There is a strange force, lurking within the lecture halls where law is taught, that penetrates the minds of susceptible students and incubates something alien.
No-one knows why or when it will happen but, at some point, those students crack, their lawyerly yearnings fall away, and comedians are born. Shaun McAllef, Demetri Martin, John Cleese, Rebel Wilson, Jane Turner ('Kath & Kim'), and the entire team from 'The Chasers War On Everything' went through this comedic rebirth. So did Stephen K Amos.
Stephen wanted to be a criminal barrister; the kind of job that carries with it a lifestyle far removed from that which he lives now. “Which I thank the lord for every day. I sit at home at night and I watch lots of late night programmes about criminal cases and I get very involved and imagine what I would do if I was the defence lawyer.”
The best part about these imaginary escapades is that Stephen gets to excite his synapses without having to go through hours of work and stress and general seriousness that just wouldn’t fit his exuberant personality.
“I do have an interest in law and criminality and justice. But I think, in a weird way, I’m doing more, in terms of reaching out and using my mind for what it’s good for, with comedy. Because I talk about these issues in my shows and people might get influenced by what I say.”
Here, Stephen has an interesting point. There’s a meme currently spreading through the internet with the quote 'we used to listen to politicians and laugh at comedians but now we laugh at politicians and listen to comedians.' Stephen has, perhaps, never agreed with a meme more.
“It is a great quote. Many years ago, politicians were defined by their own political beliefs. But now, they have an agenda, there are certain things they can and cannot say, and they have to tow the party line or be kicked out. Whereas comedians, if they have an agenda, it’s that they want to be liked. There’s no-one telling you what you can and can’t say. You’re just a guy, on stage, saying what he thinks. And that’s one of the most powerful things I can think of.”
In a painfully beautiful example of absurdity, the very force that is spreading this meme also spreads condemnation and censorship of the comedians it’s referring to. “We live in a world of social media where things get lost in translation. So a comedian can say a joke in a comedy club in New York and it can get shared online, misinterpreted, and people across the world, who weren’t even there, will have an opinion.
“A lot of comedians end up having to apologise because they want people to come to their shows. They don’t want to be misrepresented and have people think ‘oh, he’s an asshole, he does racist jokes’. It’s not in context but that doesn’t matter. If you have that label on you, you’re not going to get work.”
For Stephen, though, it’s not just about selling tickets. “It’s about getting people to actually understand what you said. We don’t want to be misinterpreted. I have friends who can bring up extremely controversial topics but dissect them in such a profound and clever way. But, if someone is just reacting to buzz words, they’ll be offended by the subject matter of the joke. So do you constantly apologise for what you’re saying? Or do you allow people to misrepresent and misquote you?”
Seeing a joke written down is very different to hearing it said and that’s different, once again, to hearing it said within the whole context of the show. Stephen’s advice for people is simple: “The most important thing is, you’ve got to be in the moment to see and hear what happened. There’s no point jumping in second or third hand and then filling yourself with anger and disappointment.”
Here, appropriately enough, it is necessary to add some context to what Stephen is saying. Imagine his voice as being full of kindness (as it was) and his tone suggesting he just wants you to be able to live with a little less negativity in your life. “If you weren’t there, there’s really no need for you to get so offended on behalf of other people.”
While complaining and offense-taking can get out of control online, social media does serve the crucial purpose of starting global conversations on important issues. “As long as people can see those things and learn from them, as opposed to having knee jerk reactions, then yes, it can be a powerfully positive thing.”
When he’s not making people laugh or debating the politics of comedy, Stephen has a secret love of doing weird, adventurous things. If you’ve ever seen his stand-up, you’ll know he has some crazy stories to tell. His latest escapade though, was a bit anticlimactic. “I attempted skiing. It’s not for me.”
Stephen chose one of the most stunning locations in the world for his first skiing attempt: the Austrian Alps. But there’s no amount of beautiful scenery that can overcome visions of painful collisions and broken limbs for the first-time skier. “I did very, very badly. Very badly. But I was discouraged by seeing so many people who had a limp or an arm in plaster, or worse. There were far too many people with terrible injuries. So I was very wise, I tried it for maybe an hour and that was it.”
While he wasn’t mad keen on the skiing, Stephen has taken some risky leaps in his time. Skydiving was a bit too tame, so he decided to do it with a hangover and no sleep – just to liven things up.
He’s also been zorbing in Thailand, which involves being stuffed into a huge plastic ball half-full of water and then kicked down a hill. Stephen discussed his zorbing adventure at the Melbourne International Comedy Gala in 2012. A commenter on the YouTube video made the astute observation that there seemed to be more to the zorbing story than Stephen let on.
Impressed that someone had been so observant, Stephen laughed before explaining: “when we do anything on TV, we’re at the mercy of the editor as to what they’re going to cut out. But the thing is, that zorbing story will only work if I do it from start to finish.”
And we’ve just finished talking about how much can get lost in translation when jokes are written down. So, rather than finishing the story, Stephen has a message for anyone who wants to know what really happened when he went zorbing. “Come and see me at one of my gigs, let me know you’re in, and I’ll finish the story for you.”
Fri 19 Feb to Sun 13 March – The Arts Theatre (Adelaide)Fri 18 & Sat 19 March – Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse (Canberra Comedy)Thurs 24 March to Sun 10 April – Athenaeum Theatre (Melbourne)Sun 3 & Sun 10 April – Melbourne Town Hall Supper Room Thurs 14 April – Burnie arts & Function Centre (Burnie)Fri 15 April – Devonport Entertainment & Convention Centre (Devonport)Sat 16 April – Country Club Tasmania (Launceston)Sun 17 April – Wrest Point Entertainment Centre (Hobart)Thurs 28 April to Sun 1 May – His Majesty’s Theatre (Perth)Fri 6 May – Enmore Theatre (Sydney)Sat 7 May – The Concourse (Chatswood)