Not a man to needlessly set about causing divisions in his audience, Stephen K Amos has always been an everyman comedian.
Fitting then, that his new UK tour, which kicked off earlier this month and heads to Leeds in January, should be called Everyman. But in his typically open style, he wants the audience to do the thinking on the title.
Why comedian Frank Skinner finds doing stand-up 'quite heroic'“You can take it in a variety of ways: is it every man for himself, as it appears to be around the world at the moment? Or is it that we should reconsider the fact that the whole of humanity will only survive and progress if every man pulls together?
"It really does depend on your point of view. I’m not a preachy sort of comic, I prefer to leave things up in the air and for the audience to make their own decisions.”
Every year, Amos takes a new show out to the nation, and each time fresh social and political challenges are there to be faced. This time around they include Brexit, although he insists he won’t cover it if he finds he has nothing new to say on the subject.
There are, however, some broad areas he will definitely be confronting in Everyman. “I’m tackling things as simple as how we face our own mortality as we get older, and looking at things you can do to improve yourself when you’re trying to find answers to questions.”
This desire for answers has been partly sparked by a TV show he appeared on earlier in 2019. BBC’s Pilgrimage featured a number of celebrities (including Dana, Lesley Joseph and Les Dennis) who embarked on a journey (both physical and spiritual) to Rome.
Alexander Armstrong on Pointless, comedy partner Ben Miller and why he's doing his first stand-up tourAs an atheist and gay man, Amos was initially taken aback when the group was offered a private audience with the Pope as part of their adventure.
“It was so surreal. I was very apprehensive because I said I would only be part of it if I could ask some questions; I didn’t want to not have the opportunity to address issues.
"I had a weight on my shoulders that if I didn’t do this, that I would be doing a disservice to a whole community of people. They did say it might spark an international incident depending on the question, but I said ‘bring it on’.”
The pontiff’s response to Amos’s question about not feeling accepted as a gay man by religion surprised him by being so open and generous. “I said to a friend there beforehand that I was prepared to walk out, if he had given me a stock response.
"But I was blindsided by how candid he was. He wasn’t that explicit in what he said but it was enough to make me realise that, you know what, you’re one of the good ‘uns.”
That experience has bolstered one of the longstanding ideas Amos had for his own comedy. “I’ve always wanted to have people in the audience who don’t share the same views as me, whether politically, socio-economically, and racially, and to see if we can have a common ground for laughing together.
"I don’t want to be that kind of comic who gets a big round of applause and everyone goes ‘yeah, I agree!’. I want you to laugh and to be blindsided in the way that the Pope blindsided me. I want you to be surprised, not to feel like you’re at a rally with like-minded people.”
Russell Howard on his comedy career and why some jokes don't travelAt Leeds City Varieties, January 26. cityvarieties.co.uk