Stephen K Amos’ show might be called The Laughter Master, but I think the master failed to appear in his Melbourne International Comedy Festival rendition.
Amos is a long-time comedian. He’s very familiar with Australia (having performed here at least once a year for the past ten years) and his opening jokes, as usual, revolve around his experiences here. He tailors them differently for different audiences, mocks particular suburbs and particular quirks of each state depending on where he is, but he jokes about familiar scenarios that we can all laugh along with.
Much of the rest of his show also relies on ‘relatable’ concepts, but they – most unfortunately – tend to fall a bit flat. Amos’ great skill is audience interaction, and he sets up some great running jokes while talking to the audience – a swimming coach and his secret service / government worker friend, and a dad with two young boys who learned a lot more about masturbation than they had bargained for. There’s a wonderful edge to his reverse heckling, but it’s always gentle, nothing to be embarrassed about (except perhaps for the teenage boys and the masturbation thing).
However, Amos’ social commentary on the terrors of the world and the growing use of social media are, while relatable, just not particularly funny. I found myself chuckling less and less during the performance, as he chatted about the fear we have of ISIS and North Korea, and the pointlessness of some Facebook conversations. I feel like I lost my sense of humour entirely when he spent five full minutes reciting, verbatim, senseless and stupid Facebook comments he’d read.
The show hit its unfortunate peak when Amos started checking his onstage notes to remember where he was up to. While he admitted that we were at a preview show, so he brought his notes onstage to check which jokes were hitting and which were falling flat, he seemed to lose his train of thought so many times that few of his points really pulled into the station at all. For a performer I normally really enjoy, The Laughter Master felt rather lacklustre.
I think I prefer Amos as a character performer. He has a brilliant knack for a goofy accent, meandering between bogan and his native Nigerian, depending on who he’s insulting at the time. He has a great repertoire of ‘idiot’ facial expressions, and uses them wonderfully on the audience, himself, or just the people in his stories. I want to see more of this, and less Facebook comment recitations, but unfortunately the balance isn’t quite there.
Hopefully his other MICF show – Talk Show – doesn’t suffer the same fate.