I gave my debut tour show the title That Guy because it feels like the most common way in which people refer to me. As in: "Oh, you're that guy from...?" or "Are you that guy on the...?" or occasionally "Who was that guy? I think he stole my..."
I've been performing stand-up comedy for twenty years now alongside a career in acting which has led me to work with all sorts of famous people, from Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G Indahouse), Idris Elba (In The Long Run) and Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland) to Greg Davies (Cuckoo), Peter Kay (Cradle To Grave) and Meera Syal (Mrs Sidhu Investigates) plus of course Harvey Keitel (Direct Line advert) and many more. But it's fair to say I wasn't the star of any of those projects. I was a supporting role, a cameo, a walk on. I was, "Hang on, where do I know that guy from?".
Lockdown changed things. Unable to perform live, I started to make short comedy sketches to share on social media. A few of them went a bit viral, I started picking up followers and one of the sketches even made it on to Radio 1!
It was around the time that I made that video (with the brilliant actress Natasha Green who I'd met doing an improv course the year before) that I started making more political sketches. I've always been interested in political comedy - some of my early inspirations were Rory Bremner and The Long Johns, Not The Nine O'Clock News, The Friday Night Armistice and of course The Day Today and Brass Eye]. Plus the political environment in the UK at the moment is so febrile that there is always plenty to talk about!
I'd written a few political and topical jokes for my stand-up over the years but found that it could be a difficult fit for club gigs. Audiences in clubs aren't always the most familiar with what's happening in the news and you have to be careful not to come across as preachy. But as I put more sketches online I realised that you find an audience that enjoys your work - and the people who don't mostly just ignore it.
I was excited to discover that I could make comedy about something I was interested in and not worry too much if it was a bit niche - there is a large audience on social media (especially Twitter) for political and satirical content and my sketches seemed to fit in there well - joining the work of other Twitter satirists like Rosie Holt, Larry & Paul, The Exploding Heads, Munya Chawawa and many more.
Slowly I began to develop a raft of different sketch formats and characters - my roving reporter Jonathan Goodenough who always has a new job title, my Tory MP who will comment on anything The Rt Hon Geoffrey Geoff-Geoffrey, my long suffering unnamed newsreader and more. The 2 min 20 sec limit on Twitter videos has been a good restriction to have to work around - ensuring that the sketches are sharp and snappy and don't outstay their welcome.
As the lockdowns lifted and I started to go back to doing live gigs, I realised that I now had a whole new strand in my career - making online content. I aim to make at least one video every week, as well as sharing some stand-up comedy clips to remind people that I also perform live!
It wasn't long before people started asking me if I was going to go on tour. I now had an online audience who might want to see me in person. Initially I wasn't quite sure what to do. My stand-up material was becoming more political but it still felt that if I just toured a stand-up show that would feel too far removed from the sketches I had built an audience from.
Then I had an idea. Most stand-ups on tour travel with a support act who does a shorter set in the first half of the show and then the main act does a longer set for the second half. What if, instead of bringing someone else, I could be my own support act? I could play one of my characters - the obvious choice would be the Rt Hon Geoffrey Geoff-Geoffrey MP - so that the audience would see someone from the sketches they recognised.
Another idea quickly followed: what if my "support act" was there because he had to be? What if I announced that the government had brought in a new law that every comedy show had to be politically balanced? It felt like the kind of thing that this government might actually do, and gave the whole concept a satirical edge. The recent row about BBC bias in The News Quiz shows just how close to reality this is.
Then it was just a question of trying it. I booked some work in progress shows at the Brighton Fringe and wrote lots of character jokes and hoped it wouldn't be a disaster! Luckily the shows went well and doing half character, half stand-up seemed to be a good way of combining the two key areas of my work.
For the tour itself I've also added a video intro which includes Jonathan Goodenough and the newsreader, as well as one or two other little surprises later in the show.
The reactions so far have been very gratifying - it feels like a nice combination of styles and gives me a chance to introduce people who like my online work to my stand-up and vice versa. I'm also really enjoying playing a Tory minister in the first section - it gives me a chance to be a bit of a villain on stage and also bring in new topical material whenever the government does another ridiculous thing.
I'm really excited about going out on tour and bringing my character work and stand-up to venues all across the UK. Of course, if there's a snap election then there's a good chance that Geoffrey Geoff-Geoffrey would lose his seat - but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. It would be an enjoyable problem to have - and as my tour finishes in March I think I'll probably be OK...
Matt is now on tour across Britain until mid-March. Dates and tickets