MATT OKINE The X-Press Interview

You might not have heard him on the radio every morning, but that doesn’t mean Matt Okine has been on holiday. In fact, he’s working harder than ever. Not that he didn’t work hard for Triple J (in case anyone there happens to read this). He spoke to SIAN CHOYCE about all his post-radio projects ahead of flying into town this week for his Perth Comedy Festival show We Made You  happening one night only this Saturday, May 20 at The Regal Theatre.

We’re going to have you in town very shortly for your show We Made You for the Perth Comedy Festival, what can fans expect from the show?

It’s interesting, I mean, probably the main difference between this show and the last few shows that I’ve done is that… I’ve had sleep! Like, I remember there was one, it was about two years ago. I had to come to Perth to do a show and I did it on a Friday night and I’d been awake since 4:30am Sydney time, which is what? 2:30am Perth time. And, my show didn’t start until 9pm Perth time, which is 11pm Sydney time. So, you know, I did the whole radio show and then I flew into Perth and I landed and went straight from the airport, straight to the theatre and did my gig. It was one of those things where I barely remember it.

It was such an intense thing because I was already so tired and I was already freaking out so much about, you know, whether I’d be awake and alive for the show. And then, just as we were about to land, the pilot did one of those…like, fake landings. Where like, something happens just as he’s about to land and he freaked out and took us back up. I was sitting in there going “look, I’m really glad that we’re alive and shit but this is gonna take like half an hour out of my schedule and I’m already running late to my show.”

(Laughs) Oh, I thought you were gonna say “oh, I’m glad we’re alive and everything…but I would’ve really liked to have gotten out of the show tonight…”

(Laughs) No. Never miss a show, never miss a show. Even if the plane had crashed, I would’ve crawled my way to the gig, I reckon.

Well, that’s good for any ticket holders to know. That there’s definitely no cancelling on a Matt Okine show. He will get there!

(Laughs) Nothing is gonna get in the way of my show. But yeah, that’s one of the biggest differences, you know. I’m feeling really informed for standup. I’m feeling like its something I’ve been able to focus a lot on and you know, in the first few months of the year I’m feeling really, really good. So yeah, this show’s in a really great spot and it’s making me super excited myself. Like, I’m excited again, you know?

Ah, well that’s always good. Now, Triple J has been a big part of your career. Comedy career-wise and then also broadcast career-wise. You took out the Raw Comedy competition at 18. About three gigs into your comedy? Is that right?

Yeah, I made it to National Finals and those three gigs were my first three gigs. So, it was a it of a fluke really but it was also a solid calling that this is something I could do.

And then obviously you were on the air with them up until very recently (with Alex of course). Apart from the sleep, are you enjoying your time off the airwaves?

Yeah, it’s a funny one. I don’t get to see as much music as I used to. Funnily enough, people aren’t sending me the free tickets that they used to about six months ago (laughs). But, you know, I miss it. The other day I was listening to Like a Version and I was like “Aww man, I used to be able to..you know, I was right there while it was happening!” One Night Stand and stuff. Like, I remember being in Mildura talking Illy’s ear off like an idiot cause I had drunk too much and I was just so excited about being a part of this huge thing. So, there’s elements of that which I feel really, um… jealous of basically. But I mean, I also left Triple J to move on, you know? And, to move on to things that I have wanted to do my whole life and that’s to make more music and to make a TV show, which is what I’m doing right now and it is…it is something that I’m just so…it’s so fucking unreal. I just can’t tell you how happy I am to be doing this and how exciting it is. So you know, yeah it was a shame to leave Triple J. But, I left for a really good reason.

That’s it. Leaving for a good reason is very different from them just going “Um…you know what? We think it’s time you moved on.” You deciding to move on vs them deciding you should move on…

Yeah, exactly! I didn’t want to keep going until I was sick of it and I didn’t want to keep going until people were sick of me. Like, it felt like a really good time to go. When things were going great and you know, I was really enjoying it. I want to have those fond memories of a place like Triple J. I don’t want to leave and be annoyed with it or resentful in any way. So, I just thought it felt right and I have absolutely no regrets.

Fantastic. Now, obviously we’ve been saying you’re “off the air” with Triple J. But, you absolutely hit the ground running with Boilermakers when you left, your collaboration with Dinnertime Duke. So, you’re not really going to be off the air because you’re going to be on the other side of that now. You say you’re not going to be there for someone doing Like a Version in the studio but…maybe they’ll get you in to do it sometime?

Aww, look…I’m still a serial pest. I tell you what, I’ve been chattering a way into the ears of everyone at Unearthed and ah, the music library at Triple J because I’m not going anywhere in that capacity (laughs). You know it’s funny though, I’ve only been taking the music thing really seriously for a short time now and you get people going “Are Triple J gonna play you?” or “Why aren’t Triple J playing your new music?” or whatever. And, it’s like, the whole point of Triple J is to give young, incredibly talented artists, you know, the launchpad into a national scene.

People that wouldn’t necessarily have the profile that you already have in the public sphere?

Exactly! And also, it’s like, they’ve done the hardest yards. They were the ones doing open mics in some crappy pub since they were 17 and 18 years old and stuff. So you know, I’m not delusional enough to think I deserve any like, higher ranking than the people who’ve actually put the yards in. So yeah (laughs), if Triple J want to play my music I’m sure that they will do it when I’ve earned that right. I’m someone more than anyone who knows exactly how sought after those positions can be and how much they only get rewarded from merit.

How do you find it having so much interaction with an ex-employer but in a completely different capacity, being on the other side of things? Do you ever listen to an interview and think, “I wouldn’t have asked that question”?

(Laughs) Sometimes, yeah. It’s interesting, getting interviewed now for the TV show. You know, you realise, people are always looking for a headline. Or you know, when you’re getting interviewed, you’ve gotta give people news. And, it’s kind of weird. When I started doing radio years ago, when I was being interviewed on the radio for one of the first times as a comedian,  Wil Anderson told me, “Go in and make their job easy and you’ll get invited back all the time”.

Very sound advice!

It totally is, because having interviewed musicians a million times, right? Some mornings, at 6 o’clock in the morning, you’ve barely had a minute to get your head together and think and you’ve got a musician who is too cool and doesn’t want to talk to you at all and doesn’t realise that you’re there to give them an opportunity to talk to their fans. They think that you’re, for some reason, this bad guy who wants to make fun of them or something. Then, on the flip side you get musicians and guests who are just fun and want to make the show as fun as possible as well. They want to share as much of their story with you and they want to tell you all the methods and the motivations behind their music and stuff. Any opportunity you can to get those guys back, you do because they help make the show. They remember that you’re there for them and not the other way around.

So, it’s a bit symbiotic? Both parties have to work together in some respect.

Yeah. So it’s interesting, driving to the set now, listening to the radio. I do critique it a lot, but I critique it from both angles. Sometimes I’ll hear a bad interview and think “That’s the host’s fault” or I’ll hear a bad interview and think “Well, that musician was being a dick”. Everyone’s got to do their bit in a situation like that, you know? In an interview situation or a program, to get that message across to the audience. It’s definitely something I’ve been way more aware of in the last 3 years and I’m super grateful that I’ve had that experience to be able to be on both sides.

You’re filming your TV show at the moment, would you say it’s harder to get a message across on radio? Only being able to use your voice rather than also being able to use visuals?

You know, on the radio I had to be myself and with the story I’m telling in the TV show that I’m making right now I get to be basically anyone I want. That’s kind of the most exciting thing. The TV show is based on a stand up show that I did that won a bunch of awards a few years ago and it was really, sort of a big breakout show for me. And, it was a very personal show. But, since then I’ve transformed it into a TV show and like, real life is not as interesting as TV. So, you have to take it from a real place and sort of put it onto this fictional world. But, once you do that, that’s when it gets exciting. You get to invent characters that never existed and turn them into your own thing. Either put yourself or your other characters into situations that you never would’ve dreamed of and it’s been such an incredible experience making this show. And, making decisions. Being the creative, sort of, driving force within the show. To make decisions that are coming to life as I speak.

I mean, I was sitting in an alleyway with Briggs because I’d written this scene with this character that had been trolling me online. The whole time I was writing it I was thinking “God, Briggs would be awesome for this role”. Then all of a sudden, flash forward a few months and I’m sitting in this alleyway with someone whose music I really like and whose work I’m a big fan of. Sure he gives me shit 24/7 online but, I think deep down we’re good friends now. And, to be able to sit there and laugh with someone like that and talk and create this whole scenario that’s gonna be, one day, the turning point of this whole six episode series that I’ve been making… that got me really excited. When we shook hands at the end and go, “I can’t actually wait to watch this myself”, that’s the kind of exciting thing about making TV.

It’s a good sign that you’re feeling excited during the process, again I think that shows to an audience.

Yeah. And you know what? The real difference that I’ve realised is I’ve spent 6 months making something that in total is going to be six x 30 minutes, so three hours. And, it’s taken me six months to make something that I will deem worthy of watching and re-watching. In total, it’s three hours of entertainment. And yet, every single morning for the past three years, our show went from 6am til 9am so, that’s how much content we were making every single day. In some ways, a lot of the time, radio is forgettable. But, it’s almost meant to be like that in a way.

It’s very ‘in the moment’?

Yeah, yeah that’s it. It’s in the moment, it’s all happening right there, right now and people are only joining you for these tiny little snapshots and glimpses. They might catch, you know, five minutes of a three hour show every single morning and they’re trying to piece together the whole story that way. Whereas with a TV show, you’re focusing every single element and inch of your imagination and drive and determination into every second of that show hoping and knowing full well that people are gonna be watching it, in detail.

A lot more scrutiny is able to be done on something you can re-watch over and over as opposed to something, like you said, someone might only catch 5 minutes of.

Exactly. Radio is kind of like the buffet that people can join at any time. They can walk up and just choose whatever they want. The food is always and if they tune in or tune out it doesn’t really matter. Whereas, the thing I’m making is like an $800 degustation meal that I’ve slaved over for hours, you know?

So, you’ll be the chef crying in the kitchen if people go, “Oh no, send that back…”

(Laughs) Yeah, exactly.

(Laughs) I’m sure that won’t happen. So, when can people sit down and enjoy this delicious creation?

So, It’s coming out on Stan in Spring. And, I’m gonna be making some music alongside it.

Great. I wanted to ask when we might be seeing you in Perth in more than just a stand up capacity. Perhaps soon?

Yeah, well hopefully sooner rather than later. I’m going to be bringing out another song in about a month’s time. It’s gonna work really well with the show and hopefully an EP about a month after that. Around about the time the show drops I’m gonna try and release an EP that sort of coincides with it. As soon as I finish shooting this TV show, it’s gonna be in the studio working on the rest of the EP. Making sure it all comes together in one cohesive package.

Wow, so you say you’ve slept since you left radio but it really doesn’t sound like you have…

I was lying. I was completely lying. I just said that to make people want to come to my show, but the reality is I’m just as tired as I’ve ever been. But, I’ve been using that energy on all the right things so I’m feeling in a really good place.

(Laughs) Well, that’s good to hear. This is our final question, it’s a bit of a tough one. We’ve been talking about all the things you’ve been doing/have done; performing stand up, being on the radio, rap, producing music and now writing and performing for the screen. Where would you say your first love lies?

(Long pause) Yeah….

Told you it was a tough one…

I know. And you want an answer and I can’t give you one. Sorry.

Aww. What were you saying about the performer being helpful in the interview..? (Laughs)

(Laughs) Yeah, sorry. I’m not gonna be helpful on this one. You’re going to have to do the hard work yourself. Why don’t you listen to the music and watch the standup and watch the TV show and listen to the radio and you tell me what you think I love the most.

I don’t know, I don’t have the keen senses of a Matt Okine. I can’t just listen in and go “You know what, he’s phoning it in there..”

(Laughs) Or, maybe I love them all equally. I know it sounds naff but I really like doing everything. I think if you get stuck doing the same thing forever, that’s what’s gonna drive you crazy. Everything in moderation.

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