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Gay Times August 09 - Issue 371

Steven K Amos

Our monthly In The Know feature with comic Steven K Amos

My parents thought I was mental when I told them I was going to become a comedian, especially as I had just finished a law degree. I can count on one hand how many times my parents have seen me live. I can understand why they thought I was a fool. The last thing they wanted to see is their son try and become an entertainer and have doors shut in his face, but now they’re very proud of me.

Comedy found me by chance. I was visiting a mate in America and a friend of theirs said she thought I was funny and asked me to be the MC at a new comedy club she was setting up back in London. I thought: “What the hell!” I had no idea what I was doing – I used to go on stage like a rookie reading my jokes from a notepad. Some of the best advice I was given was from Harry Hill who said: “Stop comparing and go for the glory”, so I did.

It’s annoying when people think you’re an overnight sensation – I’ve actually been doing this for 15 years. I played all the pubs, clubs and rooms above shops the length and breadth of this country. You would sometimes get booked just because you were driving and you could give other comics a lift.

I appeared in two episodes of EastEnders playing a doctor and I loved it. It was so strange arriving on Albert Square and seeing The Queen Vic in the flesh. My scenes weren’t shot until later in the day, so I ended up playing pool with Ian Beale, which was surreal. I’d love to be a regular, although if I’m honest I’d really like to do Coronation Street because I think it’s funnier.

I’m such a whore when it comes to freebies. I was doing a gig in Australia, which was sponsored by Emirates, and I found myself searching out the sales director to get an upgrade. It worked and I found myself on the new airbus in first class with my own cabin – how mad is that? You get given pajamas and they even turn down your bed. It was certainly a step up from the time I got told off by a steward for stealing a dressing gown from first class.

I’ve met every member of the Royal family apart from The Queen Mum and Princess Diana I did the gig for Prince Charles’ birthday and it was so interesting to see them all so relaxed, just like normal people. I thought: “Wow, I’ve arrived!”

I could not believe the media scrum that followed the Prince Harry “incident”. I’d met him at a gig and he’d made a joke that: “I didn’t sound like a black man”. I repeated it on live TV a few days later and the papers wouldn’t leave me alone for weeks. I went to Australia a short while later and it was even on the news over there. It was horrible. I don’t know how A-list stars cope with it every day.

A common misconception of me is that I’m straight. I decided to come out publicly two years ago. I was watching the news and they were talking about a man who had been killed in a homophobic attack on Clapham Common. I was shocked when I looked up at the screen and saw it was a friend of mine. It pisses me off that in this day and age someone will kill a man with their bare hands just because of their sexual orientation. It was then that I thought to myself that life was too short and decided to come out in my show. For the first few shows I bottled out of saying it, but I’m glad I did, as the response has been so positive. I’m not ashamed of who I am and I’m of an age where I’ve paid my dues. Luckily, because I did it that way I didn’t get labelled just as a “gay black comic” because that’s not my thing.

The hardest thing I have ever done, but also the most rewarding, was making the documentary Batty Man about being black and gay. I’m proud to be black, but unlike your sexuality you can’t hide it. I did speak to a few well-known black faces that, for their own reasons, refused to take part and that attitude is the reason that people are still hiding. I’ve been the victim of both racism and homophobia, but if making that programme shows someone that they are not alone, then it was worthwhile.

Only a fool or a drunkard would dare to heckle me now, but over the years I’ve seen some outrageous things. I once asked a guy in the audience why he wasn’t laughing and the bloke next to him said to me: “Mate, just carry on he doesn’t talk to niggers.”

I’ve had comedy groupies in the past, but I don’t go there. I don’t need my ego massaged that much. Some of my friends on the comedy circuit take advantage of it, though. One of my friends went back to a groupie’s bedroom and there were posters of him on the wall, which was more than a bit weird, but he still did it. He’s a slag.

I like to be smartly dressed on stage. I think it not only harks back to a golden era of showbiz, but if an audience pays to see you there’s no way I’m going to look shabby.

I did a programme called Penis Envy which was quite an eye- opening experience getting men to chat about their cocks. The director was forever trying to get me to reveal myself, but there was no way on earth I was going to get it out on TV.

I’m loath to accept any kind of labels, but if I’m known as a nice guy then so be it. My comedy isn’t confrontational and I don’t have an axe to grind. I hope my new show will be the antidote to all the negativity in the world at the moment. I’m bored of all the depressing talk about the recession, swine flu and North Korea. I still have faith in the good will of people.

Stephen is performing his show The Feelgood Factor at The Pleasance, Edinburgh, before taking it on a nationwide tour.

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