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Rose Matafeo: “Apart from the coffin on-stage, the show isn’t morbid. It’s actually pretty silly and inappropriate.”

| Comedy | 14/06/2017

Finally Dead Image - high res copy

This Thursday, rising star Rose Matafeo returns to Soho Theatre for the last three performances of her 2016 Fringe hit, Rose Matafeo Is Finally Dead.  The show – a clever blend of stand-up and sketch-play – earned the endearing Aucklander rave reviews last year, which have reverberated around the comedy industry since.  

Matafeo returns to Edinburgh this August to deliver her new show, Sassy Best Friend, which she’s also presently previewing across London.  But before putting Finally Dead to bed, she spoke to Ian Cater about her compulsion for control, well-hidden laziness and Tweed-clad fans.

“I’ve got literally no actual skills,” says Rose Matafeo, in her casually-clipped Auckland accent, addressing the fact she’s been doing stand-up comedy since turning 15.  “I’ve got no university degree and nothing to fall back on.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone go down this route.”14632998_1578458428846437_5646900775938975847_n

Maybe not, but she’s wrong of course: the 25-year-old Kiwi comedian, actress and presenter is brimming with charismatic ability.  This explains why, despite what she describes as her ‘natural laziness’, Matafeo has achieved a great deal already in her short career.

Become an assured stand-up at home and abroad?  Tick.  Demonstrate a flair for sketch comedy?  Yep.  Deliver a highly-acclaimed debut solo Fringe show?  Uh-huh.  Have another one on the way?  You betcha.  Take to television and podcast presenting like a duck to water?  Quack.

Return of the undead

That debut solo show – the quirky Rose Matafeo Is Finally Dead – is here at Soho Theatre for three nights this week, before being, rather fittingly, laid to rest after two years and countless deliveries.  Despite a natural desire to move onto her new material, Matafeo is evidently proud of the show and wants to do it justice one last time for London audiences.

Not that those audiences will be your usual Soho scrum of Millennials, if the Fringe is anything to go by.  “In August, I got this lovely review in The Telegraph,” she says, “so for the next week loads of older people came to see me, even though I rely on heaps of pop culture references.  I felt sorry for them, boiling in Tweed as jokes flew over their heads.”

rosematafeogig-xlarge_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqQND5f8Baj_ohaXY2gUOFsEYMapKPjdhyLnv9ax6_tooThrough no wonder Finally Dead caught the eye of a broad range of Fringe-goers, with its unusual focus on planning your own funeral.  “When I wrote it, I was a bit preoccupied with dying, mainly because I was born in the early 90s so have nothing else to worry about.  I thought it’d be funny to come up with a set of instructions for how my funeral should ideally go.

“Although I’d performed loads before, this was my first themed show so it was fun to run with it.  Apart from the coffin on-stage, the show isn’t morbid.  It’s actually pretty silly and inappropriate.”

Plenty of reviews attest that there’s nothing lifeless about Matafeo’s performance, praising her energy and variation.  “I think it’s just stand-up like I normally do, but other people tell me it’s this and that.  It does involve audience parts and sketches, so maybe it’s a bit more theatrical than some.  But it’s kinda just what I like doing: all the things I find funny.”

That’s the comedian prerogative of course: to perform what they find funny, not simply what the audience might be receptive to.  And that truism forms a central theme of the show: Matafeo’s determination to do things her way.  “It’s not so much about dying.  It’s more addressing why I have such a detailed plan for when I go.  I’m narcissistic and a bit of a control freak, so that means I have FOMO on a party where people will say all the best things about me.  Why can’t that happen while I’m alive?  It should!  Plus party planning always brings out this monster in me.  I’m very particular.”

Standing in the way of control

Matafeo admits that need for control helped get her here in the first place.  “When I was at school in New Zealand, I loved performing but hated relying on other people, scripts and stuff like that.  So when I got the chance to do stand-up, it felt like the best outlet because everything was suddenly in my control.”

That chance came when she joined the ‘Class Comedians’ programme run by the New Zealand Comedy Trust.  After a short boot camp, the students competed at a comedy festival judged that year by Mark Watson.  Matafeo won first prize, gaining her access to some open mic spots at the local comedy club.  “I just kept gigging from there,” she says.  “It was so much fun and quickly became my main extra currivcular activity.”

617997-1465-14She wasn’t exactly encouraged to pursue comedy, with her parents of Samoan and Croatian heritage taking a hands-off approach.  “I don’t know what motivated me.  I loved performing – probably more than now – and I was confident, although in that I-still-hate-myself-because-I’m-15 kinda way.

“Why did I do it?  I often wish I could meet the teenage me and see what I was like.  I must have been such a dick.  Anyone who decides they want to do open mics when they’re 15 are, well ….”  She exhales.  “I think I’d probably hate that girl.  But then I’ll definitely hate my 25-year-old self in 10 years too.”

This constant self-deprecation belies a single-mindedness that has got her where she is today.  Unlike other early-starters like Josie Long and Rhys James, Matafeo passed up the chance of a degree to put all her eggs in the comedy basket.  She was having too much fun gigging, and finding awards – and job opportunities – relatively easy to come by.

Matafeo landed a role as presenter on youth channel U, before moving on to write for – and then perform in – Jono and Ben at Ten, a popular news and entertainment show.  In a segment called Speed Dating, Matafeo interviewed local celebrities, brazenly hitting on them to see how they’d respond to her advances.  It made for great TV, whether the interviewee got on-board with the joke (such as presenter Paul Henry) or squirmed in discomfort (like rapper David Dallas).  “That was a great character to do,” she laughs.  “But it was so uncomfortable!  As soon as filming ended, I’d just collapse on the table in embarrassment and shame.  I shame very easily.”

Sassy sociology

In 2015, Matafeo moved to the UK to spend more time with then-boyfriend James Acaster and make her first appearance at the Fringe.  Although the relationship with Acaster ended, this has given Matafeo time to turn her focus inwards and, in her own words, “be totally self-indulgent and find out who I really am”.  She’s channelled those conclusions into her new show, Sassy Best Friend, which went down very well recently at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and heads to the Fringe in August.

C7ZQ1fEXgAAugdp“I’m obsessed with movies, so this show started out with how I used to copy things from films and try to absorb them.”  Those were invariably the lines and deeds of sassy best friends in rom-coms, with the idea of being a supporting – rather than leading – actress fitting in neatly with Matafeo’s self-deprecating style.

But in the course of tightening up her material, Matafeo says the show’s taken on a more sociological aspect, looking at how young women generally form their personalities.  “For example, I talk about how I came off the birth control pill at the start of this year for the first time since I was 18 and realised: ‘Oh, I’m not crazy!  That wasn’t a defining part of my character; it came from something else.’  I don’t think enough people talk about it on-stage or in wider society.  The pill has many benefits, but there are also a lot of risks in teenagers taking hormonal medication which can totally fuck with your brain.”

“God, that makes the show sound more depressing than Finally Dead!” she laughs, to end a rare moment of total seriousness.  “It’s not – please write ‘it’s not’!  It’s basically more of my comedy: complaining and doing stupid impressions.  There’s my sell!”

And doing that energetically again?  “It’s funny, because anyone who knows me would say I’m sloth-like in real life.  I’m lazy.  I never get anything done, so I don’t know what happens when I perform.  I think it must be a manifestation of nerves.  Although last year it was also a bit of a ploy, as I was in The Pleasance Attic which is a hot, hot room.  People were wilting, so I deliberately put more energy out to make them feel guilty for waning in the face of my efforts.  It’s very much a guilt complex I like to foster in my shows.”

Rose Matafeo is performing ‘Rose Matafeo Is Finally Dead’ at 9.15pm between 15th to 17th June 2017.  For tickets, head here.  Or to book tickets for her Edinburgh Fringe show again at The Pleasance Courtyard, head here.  And keep up to speed on Rose’s upcoming projects – including her podcast, ‘Boners of the Heart’ – on her Facebook page and on Twitter @Rose_Matafeo.

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