Q&A : Eli Matthewson
Daddy-Short Legs is a show by one of New Zealand's best joke writers, Eli Matthewson. It’s been created in the wake of navigating the new, changed relationship with a father that flies between son, friend and mentor. Ten years after coming out as gay to his father Peter, Peter then came out as gay to Eli. Eli did NOT see this coming.
Eli Matthewson is one of New Zealand's most prolific stand-up comedians, having won the Fred Award; the country's most prestigious comedy award, in 2021. As a writer he has written for many of New Zealand's most popular shows as well as co-creating the sitcom Golden Boy. Most recently he has been the Head Writer of the panel show Have You Been Paying Attention. In 2022 Eli became a Breakfast Radio host on The Edge, one of the most popular stations in the country, and this year was part of the first ever samesex couple to compete on Dancing With the Stars NZ.
The show's story is nothing if not extraordinary. We sat down with Eli to try and find out more about it.
Would you say that every father and son relationship is bound (destined) to end up in some form of competition?
That's a very Oedipal idea, and as a Classics graduate, I love it. I think we implicitly feel competitive with our parents because they had half our genes so there must be something in us hoping we can use those same ingredients to make a better recipe. That said, I didn't really feel that competitive with my father, until he came out of the closet a few years ago. Now I'm determined to be a better gay than him. He is beating me, by a lot - he went to Uganda to work with queer refugees, he is in a gay choir, he is absolutely crushing it. But I'll get there!
You said that some of the world’s best relations take place in the shittiest of cars. What’s the shittiest car you ever owned?
I had a Toyota Starlet that I just absolutely destroyed. No-one told me you had to fill up the oil...so I just drove it and drove it and drove it until eventually once, as I was driving four of my friends up a hill, it just began absolutely spewing out smoke. We pulled over, I had to call my Dad, and I got the biggest telling off. You would think after that I would start properly caring about my cars but…instead I drive around in a shit-box filled with rubbish. It suits me though; I like having a car that is as messy as my personal life.
You were planning a show with no gay jokes, but life got in the way. Do you think your dad was fully aware he was bound to feature prominently in your next show?
I don't think he was but I'm lucky that he was stoked. I think he has the same love of attention that I do, and he has seen this show multiple times and loved it every time. I do suffer from a pretty terrible disease where as soon as events happen in my personal life, I immediately start writing jokes about them in my head...so I'm sure my father was kind of aware when he told me that there would be some material brewing soon. Luckily, I got his blessing to talk about it, because it's all I really want to talk about.
Your Dad described himself, before coming out, as a semi-conservative Christian. How many of his old values do you think he still holds dear?
I think my Dad has always focussed on the community aspects of Jesus's teachings, of looking out for those in need and making the world a better place for everyone. He still studies the Bible, he still lives by a lot of those teachings, but he, like me, has felt betrayed by so many of the attitudes and decisions that the church has made. I don't know whether he embraces the identity of being a Christian anymore, but he certainly still holds a lot of those values very dear.
Your father came out to you as gay ten years after you came out to him. Do you think watching your evolution over these ten years empowered him in his decision?
In many ways I hope not, as I do not know if how I have lived my gay life should be an exemplar anyone should follow. When Dad first told me he hypothesised that maybe homosexuality was genetic, which for some reason I was against. I think I wanted to be gay on my own two feet. Rather than nature, I like the idea of nurture - Dad came to see too many of my stand-up shows, maybe saw some attractive men in the audience (this is me bragging that I have been known to have hot people in the crowd) and that was what did it for him. To be fair I think probably watching me not only be gay but rabbit on about it onstage so much must have been confronting over the years, and I do sincerely hope me being so open about it may have, in some slight way, helped him come to terms with who he is.
You said that you might exist as a result of homophobia - if your Dad would have followed his sexual orientation earlier in life, you most likely wouldn’t have existed. Would you say that your personal story is a testament to the parenting potential of gay people?
My parents were both incredibly supportive of me and all my siblings. They really encouraged us to do whatever we wanted with our lives, to be whoever we wanted to be. The result: all five of us work in the arts. I don't know if that is a sign of successful parenting or the opposite but, however unenthusiastic our conception must have been, all of us kids are pretty happy.
Did your relationship with your mother change in any way after your Dad came out?
Not at all. We still watch The Chase together, drink a lot of tea and I still arrive at her house every time with a pair of pants I need her to re-sew the bottom of because of my short legs. The only huge change is my constant attempts to get her to come out too, as I chase the dream of having the queerest family in New Zealand. She's not biting yet, but she's not been dating any men either...I reckon I'll get her a girlfriend eventually.
Eli Matthewson: Daddy Short Legs, Underbelly George Square (The Wee Coo), 8.50pm, 3-29 August (not 17)