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I caught up with Rhys on Thursday Night at the Northern Steamship for a couple of drinks and some chips. It was a 25 minute chat, filled with failed attempts at comedy on my part. I’ve trimmed a lot of it out of the transcript, but if you do want a copy of the audio, I’ll release all the interviews I’ve done, at the end of the festival. You can also flick me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll see if I can email it through.
A few facts about Rhys
Y: Rhys Mathewson –“The Sexual Hurricane” – you started your comedy career in 2006, and in 2009 you did your first show “The Best $18 You’ll Ever Spend” – a show for which you won the best newcomer award. But shortly after, you went to Edinburgh for the first time..
R: Yes, but I didn’t do my show there.
Y: That’s right, you didn’t do a show there, but as far as I’m aware you did perform a spot or two in Phil Nichol’s show..
R: I was working at the Gilded Balloon, a major venue for the Edinburgh fringe with 14 venues in it, I was working, just taking tickets on the door, for about four of them. One of the venues we were looking after, called the nightclub, which was like a 170 seater, and Phil Nichol was doing a show every night there, called “Old Rope” which is a weekly club he runs in London in which comedians have to do new material. So I would make sure I was doing the door for the gig, because of the size of the room, someone had to be inside the room at all times for fire safety, so I’d be at the back of the room just watching, and if someone didn’t show up, Phil would say “would you like to do a spot”. I was doing them in my workshirt, trying out slightly dodgy material, and I’d be specifically saying I didn’t work for the Gilded Balloon…
Y: So, Class Comedians – how do people get involved?
R: It’s a program run by the comedy festival, to get young people interested in New Zealand comedy, basically. What they do, is they do lunchtime shows at all the schools participating in the program, and after that show, either later that afternoon, or later that week, they’ll have the comedy workshop, where we go in, and they basically audition. I say we because I’m running the program this year. So we go in, we figure out who we want, and then we do the program which is run over a week of their school holidays between first and second term, and then there’s a few Saturday sessions, and then they perform in a showcase during the comedy festival, in the comedy chamber at the Town Hall as their first ever gig.
Y: Doing your first gig through class comedians, did that give you a lot of exposure, considering it’s part of the comedy festival?
R: Not really, no. Because we were basically just giggling school children. So you don’t really get to know many of the other comedians. Over the week long course you get to learn about different types of comedy. We had Sam Wills teaching us about physical comedy, Dai Henwood was teaching us about character comedy, because this was just before he started working on “insert video here”. So we kind of got him when he was mostly known for P-Funk Chainsaw and that sort of thing. So you learn about everything, but you don’t really get to know people and hang out with them until later when you carry on doing it.
Y: Did you go through class Comedians with anyone who’s still big in the scene now?
R: No, basically what happens with class comedians, what happens is every year there’s one or two people who keep going. Like, everyone gets interested in comedy and gets something out of it, learning how to write funny and stuff like that, but I think the only ones still going from class comedians are Tim Batt who did Class Comedians in Wellington, me, Heidi O’Loughlin, Rose Matafeo, Steve Boyce, Anthony Wilson, James Roque, Lewis Dean, so there’s more coming through now, but back in the day they just kinda run out of steam.
Y: So they get the thrill right at the start, and then it just becomes like an old discarded toy, where they play with it a while and then get bored with it?
R: Yeah, that it was for them, but for me it was like contracting herpes, it was like “this is me for the rest of my life. Sorted.” – but in a good way. Comedy to us comedians is like good herpes.
Y: And will you be teaching it (class comedians) with that methodology to the kids you’ll be with this year? About herpes, and the good it can do?
R: Good God no. I’m going to be the most straight teacher they have had. I wont be letting them swear, or talk about their banging each other, whatever it is young people do these days .
Y: Alright, so, “Best $18 You’ll Ever Spend” – your first comedy festival show, I didn’t get to see it, but I’ve seen all of your comedy festival shows since. How did you build the show? I know that being your first show you’ve got a lot of material to put together and try out, and see how it works, but how long did it take you to write the show?
R: Well, that’s the exciting and awesome thing, the luxury of your first show, that you never get again, is that you have all of the material you’ve ever done before and have never performed in a festival show, at that point I was about 3 years into my comedy career and I’d had about 40 minutes of material, so I knew I had that, and I had to try to write the extra 20 minutes for the show, that was interesting, I ended up having too much. I ran over, I did an hour twenty. But luckily it was a 10 o’clock show, and there were no shows after me. But the very first night I was about two thirds of the way through my set list, which was written on my hand, which for those who don’t know is the cardinal sin of comedy, unless you’re Stuart Lee. I went to the tech “how long have I got left” and he said “about 5 minutes”, and so I asked if they minded if I went a bit over, and they said I could. But going back to it, I had a really good relationship with my school, in like the few weeks leading up to my show, a month beforehand while everyone was on holidays, I went and used one the drama room for a week. It was a big empty space, and whiteboards everywhere, and I just lost my mind in that room, 9 to 5 trying to write new bits of material. And it worked. I wish I could do it again, but I feel like that’d be weird now. I’ve been away too long
Y: So, Opening night. Your first comedy festival show. What was the rush? Was there a rush? Or were you so blotto you don’t remember it.
R: It was the best gig of my life. I’m pretty sure. Opening night. That rush of coming off going “I’ve done it – I have done what I wanted to do” was incredible. And it was a pretty good night. I stormed it, if I can say so myself. It was awesome. I can’t really remember everything that happened, but that show was the first time I was really loose with the audience. Up until that point, and even after that, I was like “this is my speech, this is my 15 minute speech, all nicely segued” and that sort of thing and it just wasn’t as naturalistic as it is now, and as it should have been. So doing that show, and afterwards, I was like “that’s what I need to be doing”, after what I’ve been doing for so long. So after it was a process of choosing to do worse gigs so that I could work to be better in the future.
Y: Writing your comedy, for that show you mentioned you sat in a room with a whiteboard and planned it all out, how do you write these days? Do you write? Or do you have things pop into your head and just riff off those?
R: I write religiously. I do a little bit of writing on stage, but mostly it’s that I’ll have an idea, I’ll write it down in my book, I’ll write the idea for a couple of pages, try to find the jokes, and then I’ll try it on stage. One of the last gigs I did was a late show, and I saw something, walking up to the classic, on my walk through, and thought “that’s quite funny, I’ll try it on stage” and it died on it’s arse, so bad.
Y: Something I have to ask, your coming out music, do you get to choose it? Because the first time I ever saw you perform was at the classic, and you came out to “Don’t fuck with the wu tang”.
R: Was it? Actually? When was that? 2009? Usually no. But on that instance, almost definitely, yes. Cause that was when I was working on the “Wu Tang Klan ain’t nothin’ to fuck wit” bit for my show, and what I would say to Steve who was teching, was “play this bit at the start, so that if I want to try out my Wu Tang bit I can”, but I never had the courage to. But, normally we don’t get to, but for festival shows, the song listing you’re listening to as you’re walking in the door, and when you leave, is meticulously planned out. I know already what my pre-show music is going to be, what my walk on music’s going to be, what my closing show music’s going to be, but I haven’t got the show yet.
Y: Edinburgh, do you plan to go back, or has the lack of hash browns available at 5.30 put you off?
R: No, definitely going to go back.
Y: This year, or any time in the future?
R: Well I’m planning to move in july ish, so I’m not going to do Edinburgh – I’ve decided to move over, when flights are really expensive, because they’ve got the Olympics on, because I’m quite clever. No, I’m not going to do Edinburgh the first year, but I’m going to do it the second year. 2013. Hopefully. That month of Edinburgh was the best month of my life.
Y: Alright. So, TV appearances like AotearoHA and the Christmas Gala and all that, how does that come about? Do you get handpicked from your shows at the classic, or do they call your agent? Do you have an agent?
R: If it’s a comedy festival show, like AotearoHA, normally the comedy festival put out a notice saying “we’re putting on a show, we’re taking submissions”. So for your first ones, you send them a script of what jokes you’re planning to do, but when you get further along, you don’t have to submit a script to be chosen, but you do need to submit a script so they know that no two people are doing jokes about the same thing. There is also a quality issue. Like, when you submit your scripts you might get back “Hey, we’re airing at 8.30”. Like, basically, we’re not thick, we know what’s going to make it to TV and what’s not, so we try to pick things that don’t have too many F’s and C’s and that sort of thing. Of course. I got cut from the Gala last year, and, well, I really want it this year, but that’s every comedian ever. So I’m probably going to have to submit a script to win back the trust.
Y: So, standing in the wings. You hear “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the stage, Rhys Mathewson!”. What’s going through your head? Is it “Look at all those people out there” or more “oh grandma, please don’t watch this, I’m going to say some things you’re never going to forgive me for”?
R: Um, Kind of. The big gigs are the only ones I really get nervous for now, or festival shows. I don’t get nervous for a Big Wednesday at the classic, or anything like that. With the big ones it’s more “I hope this goes OK”. There’s a comedy saying in NZ, that comedians say to each other, like when someone’s waiting on the stairs to go down on stage, “Just don’t fuck it up” and that’s kinda what – it’s not in a schtick way, but that’s what goes through my head “Don’t fuck it up. Don’t fuck it up.” And the last two times, I’ve fucked it up.
Y: So what’s on the game plan for 2012, I know you mentioned you’ll be leading the class comedians for this year, and moving to the UK, is there anything else on the cards like a nationwide tour?
R: I don’t have enough fans to do a nationwide tour. I don’t reallyhave any plans. I’ve got a few ideas I’ve been working on. I’ve been talking to some people about an idea I had for a TV show, but I’m not sure if that’s happening yet, or if I’ll have time to make it before I wanna leave.
Y: Hot tips for 2012, do you have any people to keep an eye on for this festival? Or for 2010 (I meant 2012) in general.
R: Um, we don’t really know who’s in the festival, well, we all know that we’re individually doing shows, but I don’t know who any of the internationals are, for instance. I would say the locals to look out for are Jamie Bowen doing Munfred Burnstein’s Cabinet of Wonder, a phenomenal show that I’m looking forward to seeing again, it was so overlooked this year, in fact, come to his show instead of mine, basically. Anyone who’s reading or listening to this. Others would be Irene Pink and Jussi (Justine Smith), their show got the grant, so I’ll be really interested to see that, because they’re both very funny women. My flatmates cos we write every day, TJ, because his show is starting to take shape and looks very cool. Steve’s doing a line-up show with a couple of other Up and Comers, and I always really like those shows, because it’s a chance to see who’s going to be the next big thing.
Y: Just before we wrap it up, and plug your show, which I know you haven’t written yet, but I know you will have by the time you get on stage, what’s your biggest bomb? I heard a story from Justin Hamilton’s podcast (LINK) the other week where he actually heard a poster peel off the wall and flutter to the floor, what’s the biggest bomb you’ve ever had?
R: The biggest bomb I’ve ever had is Rotorua. I’ve gigged in Rotorua twice. It was the same gig at the same pub. And both times I have died on my arse. There’s the classic shows when you kind-of die, where it just doesn’t really go very well, and people kind of give you a lacklustre clap on the way off, and something like that because you’re trying new shit like that, and it’s not really working, or whatever. But this was supposed to be my good stuff. It was a room full of middle aged people looking at me going “He’s like my son. I don’t understand his youth references, but I also don’t want to hear him say rude things”, and this was when I was doing the whole speech-type show, and I just died on my hole. Fifteen minutes of silence… I was opening once for Ben Hurley and once for Te Radar. And we’d done Jan’s gig in Hamilton the night before, and that had gone fine. But Hurley always gives me shit because, that’s Hurley, and it’s funny. But I came off, and he was nice to me. I knew I’d had a shit gig, because he was being nice to me, and wasn’t telling me how bad I’d done.
Y: Now’s your chance to plug your show
R: The show for this year is hard to describe. I only know what I want it to be. I’ve got these big grandiose ideas. It’s me figuring out what I think about the world. I’ve never really had to think about it before. I lead a fairly self-centred existence, and I don’t really watch the news or anything, unless I have to. I don’t think about anything other than myself, really, so this is me trying to figure out what I think about the world.
Y: Do you know when or where it’s playing?
R: I know those things. But I couldn’t tell you because I’ve forgotten completely.
Y: Fair enough. Well I guess the people reading the blog will have to wait until the brochure’s out. All the best for this year’s show!
You might like to know that Rhys has donated a double pass to one of his shows, so keep an eye on the blog closer to the time, to find out how you can win it.
You can find Rhys on Twitter - @Rhyspect, or facebook:http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rhys-Mathewson/341361691776