Stephen K Amos brings Before and Laughter to The Spring Arts Centre, Havant | Big Interview
In that other world where the pandemic never happened, this would have been a very different show.
But now Stephen K Amos has finally been able to get his show Before and Laughter out on the road – it stops at The Spring Arts Centre next week
He explains: ‘The origins of this show were two years ago, but this tour has obviously evolved, things have happened, not just to myself, but events around the world.
‘I spent a good few months wrestling with my own creative flow and wondering whether it's going to come back and and how long it was going to be for that to happen.
‘But the main thing was that the lockdown gave me a chance to reflect, and I think it's given a lot of people that same chance – to reflect as to what you want to do with your life? What's the meaning of life for you?
‘So that's where I am at the moment.’
This sounds awfully profound for a comedy show.
‘I know, right?’ he chuckles, ‘but it is funny – I will say that! The meaning of life is a very philosophical question, so there's no real answer, but I can give you my take as to where I'm at and where I'm coming from.’
So are you setting the world to rights in the show?
‘It's setting my world to rights!
‘We all had that moment of maybe a year where people were either working from home, in isolation or furloughed, so what that meant for me was that I talked to many more family and friends than I would normally do because I had so much downtime, but it also made me think about what I absolutely wanted out of this time I have on this planet, and more importantly that we don't know what tomorrow's going to bring.
‘Things can stop at any time. I had plans to go to America in 2020, I had an Australian tour that was pulled, this tour was pulled.
‘So many dream that were crushed – but then again what are they? They're just dreams...’
Since starting his stand-up career in the early noughties, as well as his regular tours, Amos has appeared on and hosted numerous TV and radio shows including QI, Have I Got New For You, Pilgrimage: The Road To Rome, Prejudice and Pride (BBC), Battyman (C4), The Royal Variety Performance (ITV), and Loose Ends, Life: An Idiots Guide (Radio4).
When we talk, Amos has just spent the weekend as compere at the Greenwich Comedy Festival alongside a host of other star names.
‘I was hosting that as I try to get into my routine slowly and surely. I've been doing this play (My Night With Reg), so I've not been able to do much comedy around that.
‘What was really evident to me was the hunger from the audience who have been literally starved of live entertainment for such a long time.
‘The roar when I came on and the outpouring of laughter, and the infectious laughter that brings with it was incredible. The buzz was brilliant.
‘Not to sound a cliche – but it is my drug, the laughter of the audience keeps me going.
‘You can ride that crest of a wave – there's so many things you can do in terms of steering an audience to where you want to go, and once you're on a big role of laughter, you're nearly there.’
It’s a stark contrast to the last time he was performing stand-up in public: ‘I was in Australia in February 2020 when the pandemic started and I used to go onstage with a mask on, and that alone would get a huge laugh and a round of applause – little did I know that that was going to be the new normal.
‘A week later I was back in London and we were completely locked down. I was lost, absolutely lost.’
The show sees Stephen looking back at the past decade. But it’s been a good 10 years for him, hasn’t it?
‘Yes, it's been a good decade for me, but the last year has proved, oh my goodness, if I, unfortunately, contracted this awful virus and didn't make it, could I look back on my last 10 years and think: did I do everything that I wanted to do? Or has this given me a kick up the arse to go, you know what? Now's your chance.’
Over the summer, Stephen appeared in a revival of the acclaimed 1994 play My Night With Reg at The Turbine Theatre in London. Set in the 1980s against the backdrop of the Aids crisis, it follows a group of gay friends over several years.
Although he has acted on stage before – notably in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Christian Slater back in 2004 – it had been a while. So why now?
‘I usually go up to Edinburgh for the festival with a show to take on tour, and I knew that Edinburgh wasn't going to be the same as it had been previously,’ a low-key, somewhat subdued event took place this year, ‘so I thought, I need to fill my August – I don't want to sit here doing nothing. I invested in a bicycle, I invested in trying to keep fit – but I still need to expand my mind.
‘So I thought, acting, with other people – let me explore a bit more of that. And then this opportunity came about, and they were like: "Do you want to do this play?” And I was going: “Yes, of course!”
‘They said, it's not a massive theatre, but I said, it doesn't matter, it's something I want to do.
‘They asked which part would you like? Which was very nice of them. I had no idea when I accepted the play that all of the other cast members – it's a six-hander in total – were all professional award-nominated proper actors. I thought it was going to be more fringy. But of course, everyone's available!
‘It was one of the most rewarding jobs that I've ever had the pleasure of being involved in.
‘I learnt so much from these people because I’ve spent so many years doing my own thing, doing my own words, being my own self editor.
‘But being on stage, that discipline of working with other people and with a fantastic director, it takes things to another level, and it was so brilliant.
‘It was another string to my bow, as it were.’
With It’s A Sin being one of the most acclaimed TV shows of the past year, and set in the same period, it was a timely and still relevant production.
‘The playwright of our production, Kevin Elyot, was good friends with the female lead character in It's a Sin – the actual real woman – so she came to have a chat with us during rehearsals, about what it was like at that time and she also came to see the play.
‘There’s also the parallel being that we're living in another pandemic, albeit a very different sort – and all of the fear and the scaremongering, and we're not sure if it's going to end - all the parallels are still there. It was quite weird, but also quite sad in a way.’
‘Thirty years have gone by and we think things have changed, where they haven't really. Yes, we have moved in terms of advances in medical science, etc, which is great, but in terms of stigma and in terms of fear, it's all still very much the same.’
And so we’re back to the current pandemic – but rest assured Stephen won’t be bringing it up at his show: ‘The one thing I know my audience doesn't want to hear again is: “Oh Covid, pandemic...” Unless you're being really funny about it or have a very different take on it, we've all been through it – we've lived through it together, so please don't mention it!’
Stephen K Amos: Before and Laughter is at The Spring Arts Centre in Havant on Friday, October 8. Tickets £19. Go to thespring.co.uk.
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