One of New Zealand’s best-known comics, Eli Matthewson is in his early 30s and he’s been out for 10 years; in NZ he is a vocal advocate of LGBT rights, and he was part of the first same-sex partnership in New Zealand’s Dancing With The Stars earlier this year. He’s faced challenges of course, he works in an industry where he is constantly asked to ‘turn up the gay’ or ‘turn down the gay’ – for queer comedians, there is always the burden of policing how much of their queer identity should or want to reveal.
But just before the pandemic, something happened that overtook all that – ten years after coming out as gay to his conservative, Christian father, his father came out as gay to Eli.
Elli will be part of the Edinburgh Festival (official launch 5th August).
Who is Eli Matthewson and how do you identify?
I am a comedian, actor, writer and a radio host from Aotearoa New Zealand. I do a lot of things, but stand-up has always been my main love, and no matter what else I try I always come back to it! I’m part Dutch, I’m gay and I’m pretty good at chess. I am the last remaining person on Earth to not do the Lizzo About Damn Time dance on TikTok.
When did your career start?
I was a huge Whose Line Is It Anyway fan so I got really into improv at High School, and at 18 I was invited into a professional improv company called the Court Jesters. After a few years I decided to study acting to try and get into Shakespeare and serious stuff like that, but while I was studying, I tried stand-up for the first time and by the time I graduated it was the main thing I wanted to do.
When did you find out you wanted to become a comic?
I saw my sister’s high school production when I was twelve, and I saw the guy playing the funny role (The play was called Ma Baker’s Tonic and he had the best Irish accent and the funniest costume). Watching him get all the laughs made me want what he was having. After that I entered the school speech competition with a roast of the Spice Girls that was basically my first stand-up set.
What shall we expect from this production? What is the biggest message you want to put out there?
The show is all about getting to know a whole new side of my father, and I want people watching to know there is always more to learn about both your family members and yourself.
Is there enough LGBTQ+ representation in your field?
It’s really grown over the last decade, which is awesome, but when I started out I was the only gay man in New Zealand doing stand-up. It put me in a hard position where I often felt like I was representing a whole community onstage, and like I was letting down gay people when I didn’t do well. Now there’s so many more queer voices I can relax a little – stand-up is all about being your authentic self, not representing an entire group of people.
How was your coming out process and how did your life change after this?
I moved from the small city of Christchurch to the slightly less small city of Auckland, met some actual gay people and spent just the right amount of time away from my family and high school friends to explore who I really was. Then I made sure my Christmas holidays were as long and awkward as possible by coming out to everyone important very slowly, one by one. Glad that bit’s over!
How did you react when your father came out to you during the pandemic?
I was pretty shook up at first! It completely changed what I knew about my Dad, but over time and through more conversations it has been an exciting opportunity to get to know him better and connect in a way we never did when I was younger.
Had it ever crossed your mind that your father was gay?
Not at all – to me he was a guy who loved guitars, cars, Bob Dylan, church… I really didn’t see this on the horizon. Now though, seeing him as his fully authentic self, is amazing. He’s a better gay than me, on every march and active in so many charity organisations. It’s pretty inspiring.
How has your relationship changed after this and how is it now?
We talk more and about a wider variety of things, and I think we understand each other much better. I never want to be in any kind of mentorship role, just because I have a few more years of being out, but it has brought us closer.
What is the best and worst part of having a gay dad?
The best bit is how wildly supportive he is of everything that I do, he always plugs everything I do to his queer community. The worst part is that every queer event I go to I might see him there… and there are some events where you don’t want to see your Dad.
What are your future plans?
I have big dreams – I would love to record a stand-up special, and to write and make my own sitcom. I want to write films. I want to keep doing stand-up until they drag me offstage with a shepherd’s hook. Also, me and my partner just bought our first house, so my hope is also to spend a bit more time at home making our little nest together.