.
Take, for example, the recent death of David Bowie. “Some people didn’t have a clue what the outcry was about, didn’t even know the man, but felt obliged to comment. And suddenly a thread emerges of 2000 people accusing each other about their right to grieve, and you just think, ‘Really?’”
Such grievances provide the main thrust for Amos’ latest tour, The Laughter Master, which ends with a date at the Hackney Empire on February 13. While still embracing the “feel good, happy-go-lucky” spirit characteristic of his previous shows, The Laughter Master sees him taking on the oddities of social media, and the way traditional news outlets now see it as a way of generating stories.
“I did resist Twitter for a long time,” says the 48-year-old, “because I wondered what on earth I was going to talk about in 140 characters for whatever reason. It can be a marketing tool, but it has mainly made people feel that you’re more accessible. In the old days a reviewer would give you a bad review – now any f***er can do it.”
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A familiar face on television shows such as Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week and Live At The Apollo, Amos is long used to the ups and downs of the comedy circuit. A good review, he says, means as little to him as a bad one, and he similarly believes the best way to deal with social media is to ignore any analysis of his shows altogether.
Nonetheless, as a comedian who’s not always known to toe the line, he’s aware that some jokes will inevitably get under someone’s skin.
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“For me, there’s no subject that should be off limits, but there’s a way to get the audience into your way of thinking. Not everybody obviously, because people have their own agendas themselves.
“I once did a simple joke about primary school teachers and their long holidays. A primary school teacher got in touch with me and said she didn’t appreciate my joke, and how I don’t understand the pressures they’re under. I didn’t get into a debate with her, but I think it’s about finding a balance. At the end of the day, people come to a comedy show like mine to have a laugh, so ideally it’s like preaching to the converted.”
As one of eight children growing up in Balham in the 1960s, Amos was initially encouraged to pursue a law degree by his Nigerian parents. His childhood was free of any comedic role models, particularly in television, so his route into stand up came “by pure accident; it wasn’t a plan, a goal, and back then it wasn’t even a career option”.
In this respect, it must be encouraging that on-screen diversity has somewhat improved since his youth?
“It is encouraging, though I will say that in the upper echelons of executive management, it is still quite lacking. As long as there are many more voices to be heard and experiences to be shared, then we’re going to need change.”
So what’s the solution? Could we feasibly see something like diversity quotas on television?
“Absolutely, but again that is a very contentious issue. People think, ‘Oh positive discrimination, it’s giving certain people an unfair advantage’. But the fact of the matter is that something needs to be done to acknowledge the fact that there are huge differences in the people who are at the top, the people who make decisions, and the people who feel they are going to be welcomed as a part of our entertainment industry.”
Recalling reaction to one episode of his Radio 4 series, What Does the K Stand For? (Kehinde, incidentally), Amos highlights one example of why diversity still has a long way to go.
“Someone actually wrote in, having listened to the show, and complained that there was a Nigerian accent on his radio. I mean how do you respond to that?”
In the short term, we agree, perhaps it’s best just to ignore it.
Stephen K Amos performs at the Hackney Empire on February 13. Visit hackneyempire.co.uk