2022 Edinburgh Fringe

Eli Matthewson talks about his father coming out as gay

Eli Matthewson. Copyright: Andi Crown

One of New Zealand's best joke writers, Eli Matthewson, was planning on writing a show with no gay jokes: his own statement about working in an industry where he was 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. That show however, was not to be...

Ten years after coming out as gay to his father, his father came out as gay to Eli. Daddy-Short Legs is about trying to write a show in the wake of navigating the new, changed relationship with a father that flies between son, friend and mentor. Eli answers our questions about the process of writing the new show and the life after the revelation...

How did your original plan go for trying to write a show without gay jokes?

Things were trucking along alright, and I had some pretty good gags on the go but unfortunately the more things happened in my life the more I realised I am in fact gay in every situation that I'm in. When I'm at the shops, I'm gay... when I'm in a plane I'm gay, just higher... and then my dad had to go and come out of the closet too! So, for all my effort to write a gay-joke-free show I've probably put together my gayest show ever.

So, gay son. Gay dad. Before your dad came out, were there ever moments when you suspected it?

Not really! My dad loves cars, and he has always hated that I don't care about them and even take pride in having a car that is rusty and messy. His favourite night out was usually to go to an evening church service. His favourite musicians are Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Neil Young - not exactly gay icons. He did like the Corrs though - that was a slight hint.

Eli Matthewson. Copyright: Andi Crown

Have you found being in the guiding role like a dad, makes you want to be a dad?

In no way. My parents had five kids by the time they were my age and I cannot imagine anything worse. If I ever have kids it'll be Elton John style, once I'm in my fifties. I'm too tight with my money to ever pay for a babysitter so if I had kids I'd be strapping them to my front and bringing them to my gigs.

Was Dancing With The Stars New Zealand all glitter and glamour? Was it hard work and have you kept up dancing?

It was honestly the funnest thing I have ever done in my life - learning a new skill, getting clothes tailored to me, getting fake-tanned and having my nails done... I loved every second. We made quite a big splash being the first same-sex couple, and we had an awesome journey as my partner Jonny was straight (his wife is also a dancer on the show), and he wasn't prepared for the impact we had and the messages we received from young queer kids and their parents.

But after all the highs, we went home on the second week despite being at the top of the leaderboard. It was honestly a true rollercoaster, but there was a lot of outcry and we made the news and as someone who, as you might guess, enjoys attention, it wasn't the worst thing that's ever happened to me. I'm still dancing a little, and hoping to do much more!

What's your plan for your next show? Do you think there's anyone likely to scupper your plans?

Our NZ Comedy Festival was covid-cancelled this year but before then I was working on a show all about the pop-culture that made me who I am, reading some fanfictions and acting out some of my favourite scenes. Maybe it will see the light of day next year!

Published: Sunday 31st July 2022

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