NZ International Comedy Festival: Rose Matafeo - review
April 25, 2015
Multiple times before and after the premiere of Rose Matafeo’s incredible new hit show, my wife asked me, “Are you sure she’s only 23?”
Before the show, the question was predicated on the fact that it feels like she has been around for years, which she has, and that she’s an unusually assured and confident performer. After the show, it was about how we had just seen some kind of genre-transcending comedy theatre masterpiece about death from somebody who should still be figuring out what to do about life.
Helped by the Creative Comedy Initiative, the show is comparatively big budget, which means it has a budget. There is a set, there is pre-event Neil Diamond organ music from the gifted Paul Williams, there is the direction of Madeleine Sami, there are complex musical and voice cues and there is one astonishingly accomplished dance number.
There are few pathways to becoming a stand up comedian in New Zealand and fewer pathways to becoming a great stand up. The financial imperative and the small market generally prevent performers from spending the time working their shows up to a level that might be called world class. To make that leap, it’s generally accepted, is to have some talent and to work really really hard.
Matafeo’s show messes with boundaries. Not so much what you can and can’t say, because that’s a given, but the boundaries of what stand up is. Is this stand up? Yes and no. If not, then what is it? I couldn’t say for sure.
How hard has she worked at this show? Really hard. It is polished and precise but also sometimes loose in the way of the best stand up, with improv, or maybe riffing, as a way of feeling for the audience’s needs.
Matafeo apparently started doing comedy early in life, but how early? And how much work has she done in the intervening time? I guess the question I am asking here is, how many of the tears of laughter I cried in Finally Dead are the result of raw talent, and how much further can she take that talent? How good will she be by 30?
You can build a career at being funny in New Zealand. It will not usually have much to do with stand up though. It will involve you being on 7 Days or Jono and Ben or working in radio or doing commercial gigs for banks and telcos.
To get beyond that, you need to do something either so brilliant or so outrageously different that it launches you to the attention of somebody who has the power to make you something.
How many people are there like that in Auckland right now? And will any of them get to see Rose Matafeo’s show over the next few nights?