Stephen K Amos: interview

Posted: Thu Feb 18 2010

After filming an episode of 'The Wright Stuff', Stephen K Amos spends the morning with Time Out.

'Don't feed the Queen! She's a cannibal and eats children! Feed the pigeons.' The old woman in the trench coat shouts at me as I stand in line outside Five's studios in Queensway, waiting to be let into Matthew Wright's 'The Wright Stuff'. It's too early in the morning to come up with a witty reply so I merely nod and move on.

Ten minutes later I am sat two people away from her in the audience. My legs inadvertently touch the man in front of me, he snaps round, dislodging his dodgy wig and barks, 'Don't touch me! I don't like being touched!'

'Don't mind him,' the elderly cockney chap next to me croaks. 'He's always like that. I'm one of the regulars. Dave's the name.' He offers me his hand. 'Good to meet you.' 'What are you doing here?' he continues looking at the notepad on my lap. I tell him I'm here to meet comedian Stephen K Amos, who's on the panel that morning.

On cue Amos walks in looking sharp and suave in an expensive suit. He smiles at me and takes his seat behind the desk as Wright begins his audience warm-up. 'He does admit he's gay you know,' Dave says nodding over towards Amos. 'But you wouldn't know it to look at him. He looks quite masculine.' The floor manager asks for quiet. 'One minute until we're live, folks.' 'I mainly come here for the women,' Dave whispers, just in case I'd got the wrong idea about him.

It's my first time observing the magic of live morning television up close and personal. The only other time I get to catch it is when I'm ill at home and need something to take my mind off a fever. It's actually quite fun to see it unfold without the fog of delirium and Lemsip.

The first subject for discussion is: 'Is class rather than colour now the biggest barrier to success?' Wright skillfully coordinates the panel's responses, keeping it light, amusing and pacy. Amos surfs the format with ease, cutting in with jokes and bon mots when required to, but equally providing serious comment for the more sensitive sections about Alzheimer's and text bullying.

During one of the ad breaks Wright ribs Amos that he's being unusually serious. 'You've read the papers. You're not gagging around like normal. What's going on? Oh, wait a minute, it's not today that you've got a journalist following you around, is it?' he laughs out loud. 'By the way, my mum loves you. I think she wants to adopt you.'

An hour and a bit later it's all over. The audience starts to make its way out. Problems have been solved, some extreme views aired and the mad pigeon woman had behaved herself admirably!

Back in the green room I find Stephen discussing the show with fellow panelist Martin Offiah. 'It's amazing how things have changed. Ten years ago you wouldn't have had two black guys on a panel at the same time. Anyway, lovely to work with you, good luck with the acting classes.'

As we leave the studios to head for a coffee and some breakfast Amos kisses goodbye the other celeb guest, Dawn Porter, who is wrangling her Siamese cat back into its travel carrier before heading off to LA. 'Mwah! You were fab,' she smiles.

That was an early start for you…
'Well, it's all part of being a jobbing comic these days. I've got an hour or so off and then I've got to do another couple of interviews and then I'll drive down to tonight's show. I should get home around 1am.'

Do you enjoy doing chat shows or is it just a means to an end - a way to sell tickets?
'Some are better than others. I always enjoy coming on “The Wright Stuff”, though. The guests are normally informative, knowledgeable and very keen to express their opinions, so that's always good. As with any live stuff though, particularly in the morning, you've got to watch what you say. I can't be too frivolous, too funny or too near-the-knuckle - I let Matthew do that because it's his show.'

But you have got in trouble a couple of times haven't you for things you've said?
'Yes, but not intentionally. There was a small scandal when Matthew asked me about royalty on one show and I mentioned the fact that when I'd met Prince Harry he'd said, “You don't sound like a black chap.” Matthew's face dropped and as soon as we went to a commercial break he said, “You know that's going to make the papers, don't you?” I thought: Don't be silly, but sure enough the papers were on the phone like I'd revealed something terrible. I just said it in the moment. I wasn't trying to be funny or to be controversial - I just repeated what he actually said to me. And then, lo-and-behold… scandalous!

'I also said the word “knobhead” on “Loose Women” a little while back. I didn't even realise it was that bad a word. But they seemed to think it was. It was a good lesson. You have to come across as natural and able to riff off the people on these shows but at the same time be able to censor yourself much more than you would do on stage. Now when I'm asked a question I pause for a second, compute it and then talk. As opposed to when a heckler shouts something out at one of my live shows and I have no idea what's going to come out. They're two very different types of performing but I enjoy both a lot.'

As we leave the café and go our separate ways I catch the eye of the pigeon lady who has taken up her usual position on the street corner. 'He's good, isn't he?' She calls over. 'But don't forget what I said about the Queen.'

Stephen K Amos's 'The Feelgood Factor' is at the Hammersmith Apollo, Fri Feb 26 and Sat Feb 27.