I Used To Say My Mother Was Shirley Bassey by Stephen K Amos
The Feel Good Factor (DVD)
I can only remember buying two comedians’ autobiographies: Tina Fey’s Bossypants and, many years before that, Jerry Seinfeld’s SeinLanguage. It’s just not a genre I seek out. However, as soon as I saw Stephen K Amos’s I Used To Say My Mother Was Shirley Bassey, for some reason I felt compelled to take a gamble and buy a copy. When I started reading it I crossed my fingers, hoping I would find it amusing as I’d only seen parts of his stand up sets on TV. Luckily I had nothing to worry about as I chuckled my way through the entire book.
Amos spends a lot of the book recounting his early life as a young boy in South London. I enjoyed these descriptions of life ‘south of the river’ as Amos avoided the common clichés and predictable gags. I think that is what makes Amos a good comedian. He picks up on everyday social and cultural nuances and presents them in an original way. A great example of this is the way he retells his first trip to America and compares NYC locals to Londoners. Amos’s assessment of white gloved traffic wardens and sadistic boarding house masters as being the main British colonial legacy in Nigeria, and his early experience flying the now defunct Nigerian Air were both particularly entertaining moments in the book. Growing up in the only Black family in his London neighbourhood (and the only family without at least one parent in Wandsworth prison) Amos was an obvious target for racism and in his autobiography he retells these stories so subtly you don’t necessarily realise he has retold an unpleasant incident until the end of the paragraph and you feel rather shocked. I was delighted to find the ending to the autobiography rather smart and commanding. I couldn’t imagine a better way for Amos to wrap it all up.
After enjoying I Used To Say My Mother Was Shirley Bassey so much, I couldn’t resist buying Amos’s stand up DVD from the Hammersmith Apollo, The Feel Good Factor. It is a few years old now and is being sold at a very good price! Keeping the price in mind, it is not the best quality picture but do you really need that for stand up? Understandably, a few of the good gags from this show were used in his autobiography but I enjoyed listening to the way he told them. Amos regularly tours Australia where he is popular so it is no surprise that he includes a few jokes about Australians. I suspect he anticipated some antipodeans in the audience. He does a great Aussie accent and during his joke about the TV advert for a door company he saw on TV while on tour down under I had tears in my eyes I was laughing so hard. You can’t make that sort of thing up! Add to the show a brief interview with the cheerful Amos in the extras and you have about 75 minutes of great entertainment.
As with most comedians, you will probably either love or hate Amos, but I can say that this book and DVD kept me entertained to the point where I have to stop myself from retelling his jokes to others so I don’t spoil it for them!
I Used To Say My Mother Was Shirley Bassey – 5 Stars
The Feel Good Factor – 4 Stars