First Gig Worst Gig

Amy Matthews

Amy Matthews. Copyright: Matt Crockett

Stare at any random wall for more than five minutes, right now, and someone will probably stick a festival poster on it. Yes, we're rapidly approaching that tent-intensive time of year, and there's some corking stuff on.

Standon Calling, for example, happens in Hertfordshire from 21st - 24th July, with some notable additions. There's a new talks area, The Lawn - Saturday's headliner is Richard Dawkins - as well as typically impressive music (Loyle Carner, Anne-Marie, Primal Scream, Sugababes) and comedy, including Shaparak Khorsandi, Phil Wang, Catherine Bohart, Milton Jones, and today's guest, Amy Matthews.

"I'm really looking forward to Standon Calling", says the rapidly rising comic, who originally hails from nearby Essex, "it looks like a great line-up and nice vibes." Indeed, Standon has a unique equilibrium: it's the first major festival to achieve the 'Keychange' target, so at least 50% of the acts are female or non-binary, across all stages, comedy included. A lot of much bigger fests are miles behind.

Matthews will also be rocking up on Saturday (with Khorsandi, Jo Caulfield and Tom Glover). So, do comics approach festival shows differently, practical footwear aside?

"I think the main difference between preparing for a festival gig and preparing for a normal gig is recalibrating one's expectations. It's just a totally different thing to performing in a club. You sort of have to make peace with the fact that most of your audience is going to be either full from, currently eating, or planning to eat, an £11 ostrich burger from a van. As is their right."

A whole different kettle of festive fish, on the other hand, is the Edinburgh Fringe, where Amy will be making her full debut, throughout August. But with what?

"My show - Moreover, The Moon - is about feeling like the main character in a film of your own life. In real terms, that means it's about how external gazes change the way we behave and see ourselves. The title is from a quite obscure poem that explores the same thing BECAUSE I AM A LAUGH (all that aside, it's got a lot of very light-hearted daft stuff in it too)."

Lovely. Now let's journey back to Amy's previous Edinburgh debut.

First gig?

My first gig was when I was a Master's Student at Edinburgh Uni. It was part of their comedy society's fortnightly show. It was in the old basement room at Monkey Barrel and there were about 50 people in.

It was pushing five years ago and I don't remember much of the material (thank God), but it went okay from what I recall. One of the other acts is still skirting around comedy but I think the rest have gone down a more sensible route.

I later got a job at Monkey Barrel, behind their bar, whilst I was a student. One night they had a drop out for a new act night and the manager knew I'd done a gig so offered it up. I accepted and stood in the wings, waiting to go on. I remember the MC, Liam Withnail (now one of my best friends in comedy) saying 'right, next up in the competition is Amy Matthews...'

I had no idea it was a new act competition so I had the walk from the wings to the stage to process that. Ended up winning and the prize was to come back again for longer. It snowballed, quite accidentally, from there.

Favourite show, ever?

I think the tendency is to answer this with the most impressive gig of your life, or the biggest one. I think in actuality my favourites have been the ones where I feel like the audience were magically *my* audience. I supported Rachel Fairburn on some of her tour dates and they were some of the most fun gigs I've ever done. Her audience is stellar.

The first time ever doing an hour on stage was also pretty special. It was at The Stand in Glasgow as part of the comedy festival there, so it was an immense privilege to debut the show in its 'work in progress' form in that context.

Worst gig?

There was one in I did in Glasgow years ago that was curry and comedy for a fiver, which brings with it its own problems. I died terribly but the absolute nadir of that evening (and my career) was telling a joke, it not landing, then being able to hear someone audibly bite into a poppadum. There's a very unique sense of tragedy in that.

The same gig saw an awful, awful woman start playing YouTube videos out loud on her phone during my set. Just an irredeemably bad gig. Went straight from there to a pub quiz and won a bottle of wine, so you know, life ebbs and flows.

Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?

I'd struggle to pick one (sorry). Different people have influenced different aspects of it.

Growing up, I'd watch a lot of comedy with my dad, so he's probably responsible for me having one eye on it growing up. Regarding professional influences, I think I absorb a lot by osmosis as opposed to finding any one person or approach particularly influential. My partner is also a comic and it's nice to have a person who 'gets it' to bounce ideas off of.

Amy Matthews

My pretentious answer is the band Sparks. I think they've done a lot for the cause for pitching humour and comedy as part of capital 'A' Art. They are uncompromising in their own vision of what they want their output to look like and what kind of thing they want to attract, and humour is often a huge part of that.

Something being funny does not automatically make it frivolous. Laughter has the same currency as sadness, it's just the cultural exchange rate is often shoddy.

And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

They shall remain nameless but they are one of the most odious individuals I've come across in my life. Amongst the general vibe of being a psychotic crow, having a flagrant disregard for GDPR laws and *allegedly* attacking bar staff for not bowing to their every whim, they once asked me to work a free shift as an usher in order to get into a gig my partner was performing in (a gig that this person was running). This person's job means they will likely want a comp to my Fringe show and my venue is genuinely under strict instruction to say yes, on the condition that they work the door beforehand.

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

I reference the mum from About A Boy in one of my routines and only about 10% of the audience have ever seen it, but that 10% absolutely love it. So it stays in for them. And me.

Your most memorable festival experience?

I'd struggle to pick a single moment, but having Monkey Barrel as a hub during the Fringe is like having a home in amongst the chaos. I like that you can sit in the bar and chances are you'll see a friend within the next 15 minutes. I host a lot of their late night mixed-bill BIG SHOWs in August and it's always so much fun. The line-ups are mad, the room is great and the audience love comedy. Bliss.

Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?

Forgive the sincerity for a moment but I used to do a bit about how women grow up conditioned to be jealous of each other before they are proud of each other. A woman once approached me after and said that that line made her realise she had been reticent about laughing at me and that until I said that, she couldn't work out why.

That line made her realise. She went on to say that I was very funny and that she's proud of what I'm doing. That was in my first six months of comedy and it's still the most special audience interaction I've ever had.

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

Good. I've got a phenomenal personal and professional support network, which makes this (quite dizzying) job doable and enjoyable. My agent, Claire, is the best in the biz, and I'm grateful to have her every day. It's still novel and bonkers that anyone other than my mum would pay to see me, so that's nice. It's all headed in the right direction and I think I'm in a nice place with it all. Onwards.

Amy Matthews appears at Standon Calling, 21st to 24th July in Standon, Hertfordshire. See their website for details.

Amy Matthews: Moreover, The Moon is at Carnivore, Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh, from 3rd to 29th August. Tickets.

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