Despite what you may think from outside, the Lancaster Grand is a really lovely theatre. Why is it then that when Stephen K Amos (who has been on Live At The Apollo, Have I Got News For You, etc) did a gig there, it was less than half full? It bemuses me.
And Stephen too, as he was quick to point out. To me, the way he should have got past the poor turnout would not be to keep addressing it to the extent where he was complaining about the long journey he had from London to come to do the gig and saying “I’m losing the will to live.” Asking an audience to make up for all the empty seats by laughing twice as loud, to me, is a reminder that you’ve not come to see Michael McIntyre (or someone else who can sell out 60 arenas), when surely, if he just went for it anyway, the comedy would speak for itself. Some of the best stand-up happens in the back room of a pub with twenty people listening, and that’s fine. To imply that you don’t want to be at a gig is immediately alienating the audience, and could make them not want to be there either.
That said, as the night went on, he did make the most of the audience that had shown up. Everyone was laughing (other than a strange man sat near me in the circle who seemed to have come just to heckle, but he doesn’t deserve any more to be said about him). In contrast to when I last saw Amos a couple of years ago, there was real set routine at all. At times I thought he had decided he didn’t really care anyway considering the half-turn-out, but it didn’t matter – the show was centred around the audience and his improvisation really proved how spontaneous comedy can be as funny as rehearsed sketches.
The highlight of the night, amidst this continuous conversation with the audience in which Amos friendlily belittled audiences’ jobs and voices, was during a cocaine joke when an audience member started talking to his neighbour about something. When questioned by the comic, the man said “the man in the box didn’t enjoy that one.” From this spiralled the majority of the comedy material for the rest of the evening – a commentary on how the man in the box was too high-brow to enjoy any X-rated jokes and how the audience member who had pointed it out, instead of enjoying the night for himself, was more concerned with judging other people’s reactions. Perhaps it was a had-to-be-there occurrence, but it was a twist that sent the whole show spiralling into a surreal evening of observation.
Another thing worth mentioning, is that Amos is quick to use, for want of a better term, the “race card” in a lot of his jokes. I remembered him doing this last time I saw him, so this time I counted (and maybe this makes me even sadder than the man watching people’s reactions): 19 separate jokes where the comedic value originated from the fact that he was black. Now I’m not saying he shouldn’t acknowledge his race and maybe use it a couple of times in his material to make the audience aware of prejudices that still exist today, but it does feel like he’s hung up on it as that’s what everything usually comes back to. Isn’t constantly reminding the audience that he is part of a minority just making them think of him as a black comedian rather than just a comedian, reinforcing the concept of racism itself? Maybe I’m thinking too much into it.
I came out of the theatre not knowing exactly what I had seen. I knew that for the most part I’d enjoyed it, but it was an experience I knew I’d never have again, and I’m not sure I’d want to. Was it genius, original comedy? Probably not. Was it a memorable night? Almost definitely.