Rose Matafeo knows she can’t play the cute young thing forever.
“I know I can’t . . . I’m tall and I have wide shoulders, that’s not very cute.”
The two-time nominated Billy T Award comedian has come a long way from the frizzy haired, nervous ball of energy who cut her teeth in the Auckland standup scene at just 15.
Previous stories on the Grey Lynn comedian of Samoan, Dalmatian and Scottish descent have referred to her nervous habit of playing with her hands and her polite, self-effacing manner.
Just a couple of years later, her growing confidence is evident but low key.
Sitting in her bedroom in the weatherboard Grey Lynn flat she shares with comedians Joseph Moore and Nic Sampson, the now 22-year-old Matafeo isn’t sure how she got here.
“I don’t know why I started out in comedy, I don’t know why I’m still doing it and I don’t think I’m funny.”
Instead, she takes her hat off to other girlswomen pursuing comedy.
“It’s subtle, the way your voice is not heard,” she says.
“It’s a very aggressive scene – look at me, I’m going to be funny at you. Women are socialised not to do that.”
Matafeo argues that comedy is still very much a man’s world and dislikes the stereotypes about female comedians joking about periods and smut on stage.
“A guy can easily get up on open mic night and talk about his dick. I won’t hear a bad thing about female standups until there’s as many women as men.”
Last year Matafeo cemented herself on the comedy circuit with her Billy T Award. The year prior she was a finalist but lost out to then boyfriend Guy Williams.
The pair now work together on the late Friday night show Jono and Ben at Ten. They are also performing together in The 5pm Project at the NZ International Comedy Festival.
But she doesn’t want to talk about that, or about anyone she may or may not be dating at the moment. It’s irrelevant, she says, though she cheerfully admits she loves reading relationship gossip, evidence of which is on her bookshelf with a copy of New Idea sitting next to a pile of Preacher comics and Jennifer Saunders’ autobiography, Bonkers.
Anyway, she says, she often prefers her own company.
Perhaps it’s the years of spending hours alone, drawing in her room as her older brothers ignored her. Or not feeling cool enough around her Rastafarian parents with their African ideology and dreadlocked hair.
Matafeo plans to write comedy about her church upbringing one day, about singing the Ethiopian national anthem while facing Ethiopia. “They had reggae turntables and served goat curry.
“It’s just normal, boring church to me.”
Her two brothers, a circle of tight-knit comedic friends and her time at an all girls’ school – Matafeo was head girl of Auckland Girls Grammar – have shaped her into the perfect mix of geeky tomboy and cool girl next door.
But she’s only recently come to appreciate her heritage.
Attending a middle-class, high-decile primary school left Matafeo wishing she were white. She’s still yet to visit Samoa, where her dad hails from.
On the panel of current affairs parody 7 Days recently, Matafeo was quick to remark on the makeup of her table.
“Thanks NZ on Air for putting the two brown people on the same team,” she teased, in reference to Tongan-blooded Josh Thomson. “Racist.”
Her jibes come bold and quick, she banters with the best of them – Dai Henwood, Paul Ego – and exchanges knowing glances with flatmate Moore across the room.
Her bravado comes out over the barbs journalist Rachel Smalley recently made on air at women who weigh more than 72 kilograms.
“All I’m saying is that I’m 78kg and I can take Rachel Smalley in a fight,” Matafeo had earlier tweeted in response.
“Hold my earrings,” she continues on set, mocking a fight stance.
Matafeo was approached by event manager Craig Stanaway following the tweet, asking if she would go toe-to-toe against Smalley for Fight for Life. Did she consider it?
“S*** no, I love money but it’s the fitness.”
Rose Matafeo is performing in the NZ International Comedy Festival, which runs from April 24 to May 18.
- © Fairfax NZ News