CYCLIC COMEDY WITH AN UNEVEN PACE
Stephen K Amos
Stephen K Amos
at SKYCITY Theatre, Auckland
From 11 May 2007 to 12 May 2007
Reviewed by Raewyn Whyte, 29 Apr 2012
Two rows at the front are the only empty seats for Stephen K Amos's opening night at Sky City Theatre in Comedy Festival 2012. It's a set up, of course, and he fills them by bringing volunteers from seats further back, including a group of four he spotted in the lobby – a man with one arm in a sling, a woman, and two teenagers.
This turns out to be the Monro family, and they (of course) become grist to his mill. He is charming, almost courtly with them most of the time, eliciting their names, ages, occupations and aspirations, and returning to them throughout the show, checking in with the two teenagers every now and then for a comment, and using their responses as a springboard to the next segment.
Amos' show is all talk: no musical backing, no props other than a long awaited bottle of beer in place of the water provided, and a sodden white handkerchief with which he mops his sweating brow. He's been telling jokes to strangers for 17 years now, as a way to get attention, and his agenda is to make his audience laugh.
The pace is fast, and the structure cyclic, with topics veering off into new directions as they come around again. He gestures extravagantly with his right hand, while the left holds the microphone; given his overall sweatiness, he must have to keep a deathlike grip on the mic to stop it slipping out of his hand.
His personal experiences are at the centre of things: growing up in Britain with Nigerian parents as one of seven children and being a twin to boot; school days; having size 12 feet in early adolescence; the Boy Scout experience; the confusion of identity which comes with dual heritage; the dilemma of who he should give his allegiance to when it comes to the Olympics.
Later in life: being an uncle with a highly disrespectful young nephew; performing for the Queen; going on holiday to Thailand; visiting Nigeria; regular appearances at festivals in Edinburgh and Adelaide; and how easy it is for what he says to be taken the wrong way.
The opening night audience is generally relaxed, and there's plenty of laughter in the first half of the show. As things progress, however, the audience also proves a tad tricky, refusing to find some of his stories at all funny – ironically enough, given his personal identity, we are particularly uninterested in anything which makes reference to racism, Islam or gay caricatures.
We also respond dismally to aspersions about Chinese workmanship, and when Amos suddenly declares, "I'm laughing more than you are," what is no doubt intended to be an encouraging aside snaps me right out of it. After that, I become hyper-aware of just how hard he is working to keep the show moving along, and my own laughter mechanism falters.
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