Eli Matthewson is as lovely as he is funny – when you meet him you just want to be pals, which is a very clever and useful trait for a comedian. This is his second Billy T Nomination, his first came in 2013 (also known as the year of Rose Matafeo). Last year we saw him in Velcro City, a play he co-wrote with fellow nominee Hamish Parkinson, and in his own show in last year’s festival. He’s a talented chap who seems to get better with age, which is why we’re excited that this year he’s back with fresh jokes taken from old and embarrassing stories from his past.
How’s your Comedy Fest show coming along?
It’s going good, yes.
Everyone says that so decisively, but is it true?
It is going really well but I feel like I’ve opened up a huge can of worms in terms of stuff that I want to contain in it. When I pitched it I was like, ‘It’s all about this!’ and now I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s a lot to talk about and I don’t know how much is funny.’
How do you decide what’s funny?
I think with the stories that I’m choosing for this show, often the most tragic ones or the ones that seemed really tragic at the time they happened to me are, I think, the funniest. I’ve got some really embarrassing stories of stuff that happened to me when I was by myself in my room that I’ve never told before.
Funny stuff never happens to me when I’m by myself!
Oh, I’ve got a terrible one and I’m not going to say what it is now but I told it to one friend recently and asked them: ‘Should I talk about this on stage?’ And he was like, ‘Yep.’ It’s horrible.
How has your comedy changed since last year’s festival?
When I pitched the show last year I didn’t really have a lot of material, where as this year I pitched it with a lot of material I’ve been writing. My show’s kind of about religion and I’d written an article about it for The Wireless and as I wrote it I thought, ‘I could probably make a whole show about this.’ I started writing more jokes about that and I think my material’s got a bit more pointed and direct. I think I have a lot more to say.
Is there a moral to it?
I don’t know if there will necessarily be a moral. From my experience of watching stand-up as well I like shows where they’re like, ‘This is where I’m at right now,’ as opposed to ‘This is how everyone should live their life.’
Right. ‘Cause who can really tell anyone how to do that?
Absolutely no one. I don’t want to make a show about religion that is like, ‘If you’re religious, fuck you.’ A lot of comedy about Christianity is like, ‘God doesn’t exist and if you think he does, piss off out of my life.’ I don’t want to be like that.
How did you get into comedy?
When I lived in Christchurch, which is where I’m from I used to do Scared Scriptless which is like an improvised show – now a lot of the people I used to do that with do Snort. Then I came to drama school because I wanted to be a dramatic actor but in my first year my friend James Roque, who’s a comedian, was doing the Raw Quest at the time and he said I should try comedy as well.
We’d talked about the same kind of movies and comedy that we enjoyed, so I did my first gig and at that time it was before I came out so a lot of the material I did was about girls that I had been dating. Looking back on it, it was a very different me, but it went really well. I think with a lot of people you’ll find that their first gig was awesome, then it gets hard for the next year and then you start to figure out who you actually are as a comedian.
It must be hard working through that on stage.
Which is why it’s great to have open mic nights because there’s no pressure for it to be perfect – you’ve got some time to work it out.
Are there quite a few opportunities to do that in Auckland?
There are cool gigs popping up all around the place now. There’s a gig at Golden Dawn and The Basement every couple of weeks and there’s a gig at the Wine Cellar now that Guy Montgomery and Tom Furniss run. All of those are free or koha, it’s just about exploring new material.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a comedian? Acting, or something else as well?
Well, I would have definitely had to do something else for money. I was really lucky when I graduated from drama school because that was when I was nominated for the Billy T the first time in 2013. That led into a TV presenting job that year and since then I haven’t had to get a café or bar job to sustain myself but I’ve come very, very close. I think If I’d graduated drama school without doing comedy… I don’t know what I’d be doing. Maybe teaching or something.
Who’s the funniest person you know who isn’t a comedian?
That’s a really good question. [Thanks Alice]. I have an Uncle Bruce who I find funny. I find him funny because he tells a lot of jokes and then laughs at them himself and when he laughs it’s like 100 million decibels, it’s so loud. I think I learnt a lot from him, I don’t know, I’m quite into dad jokes and bad jokes like that.
What do you like about the other nominees’ comedy?
Nothing. Nah, I really like all of them. Hamish, I’ve been working with him for a long time. We’ve done three plays together and we’re friends from Christchurch High School. He’s the most gifted physical performer our age I think. He’s super, super funny.
Nic is like one of the best comedy writers in the country. Matt is so good at all the things I’m not good at in comedy, like taming a rough crowd. And Tim’s just the coolest guy in the world. When I first saw Tim perform we were in the Raw Quest together and I had my semi-final one week and saw his the next and I just thought, ‘I should give up, he’s too good’.
Who are some of your favourite comedians?
I really like Aziz Ansari, he’s pretty much on top of the world as far as comedy goes. I’ve been watching a lot of Key & Peele which is a sketch show, they do a lot of really funny, insanely clever sketches. As a writer, their writing is so specific and clear but takes really unexpected twists.
There’s a comedian from Australia called Celia Pacquola, I just happened to go to her show in Edinburgh and since then I’ve been at a few festivals at the same time as her and she’s just a phenomenally good comedian. What I like about her is that when you watch her show all you want is to be her best friend forever. I think that’s my ideal goal as a comedian – that when people leave [my show] they want to be my friend – so that I can have more friends and get more presents on my birthday.
Eli Mattewson is performing Faith at the Basement from the 12th – 16th of May. Get tickets here.