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Rhys Mathewson: Big Dreams for NZ Comedy

Rhys Mathewson
Rhys Mathewson on life as a young comedian and how he hopes to contribute to New Zealand comedy.


Rhys Mathewson was just 15 when he did his first stand up comedy gig and the recognition of his career path was instant. By 16, he was on the road performing to audiences across New Zealand. Still considered one of New Zealand’s most talented young comedians, now with 8 years experience under his belt, Rhys talks to The Big Idea about his big dreams for comedy in New Zealand.

“I want it to get to the point where all our major cities have a full time comedy club, our minor cities have weekly gigs and pubs around the country can sell out a show on a monthly basis.”

With his dad in the air force, Rhys moved schools when he was little and developed an anxiety about making new friends. It is this that he believes may have sparked his comedic tendencies. At 15 he took to the stage. “After I did my first gig. I stepped off stage and the adrenaline rush was huge, and I just knew I had found what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I was 15 years old, and that knowledge that comedy is what I was meant to do has never faltered.” While some of us might consider finding your calling at such a young age enviable, Rhys found that in this particular industry, his young age had its limitations. Convincing audiences that they should listen to what a 16 year old has to say was a significant barrier to overcome. “I was gigging around the country from about the age of 16, and the challenge was why an audience should listen to me. I counteracted it by wearing beer branded t shirts and never approaching anything resembling an opinion.”

Rhys was quickly recognised for his talents and found opportunities began to come his way after he participated in the NZ International Comedy Festival’s Class Comedians programme. In 2010, he was the youngest ever winner of the Billy T Comedy Award. With this confidence in hand he took to the international stage and headed to the bright lights of the UK to build up his experience and recognition. Early fame came at its costs as Rhys carried with him the expectation that the same opportunities and accolades would befall him overseas. “My biggest failure was going to the UK and not working very hard. I was very proud and I expected that all of the work would come to me, as it had in New Zealand. I expected my talent would get me through. But it was a much bigger pond, and I had absolutely no hustle, and I spent two years pissing my potential up a wall and feeling sad. If I could go back to then, I would do it differently.”

Now Rhys is back in New Zealand and while having reflected on his personal disappointments, they have not impacted his popularity on the stage. He carries an incredibly well-respected name in the world of comedy. His drive to build on his comedy career is strong and he says that he still maintains his “delusions of grandeur.” Rhys has worked hard to find his own voice within comedy and seeks originality in his work. He enjoys the connection that people share when he makes them laugh. “That moment of laughter is a moment of connection, and for that brief moment you become a little less lonely – you are not a person thinking a thought, but many people enjoying a thought. The root of sharing a laugh with people is sharing and getting us all to share even for a second is good for the heart.”

Rhys believes there is room for comedy to grow as an artform in New Zealand and dreams of there being stages right across the country where he can practice his art and spread the laughter.  “There is no substitute for stage time, so the more stages there are in New Zealand for myself and my colleagues to ply my craft, the better. We have a long way to go – I want it to get to the point where all our major cities have a full time comedy club, our minor cities have weekly gigs and pubs around the country can sell out a show on a monthly basis – but what an exciting journey.”

Rhys Mathewson will be performing his comedy show Rhys Classic as part of the 2017 NZ International Comedy Festival.

The Classic Comedy Club, Auckland, Wednesday 17 May 2017 – Saturday 20 May 2017 10:00pm – 11:00pm  

Written by

Hannah Mackintosh

9 May 2017

Hannah is a Wellington-based writer, community organiser and lover of stories.