Stephen K Amos on gay comedy and Sandi Toksvig
Joining Danish lesbian joker Sandi Toksvig on stage at the Hackney Empire, British black gay comic Stephen K Amos will be celebrating half a century of gay comedy
Gay comedy is nothing new to the Brits, for decades the have had the likes of Kenny Everett, Danny La Rue and John Imran gracing their screens. They are the queens of innuendo and double entendre but the jokes and double-entendres went over most peoples’ heads and, in doing so, gave that the gay community a secret culture and slang language.
Now for one night only Hackney Empire, in north London, have teamed up with Kaleidoscope, an international LGBT charity, to celebrate gay comedy past. The night will present acts such as London Gay Big Band, The New 4 Poofs and a Piano and gay singer H from pop band Steps. Hosting the night will be Sandi Toksvig, Denmark’s most famous export in the UK and one of the world’s funniest lesbians.
We catch up to the man at her side, black gay comic Stephen K Amos.
How did you get involved in Ha Ha Hackney and why is it so important for you?
Where do I begin? The Hackney Empire is a lovely venue and I love Hackney as I have played there many times myself.
I was approached by Kaleidoscope asking if I would be one of the hosts for the night and of course I looked into the charity and I like what they do. I thought why not give up my time and support this very worthwhile cause, so that’s why I’m being involved. It’s a night of celebration.
The night is celebrating Danny La Rue, John Iman and Larry Grayson. So do you remember growing up with them on TV and radio?
Can I say, my mum and dad loved Danny La Rue but I think we all grew up, in the UK, with the iconic sitcom, Are You Being Served. And my mum and dad had no idea that John Inman, in his role as Mr Humphries, was gay. It was actually gay.
At the time did you understand that he was gay?
Absolutely not. I thought, what a strange man. What a queer man, that’s what I thought. To be honest when it came to my realization, I sort of felt that I’m not really gay, as that didn’t represent me. But now looking back, he was just showing one side of being gay.
At Ha Ha Hackney, are going to be comparing with the Queen of Radio 4, Sandi Toksvig. Have you worked with her before?
My plan is to kidnap Sandi, so I can get all of her jobs. I have worked on one of her panel shows at the Hay Festival.
I think she is like Stephen Fry, and she is a understated national treasure. She has always supported the cause and is a very clever woman. It’s going to be a pleasure to be opposite her on stage.
Have you any banter prepared? Any short jokes to throw at her?
Do you know what if I even considered having a pop at her, I’m sure her rebuttle will put me so firmly in my place, I would even begin to reply.
Did you watch Sandi when she used to be on the children’s show Number 73?
I might remind her that I wrote into that program to be part of the show and she never replied.
You travel the world with your own comedy shows, is it important for you to push gay rights as a comic?
For me it is important because as I said growing up there wasn’t any body that represented me. And I think it’s very important being in the public eye to be doing something for the cause as honestly and openly as you can. So young people can say ‘wow, I will be ok, this is normal.’
Especially as a black gay man it’s even more important to be on the TV and radio…
Absolutely, I mean I didn’t set out to be a role model or anything like that and for years I didn’t want to discuss or talk about it. But I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of and there is nothing better than being honest and open with your self.
How has it been for you as an out comic?
One of my things is that I try not to be defined by my sexuality or by my race. But I did a show in Australia and the topic at the time was gay marriage and the opposition leader, Tony Abbot, is not supporting it even though his sister is an openly gay woman, in a relationship. It was too funny to lose and I’m comfortable to talk about it in my comedy routine. I don’t want my comedy to be defined by me holding a banner for gay rights or any particular cause, I just want to be seen as a relaxed, funny gay comic.
You seem to be quite busy at the moment, so what’s next for you, are you ready to settling down?
It’s not on my radar at the moment, in fact it’s not on my Gaydar either. I’m always on the look out. But off to do some stuff in North America and I have a full run in Edinburgh a work in progress show and also I’m talking about a sitcom for the BBC and a tour in the Autumn.
Are you writing the sitcom?
It has been written by a very good friend of mine, who you will know who it is, but I’m not at liberty to say. He has had a couple of very big hits though.
So coming back to Ha Ha Hackney, who are you looking forward to watching?
I’m looking forward to seeing the West End Diva’s and what they are preforming and the New Four Poof’s and a Piano, I knew the old Four Poof’s and a Piano.
I’ve just seen that they have a new line up, so what’s new?
Basically Dave is the only original member left, very much like Bucks Fizz.
The ticket price for the Gala is £70. This includes a top price ticket, interval drink, post show party with members of the cast, programme, goodie bag containing merchandising, a £10 voucher to use when buying tickets for any of the other Ha Ha Hackney events and a special half price Friends Scheme offer.
Tickets available online from hackneyempire.co.uk.
For those not used to classic gay, camp, British comedy, or those who just love it, here’s a clip of Are You Being Served, a UK sitcom set in a department store featuring closet gay character Mr Humphries: