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Stephen K. Amos: A true comedy maestro

☆☆☆☆

There’s an element of fear that runs through the theatre of live comedy. Some of it, induced by empathy. We see our peers on stage, risking it, and want them to succeed. And find it hard to watch when they fall. The implied if, of whether they can pull it off, is the thrill of the live gig.

An audacious joke can lead one to the edge of a cliff, peering off into an abyss of cringe, left there a moment to sweat, before the punch-line smacks you rolling into the safe relief of a cacophony of laughs. One must be willing though, to be lead, and in the case of Stephen K Amos last Wednesday Night, the audience flinched.

Now, for most of the night, Amos was the comic maestro you’ve come to know and love. He was wholly cool and comfortable at centre-stage. His characteristic relaxed, jovial style gave the air a palatable looseness. A necessary disarmament for Amos to achieve his goal for Bread and Circuses, which is, in the tragedy and absurdity of modern politics, to feed us laughs, and give us the tools to continue eating them thereafter.

Amos has always had a knack for making an audience feel as though they were personally addressed. Jokes carry the flavour of local ingredients at times, and in his better moments, he takes this to the logical extreme addressing a young couple in the audience. He draws them in for an extended gag, the boy 17, was younger than his girlfriend at 18. “Aw Cougar!” he said before the audience burst into laughs. He would refer to them throughout, and for being good sports, he gave them free tickets to the Saturday show involving himself and a few other comedians.

At another point, he masterfully disposes of a heckler, a person who jumps in to spray the waters. The audience laughs, “I got this”, says Amos, who then accuses the heckler of thinking they were a double act, and that the laughs were for him. Before pointing to the crowd every time they laughed and saying “that was for me”. The heckler, was out-heckled.

Where the rhythm wavered, was when Amos delved into the dire political landscape, and tried to offer a brief respite from its recent severity. About Weinstein for example, and his many victims, would require a razor-sharp delivery and execution, lest one stumble off the cliff into the abyss of cringe, and as before, one needs a willing audience. Some of this material felt like it was grasping for an anchor, something in the news to give the show currency by association. Bits on Trump, for example, felt like they relied on the joke that is Trump himself, though admittedly, it is difficult to execute an effective laugh about him that doesn’t carry the existential dread of nuclear annihilation.

Still, it was curious to see a veteran comedian deal with the crowd when they stiffened up. He’d improvise, change tack, never looking uncomfortable or awkward for a moment. “Ah, they’re the jokes they like!” he said with a smile after gaining traction.

In all, it felt like a Wednesday night show. A moment between weekends to try new bits, be bold and shoot from the hip. And for all the resulting ebb and flow, everything Amos tried carried with it a tangible daring and carried a cheerfully irreverent hue, that hummed beneath the syllable of each joke. And for that, you can’t have anything but respect.

By Matthew Toohey