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‘Performing to 50 women and 10 men is the ideal ratio’: Rose Matafeo on making award-winning comedy

Rose Matafeo won the Fred Award last night. It’s New Zealand’s most prestigious comedy award, along with the Billy T Award (which she has also won). Sam Brooks talks to her about her comedy, life overseas, and their shared passion for musical flop Nine.

I’m going to be straight up here and say that I love Rose Matafeo. I’ve watched her comedy for hours, I’ve performed on the same bill with her, I’ve riffed about the feud between Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland with her. I feel a kindred spirit with her.

I think she’s the best comedian of her generation, and like most of the ‘best X of their generation’ she’s going overseas to become even bigger, better and more exciting. To see her win the Fred Award for best show of the Comedy Festival last night was a special moment; it’s seeing someone finally getting the recognition she deserves, not just from the audience – they’ve loved her for ages – but from the industry powers-that-be.

So getting the excuse to chat with her over Facebook a few weeks ago wasn’t one I wasn’t going to pass up. This is our rambling conversation, where we discuss our mutual obsessions, her comedy, and what it’s like to perform overseas.

Rose Matafeo: Okay, I’m here.

Sam Brooks: GRAND. What movie did you see?

Guardians of The Galaxy 2. I really enjoyed it. Kurt Russell is in it and at one point he has to be a young version of himself and they didn’t CGI it and I was relieved. (Editor’s Note: They actually did CGI it! Fake news.)

How much does Chris Pratt take his shirt off in it?

He has his shirt off like once. I asked for my money back, but it’s Cheap Tuesday so they were reluctant.

I feel disgusting and misled by the marketing of this torso-bait.

He’s got a hot face in it though. I think the makeup team really stepped it up this year.

Do you prefer full abs and muscle Pratt or Parks and Rec Pratt? Or obscure pre-fame Evermore Pratt.

Fucking loved Evermore Pratt. Clean shaven, weirdly dating his costar that played his sister.

YES.

But I have to say I love full abs Pratt and I don’t give a shit about how awful that is.

I have like, a hundred tabs open constantly on Chrome and one of them was that ridiculous buff selfie he took of himself. So we’re on the same page there.

Thank GOD, I think there’s something a bit off about him, in real life maybe. Him and Anna Faris seem like they could be real fruit loops.

He seems like a sweetheart who somehow stumbled backwards into everything? Like an amazing wife and all these roles and just general fame and money. I feel like people who grew up with him would be like, ‘I hate that guy’. Like he’s definitely the guy who coasted through EVERYTHING in high school. I might be projecting.

I totally agree. But maybe he’s a super crazy networking psychopath, you never know in Hollywood, California.

Speaking of Hollywood, California: How has it been in London, England? I don’t know how to segue into things.

It’s been good. I’m going in to apply for my visa tomorrow which means I can stay another two years. It’s exciting, but it means all I can do for a job up there is comedy which is terrifying.

I like it, but my aunt teased me today about how white I am now. Also I said ‘crisps’ yesterday and I was like ‘I have become a monster’. Only colonisers say ‘crisps’.

The word ‘crisps’ always makes me shudder because I imagine someone crumbling chips between their fingers. And I agree, you’re basically a monster.

Also, real-talk: How on earth do you deal with the food over there after living in NZ? When I went to Edinburgh and London last year I was genuinely shocked at the food situation.

So, there is good food. But only because London has so many different amazing not English cultures there. English food is trash. It’s hard though. I cook a lot, and groceries are super cheap up there if you know where to buy things. Like, aubergines are crazy spenny in NZ. Whereas I basically live on aubergines in England.

But real talk: Japanese food sucks up there and fish sucks and they don’t make real pies. However, they do chicken RIGHT.

I got fish from a truck in Edinburgh and I think I’m still digesting it.

Edinburgh is absolutely fucked for food. There are like, two good places to go. I survived on homemade spaghetti all Edinburgh.

When I do it again, because an insane person in the arts has this drive to do that damn money-sink of a festival, I don’t think I’ll ever eat out.

So how do you find your comedy translates for an English audience? I’ve seen your past… five shows, I think and there’s a theatricality to your comedy that makes it super special, especially amongst NZ comedians I think, but how does that sit in England?

I don’t know if it necessarily translates, because the great thing is that you’re already a point of difference in the scene being from somewhere else, and people find my accent funny, I guess. Sometimes I have to tone it down because people don’t understand me sometimes. 

I think there are way less differences really though. I think my personality is a lot more chill than some performers? I dunno. It helps that I sound like an absolute weirdo to them I guess.

Is the same kind of vibe somewhere like Melbourne?

Melbourne understands me more, but of course I’m not a new weird thing to them. But they can be way harder on you. This Melbourne was so interesting though, because the way I marketed the show, which I originally thought was going to fuck me over because it was marketed very girly, meant that for a lot of shows I had 80% women in the crowd and they were the most amazing shows I’ve ever had.

It was a fucking dream. Performing to 50 women and maybe 10 men is the perfect ratio. It’s like how sometimes when you see a group of women laughing together in public, and how that seems like some sort of exciting secret that you want to be a part of.

And what’s the response like when it’s a show with that ratio? I don’t think I’ve ever been in an audience like that, which is a fucking shame.

It’s insane. There’s such a beautiful energy. It’s like we’ve all got together and gone, ‘Okay, let’s talk about the real shit. In this show I talk about rom coms and birth control and sex and periods and finding yourself as a woman blah blah blah.’

And sometimes in a crowd that’s sort of fifty-fifty, it can be so hard. But when it’s mostly women, it’s literally like I’m just doing a weird one sided conversation with my friends which friggin’ rocks. It gives me so much more confidence onstage to mess about and be more myself I think.

What I’m trying to say I guess is, only come to my show if you’re down with talking about some real girl shit.

Fred Award winner Rose Matafeo and Billy T Award winner Angella Dravid / Photo Credit: Chris Parker

And it must be so amazing for an audience to have that space as well? Not necessarily a ‘safe space’ which doesn’t necessarily imply fun, but somewhere where they can let go and laugh at whatever and be so clear that what they’re laughing at is for them?

Yeah completely! And really, I just hope my shows have a cool vibe for anyone who is into hearing about that sort of stuff, it’s not specific to being a women at ALL. It’s like, if you’re down to get deep and be silly and be on board with it, it can be the most fun time.I think I put so much energy into this show performing it, so even when it’s going bad I still go so hard energy wise.

And it’s the difference between an audience energising you or sapping that shit up so you are exhausted at the end. I think making comedy for those specific people is great. Because I guess that’s what finding your audience is

And I’m sick of trying to feel like I need to appeal to all people. Because I’m absolutely the worst to so so many people, and it’s truly freeing to know that haha.

That was the thing that struck me the most about your last show, especially. It felt like such a beautiful shift from Finally Dead, like there was a real openness to you talking about personal stuff, and a warmth to it that didn’t feel put on but felt like you were just talking to people in a room.

Ah yes! The last show is so much more the vibe of this year’s show. Figuring out what kind of performer you are is so fucked and takes so long and I’m not even halfway there, but when you start to figure it out, it’s so cool. It’s cool to feel like I’m having fun onstage sometimes instead of freaking the fuck out.

And on finding your audience, I remember on the opening night of Finally Dead, I laughed at this joke about… I want to say Katharine Hepburn because that makes sense, and you know my laugh by now, and you actually said, “Thanks Sam!” And for me, it was this beautiful thing of being seen and invited into a joke and into a room by somebody?

And I guess if you can make an entire audience feel like that, then you’re doing something super fucking special.

Haha, I remember that! That was great for me, knowing at least one person would appreciate my slightly shit impression. I’m scared I’ve talked myself up too much. I still suck at comedy most of the time.

So to wrap up, we need to talk about all-time classic Oscarbait Nine.

Nine. What a film. Nine came out at the peak of my obsession with Daniel Day Lewis. I went on a real DDL spiral and found him attractive in so many different forms. So Nine was big for me. I know all the songs, unfortunately

Oh, so do I. The secret thing about Nine is that Nine wasn’t even a good musical when it was onstage, and there’s absolutely no way that it would ever make a good film. But I think all the musical numbers are actually real good in the film? And the actresses perform the hell out of them.

Completely. Penelope is HOT. Like, I definitely believe that Daniel Day Lewis has a boner in that scene when he’s listening to her on the phone.

Marion Cotillard plays the wife of a director pretty great. I mean, ‘Cinema Italiano’ is a song that haunts my dreams. Nicole Kidman is FORGETTABLE but in the BEST WAY POSSIBLE, almost as if she is the AIR ITSELF.

Nicole Kidman has that one scene where she’s turning left and right for the camera and it’s honestly the sexiest thing ever, but even during her scenes she’s not even there.

And ‘Cinema Italiano’ is just… the worst and most catchy song from a film, maybe ever.

And FERGIE.

Fuck. it’s actually just so great. And so long. The longest film ever made. Longer than 8 1/2 probably even.

IT IS ALMOST THREE HOURS LONG. I could not tell you a single plot point, and I’ve seen it maybe four times. Other than ‘Guido has sex with lots of women and has some very gay man fantasies about them’.

Gay Man Fantasy is my favourite genre. He’s making a film, he’s in love with everyone, his wife is mad, he smokes a cigarette.

The ending where they’re all standing on the set like some curtain call, which is my favourite trope in films, is peak gay man fantasy.

YES! Oh god, I was supposed to go to bed early but maybe I’ll watch that instead.

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