Award-winning comedian Matt Okine knows no shame.
There is no part of Okine’s life that is not fair game for his comedy, and that’s what makes this remarkably honest Brisbane talent so great.
The host of triple j’s National Breakfast Radio program and ABC TV’s How Not To Behave is currently touring his fourth solo show, The Other Guy, which has already won him the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s 2015 Director’s Choice Award.
In typical Okine fashion, it’s largely inspired by something that most people would prefer to keep to themselves — the moment he found out his long-term girlfriend of nine years was cheating on him with his best friend.
We had a chat with Okine about what went wrong in his relationship, why he doesn’t make political jokes, and the joke he told on the morning his mother died.
So, Matt, how are you feeling on this first day in the post Abbott-era?
Oh man, we’ve got a new Prime Minister, so all my worries are gone. Yeah, my life is much better now. I looked in my bank account, and there’s an extra three million dollars in there that wasn’t there before. My fridge is suddenly full. Life’s great now.
I’m sure your newsfeed is the same as mine – all these people are celebrating, but it doesn’t really make any difference to their lives.
No! It’s barely going to make any difference at all. It’s amazing. So many of the people on my Facebook feed are making comments, and they don’t know anything about politics. I know they don’t! It’s like, dude, you barely passed basic schooling. I don’t understand how you’re suddenly an expert in political matters. I don’t understand why you’re the authority on how to run a country. It always surprises me.
They think they’re Laurie Oakes all of a sudden.
It’s like, dude, you got fired from Crazy Clark’s. I don’t understand how you think you can be a political expert now. Look, I don’t know anything about politics, man. That’s the thing about my comedy – I get criticised for it, but at least I talk about what I know.
Sometimes people say I overshare, or that my material’s not socially relevant or important, but the reality is, some people are really good at standing up and talking about why the government sucks. I’ll leave that to them. I’ll stand up here and I’ll tell my jokes about toast.
The show that you’re touring at the moment, The Other Guy, is a very personal show. It’s pretty heavy.
Look, if I sat down and explained to you in five minutes what the show’s about, you’d probably leave feeling a little bit awkward and sad about everything. I’ve taken something that was, for me, a little bit upsetting, and been able to spin it into something that’s really funny and relatable. I try to do that with all my shows.
My very first show got nominated for awards and stuff around the world, and if you break that show down, it was really about my mum dying. That’s not funny. But it’s everything you say around that situation, and the way that particular event changes your perception of the world, that makes the show funny.
I always find that a comedy show without a point is… pointless. I leave those sorts of shows for comedy clubs in front of audiences that are on hens’ nights and have inflatable penises strapped to their foreheads. That’s when you do the silly stuff. But the comedy that means something to me, the stuff that’s funny but also important to me… that’s why you do shows like this.
It sounds like your mother’s death influenced your comedy, in the sense that… once something that traumatic happens, I assume a lot of things that seem very important to other people would seem funny and trivial to you by comparison.
Yeah, I think I’m just hardwired to try to make fun of things, no matter what. On the morning she died, I remember a friend’s mother picked me up from the hospital. She died on Good Friday, and I remember joking around and saying, ‘Oh well, who knows, there’s a good chance she’ll come back on Sunday’. I think that’s hilarious. I still do.
Even as a 12-year-old, I knew what I was doing – I was cracking some funnies in the back of a car. But I was completely unaware of how horrendously awkward that would make my friend’s mum, who was driving me home, feel. For her, this is a really serious thing, and I’m joking about it.
I was 12 when my mum died, and I think that was a catalyst in my personal development. It made me realise I wasn’t going to live for other people anymore, because there was no point. So it’s not like that event made me see the world in some kind of zany, light way – if anything, I became more aware of the seriousness of things. What it made me realise is that I suck at learning Japanese, and I don’t know why I’m studying it at school, so I’m going to go do drama instead, because that’s what I prefer. Studying physics is never going to do anything for me, so I should go and focus on something I like instead.
So those are the kinds of things it made me realise, rather than changing my sense of humour.
The Other Guy is based on a break-up you went through last year. Is it tough to dredge that stuff up every night when you do the show? Has your ex seen the show?
My ex and I… we had a few conversations about me doing the show, when I first started doing it. I think she was really scared that I was going to somehow stand up on stage and try to make her look bad. That’s really not my goal with the show. The fact is, any break-up takes two people. I am more than aware of the areas of our relationship that I was letting her down in, so the focus of the show isn’t on her. It’s always about what I was doing, and where I went wrong.
I think that’s why people can relate to it, you know, because you can get stuck in a relationship and walk around with your eyes closed assuming the other person’s always going to be there. When they’re not, it’s easy to play the victim. But the reality is, I was neglectful. I was so focussed on getting up at 4:25am and trying to make a million people laugh on the radio that I kind of forgot to check in on where she was at.
That break-up must have been a tough time for you, but on the flipside, your career was blowing up. You got this huge radio gig, you’re selling out shows all over the place. How has that level of success changed your life?
Well, you know, I can pay for parking now. That’s where I’m at right now. Not at the airport, I can’t pay for airport parking, but I can pay for, like, two-hour Monday to Friday parking. That’s the sort of stuff that’s changed my life. I can get that gym membership I didn’t used to be able to afford.
I guess the other thing is that I can’t get as wasted at music festivals as I used to be able to, because there’s always someone wanting to get a photo, and then next thing I know, I’ve got 30 tagged photos on Instagram of me with two eyes pointing in different directions. And I can’t eat dinner as late anymore, because I’ve got to get up at 4:25 every morning. So, you know, it’s little things like that.
It has been a really fun ride, the last two years, and a part of me does feel bad that my ex was there for the nine years leading up to all this, and has kind of missed out on all the benefits. But at the same time, she would probably argue that the fun part of our relationship was the nine year lead-up. All this sort of stuff… I think it’s not easy to be a person in the passenger seat while all of this is going on for me.
Are you guys still friends? How does that work?
We’re not… no, I mean, yes, we are friends. Yeah, I would say we are friends. We don’t hang out, but we chat every now and then.
Cool. So is this what you envisioned for yourself? If someone, like, three or four years ago asked you what ‘success’ would be for you, would this be it?
Man, it’s funny how you put yourself in these positions. I was depressed the other day, because waking up at 4:25 every morning sucks so much. You start questioning all of your life decisions when it’s 4:25 in the morning. You start thinking, like, why don’t I just get a job at a newsagency? I could just work at the newsagency and that would be it and that would be fine. The hardest part of my day would be wiping the shelves free of dust before putting the magazines back on them.
But I think if I told myself five years ago that I was going to be hosting a national radio show, touring around Australia playing massive theatres, and also hosting a TV show, while making music on the side and playing gigs at music festivals, I probably would have just punched myself in the face for ever feeling depressed about it.
I think there’s an old joke where a guy, a down-and-out bogan, walks into a fortune teller and says, ‘Tell me, will I be successful in the future?’ The fortune teller looks into the crystal ball and says, ‘Oh yeah, look, I can see, here we go, you’re going to be CEO of Channel Nine and you’re going to own a private jet and two islands’, and the bogan says, ‘Oh, stop messing with me, mate’, and the fortune teller says, ‘Well, you started it’. That’s kind of what I think would have happened, that’s how it would have played out five years ago if you’d told me about all this stuff, or even if you’d told me about any one of these things.
I remember five years ago, I was so excited because I almost got a bread commercial. Do you know what I mean? I just missed out on booking this ad. My friends were visiting from out of town, and I was at Yum Cha when I found out, and I was so depressed I missed out on this bread advertisement. It almost ruined my entire week. I moped about it for an entire month. And every time I saw the ad on TV, I thought, ‘I could have done a better job than that!’
And that was only five years ago. That was so recent. So if I’d known I was going to do any one of these things five years ago, I’d have been majorly stoked.
You went viral earlier this year when Chris Rock asked if you were good at stand-up comedy, and you were honest and said yes, and he took you to task for it a little bit. Do you feel like that clip helped you or hurt you in the long run?
Oh, man. It’s so funny, because people still come up to me and say, ‘Chris Rock’s a di**head!’ I can’t tell you enough how much I couldn’t give less of a f**k about that. That was so funny to me. I watched the video myself, and I thought it was hilarious. I was so happy with that.
Realistically, without that moment, that would have been a boring interview. It would have just been, ‘How’s the movie, the movie’s great, good, go see it in cinemas, here’s a Violent Soho track’. Instead, something happened, and everyone had an opinion. People had opinions on whether I was funny or not, and whether Chris Rock was funnier than me or not. That’s all it was. It was just a discussion point.
I was laughing when I read all the comments, and watching news articles pop up on, like, The Malaysian Times. Realistically, all these people were annoyed because I had said that I was really good, or they were annoyed because Chris Rock compared himself to Michael Jordan. The reality is, all they were arguing over was two comedians, two professional comedians who do what they do all day everyday, and they were arguing over which one of those comedians was more arrogant than the other. It’s like, who cares?
But people were buying my DVD because of it, you know? They saw the clip and they were like, ‘I’d never seen any of your comedy, but I just went to iTunes and bought your DVD and I really liked it’. And that’s exactly the point. It was such a funny situation, so I was really happy with how that turned out.
The other thing is, you’re looking past the fact that I got to stand in a room and have a little sparring match with one of my heroes! When I was in Year 10, I was listening to Chris Rock’s stand-up on my Walkman. Now, 15 years later, I’m in a room with him. It was awesome.
It’s funny, too, because people comment on things like that and they’ll say, ‘Oh, he must be so embarrassed’. How do they think that video went viral? Who do they think shared it first? It’s not like you tried to destroy the tape.
Yeah, people don’t realise how all of that stuff works. It’s like this Justine from Masterchef thing, when a thousand people on Instagram were calling me a creep. I accidentally liked a photo on a girl’s Instagram from 38 weeks ago. But they’re forgetting that I told the story! I told the story on the radio because I know I’m not the only person who’s done that.
If everyone wants to pretend I’m the only person who’s done that, that’s totally fine, but I know there’s a million other people out there who have done that. The only reason they’re making fun of me is because they’ve had their thumb hovering above that photo, and they’ve seen that red heart pop up when they didn’t want it to, and they’ve literally wanted to burn their phone. It’s just a simple mistake, and it’s all part of it.
I refuse to be embarrassed about being myself.
Matt Okine plays The Tivoli Theatre on Friday 2 October. Visit www.ticketmaster.com.au for tickets.