Matt Stellingwerf is nominated for the Billy T for the second year running. He’s dry and intellectual and very very funny. If his appearance at the MonteCristo showcase last week is anything to go by, Matt’s show this year is definitely one to watch.
I feel like everything I want to ask you, you already got asked by India last year.
That’s all good, I can make up new answers.
So tell me any three facts about you…
I’m an award-nominated comedian, I’m wearing my Dad’s shirt from 1986, I’ve a PHD in criminology… when I was single if you’d asked me for three interesting facts I’d probably tell people I’ve got size 14 feet.
But you’re unavailable so that’s not interesting?
Yeah so people just go, “that must make it really annoying to find shoes.” It’s a genuine a question, I’m not even trying to show off, I’m like, “do you know where I can find shoes?” I was traveling around Europe, you can’t buy shoes my size anywhere but Germany or the Netherlands, so I lost my shoes in France. France, I’ve seen their rugby team, they’re really big, but no one has feet bigger than size 11. So I just had to wear jandals for four months.
Was it summer?
Summer-ish, but cobbled streets, they’re a nightmare.
That must have been terrible for your ankles.
So bad, I got a swollen ankle, and luckily then we arrived in Corfu and I didn’t wear shoes or a shirt or pants or anything for like, six weeks, it was amazing.
How has your style of comedy changed since last year, if at all?
No evolution at all, I’m worse if anything. No… I’m starting to properly find my voice I think, which I know is a cliché hammy thing to say, like, “I’m an artist and I’m really finding my…” No, I’m talking more about the things I want to talk about…
Which is what?
I guess, without sounding like a wanker, more intellectual things, sort of almost using those degrees that I’ve got that I don’t use at the moment. I just like learning things, that is what excites me, so I’m like, well, I might as well talk about the stuff I’ve learned on stage, that’s more fun. Basically, I think in comedy, you want to get to the stage where – your material, you always like talking about it if it’s going really well, if everyone’s laughing, it’s fine – but sometimes you just get a bit sick of what you’re talking about and you want to get to the stage where you’re happy and enthusiastic, almost regardless of how the material is going. So you get to that stage where you start writing for yourself rather than for the audience, but you want that to be long enough on in your comedy career that writing about what interests you is still funny to the audience. Because otherwise you’re just a self-indulgent wanker. Of which there are a few.
So have you thought much about your comedy fest show for this year, and how it’s going to take shape?
Yeah. I’ve thought about it heaps mate. I’ve thought about it so much. I’ve gone on my computer, and I’ve written out the topics I want to talk about it, and the jokes that I’ve already got on those topics and the new bits I want to do. I’m doing it at the Dunedin Fringe so I’ve forced myself. I’m most of the way there, I know what I want to talk about, there’s a big bit about U.S. history, a bit about philosophy, a bit about medicine, a bit about criminology, a bit about evolutionary anthropology, a bit about classics, a big bit about Greek and Norse mythology randomly, I don’t know why.
This sounds fascinating, it sounds more like a lecture.
Well, it’s going to be funny.
A funny lecture.
A little bit of a lecture. One of the funniest people I’ve ever met, James Olsen was my thesis supervisor at Auckland University, he’s a criminologist. One of the funniest performers ever. His lectures were like a one hour comedy show three times a week, they’re amazing, so if I can just be a little bit funnier than him, cos that’s my job, and a little less smart than him possibly, because that’s his job. I’m going to meet somewhere in the middle and make Greek mythology really interesting and funny, because it is funny, it’s hilarious. It’s like someone asked Eddie Izzard, “why do you talk about history so much, history’s kind of a boring topic,” and he goes, “every other comedian just tells stories about what happened to them, like, ‘oh the other day something funny happened to me,'” and he’s like, “they just choose stories from their own lives, I can choose anyone’s story.” Anyone in the course of human history has probably had funnier, more interesting stories than a 27 year old drunkard from Whanganui. I’ve got the whole universe of human knowledge and understanding to make jokes about.
It sounds like a smart move. So what never fails to make you laugh?
One of my best friends in the world is from Uganda, and you just don’t meet dudes with swag like African dudes. Him and his friends together, we all hang out and they’re just so funny, I don’t know what it is. They’re just more joyous than white people. White people are miserable. We’re all guilty about colonizing the world and ruining it and the industrial revolution and the spread of religious fundamentalism, they’ve been the victims of all of our actions but have learned to just be happy people. His name’s David, and he makes me laugh more than anything else, and my girlfriend, who is way funnier than me. If she ever gets into comedy she is going to overtake me so quick. Luckily I think she likes her job dealing with dying babies in the intensive care unit at Starship so I think I’m all good.
That’s good for everyone.
It’s good that one of us has a worthy profession. She’s really good at her job.
How did you get into comedy?
I think I’d always wanted to do it, but I just didn’t know how you go from not having ever done it to being, like, on the old VHS’s of Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard that I used to watch. I think I got in in the usual way that a lot of people get in: your relationship ends at the time, and that seems to be a kicker to be like, you know what? I want to follow my dreams man. I signed up for a RAW com
edy quest, the open mic night on Mondays at The Classic, and the rest, as they say, is history. March 5th 2012.
Do you feel any extra pressure being a second-time nominee?
I don’t feel pressure, in that it’s obvious I’m going to win. No… not at all. I think you can’t care about comedy awards, or awards in general.
You don’t care if you win then?
If I lose this time, I’ve lost twice, which means I’ve lost it just as many times as Rhys Darby, so I’m essentially going to be a millionaire if I lose.
That’s a good way of looking at it.
But no, I think you can spend way too much time worrying about what five judges who got free tickets to your show, think. Rather than the 95 other people in the room who paid their hard-earned money, you know, in the midst of financial peril. They took their $20 and said, “I’m going to roll the dice on this person I’ve never heard of,” which of course no one’s heard of me. They’re just going to scroll past my name and say, “who’s that? That’s a daft name, I’m not listening to that.” But yeah, I care about the people who fucking spent their money to come, because, no matter how much the prize money is, they are the ones that let you have a career, the people who part with their money to come watch you because they like you. I’ve done 2 hour shows now, and last year I saw people coming back for the second time and I’m getting to know them.
You’ve got fans!
Yeah, I’ll be honest, my fans are generally some pretty rough looking dudes. I get a lot of Uni, like arts student dropouts in metal t-shirts, and they’re the people I want. Unfortunately they don’t have a lot of money to buy show tickets, but, they’re the people who want to come see you man, and if you spend all your time thinking about them, and what makes you happy, then who cares who wins.
But I’m definitely going to win so…it’s not really a problem.
Totally. Do you remember your first ever gig?
A little bit, not really? To be honest I think most people just sort of black it out. It was good, it went well.
You remember it going well?
Yeah, well I walked out, and, I’d made the mistake of telling one or two people I knew that it was on. Like thirty of them came. Scott, who runs the place, didn’t know who I was and didn’t know who my friends were, so he sat them all at the front, so like, the front three rows, were all my friends. I think the first thing I said on stage was, “shit this was a bad idea.”
That would have got all the laughs.
Yeah, and that’s all I remember. I think there was a joke about Occupy Wall St, because that was big at the time. I don’t talk about that kind of stuff anymore. Because it’s kind of all sorted. The Occupy movement did what it was supposed to, the status quo’s changed….
Yeah, equality exists… no problem.
You’ve mention Eddie Izzard quite a lot, do you have any other favourite comedians?
Billy Connolly, just for, probably being the best. Great storyteller. Dave Allen, who without even knowing it was the inspiration for my style. I mean I watched him lots when I was younger, he was this old Irish dude in the 70’s, he used to host a show on the BBC, and he just kind of sat on a stool, he had a cigarette in one hand and he had his hand holding a glass of whiskey, with his finger sort of dipped in it – it looked like. He was actually missing the top half of his ring finger. He just sat on the stool and he told a few yarns, smoked, and then he’d go, “and now… some sketches.” And they’d just cut to some sketches. They were amazing. They say people almost die in his hour shows, lots of people say they’re the funniest things ever. I never got to see him live, and I find myself, I sit on stage a lot, and I kind of forgot about it, but then I watched it again when I was at my parents house and… Dave Allen. People don’t know who he is, they need too. Same with Stewart Lee, he’s amazing. Louis C.K. obviously, Bill Burr, he has the best microphone technique of any comedian I’ve ever seen. My favourite Kiwi comedian is still Brendhan Lovegrove, who I think is one of the funniest people ever, and definitely one of the funniest comedians in the world. He should be way more famous than he is.
Last word. Why should people come to your show?
Um. Because I’ve been nominated for twice as many Billy T’s as everyone else, and I’m therefore probably better…? No. Um. Because it’ll be really fun, and it’ll be chill, and it’ll be a good combination of funny but interesting as well. I think those kind of jokes that are actually interesting and engaging stick around way longer in life. It’s going to be cool. You can be there with all the unemployed dudes in the metal shirts at the back. The system works, what can I say.
Matt’s show, Bachelor of Arts, is playing at The Classic from 10-14 May.
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