SmSh interviewed Stephen ahead of his first mainland China performances (he'd performed in Hong Kong 12 years prior) in Shanghai happening September 8-10. He was again at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year when we spoke about comedy, comedians, and how to make it in the business.
SmSh: Have you found that certain jokes work better in other areas or countries, or do you think comedy is universal?
Stephen: Oh I think it's universal, absolutely. If you can tell a joke in Hong Kong and it's not really about anything too specific about Hong Kong, then that joke should work in Australia, America, because the thing is you want to make people laugh, and hopefully have your own point of view, and your job is to try and get them to see your point of view and you get that by listening to the laughter.
SmSh: In your material you talk about race and sexuality, should comedy address social issues or does it only need to be funny?
Stephen: Well, I think comedy is very very subjective and there are many different styles of comedy, from political, from observational, to slapstick, to shock comedy, all kinds. But for me, personally, I like to make to make people think, however first and foremost, people have come to laugh, never forget that. If you can put some stuff in there that makes people think or challenges people's ideas and perceptions, for me, that's great.
But I don't think all comedy should be like that because some people want to just come to a comedy show and escape and just have a laugh.
SmSh: What's your most memorable performance in recent memory?
Stephen: I did a show last year at the Sydney Opera House and it's one of the most iconic buildings in the world. I've been there before but for some reason, last year it just felt magical. Also my parents have only seen me do comedy in my whole career three times live. So the fact that they came and saw me, their son who they, you know -- all parents want the best for their children -- and I think comedy was not in their remit, for them to see me do a show and do well and the audience get really into it, that was a good milestone for me.
SmSh: You talk about your parents quite a bit in your material. How do they feel about that?
Stephen: Well, everything I say for me, has an element of truth about it. I can always back up whatever I say. I don't ask them for permission [laughs], if they like it, they like it. If they don't -- tough.
SmSh: Here in Shanghai we have a lot of amateur comedians. Any tips on how to find success in comedy?
Stephen: The main thing is you have to find your own voice. Absolutely love the job you're doing. There's no point in going out there and imitating somebody else. Practice, write five minutes of stuff that you think is funny. Practice that five minutes. Don't keep changing it. Practice until you get it right. And don't rely on your friends and family to say you're funny. You gotta do that stuff to strangers who don't know you. The joy is trying to get that material to work and getting an audience who don't know you on your side.
SmSh: What comedians influenced you when you were coming up? And who do you find funny today?
Stephen: My whole thing [before comedy] was studying law. I never been to a comedy club. Comedy was not in my radar at all. Back when I was growing up, the comedy that was on TV didn't speak to me. You know, I never saw many black comics. I never saw many gay comics. I did see a lot of sexists and homophobic and racist jokes. It wasn't my arena.
So now after all these years, I see all these comics that have stories to tell. And it's how you tell that story. And every story is worth listening to and you just gotta make it funny.
So I see people who inspire me now, who I just go wow. Chris Rock obviously is up there. Dave Chappelle is up there. Eddie Izzard is up there. There's a wave of young new comics coming through. People from the UK that I really admire -- Micky Flanagan. There's a young kid I've seen recent that does an excellent routine, his name is Rhys James. So there's a lot of stuff out there, especially with social media and Youtube, you can discover people in a way that was impossible before.
Stephen K. Amos performs at The Camel at 8pm on September 8, The Exchange at 8.30pm on September 9, and the Kerry Hotel Pudong at 8pm on September 10. Tickets are 290rmb on SmartTicket.