Gay comedian Eli Matthewson reflects on the moment his dad came out to him aged 62: ‘I’m in awe’

Eli Matthewson wears a dark, plaid patterned shirt as he crosses his arms in front of his chest. He is standing next to his dad who is wearing a shirt with a rainbow LGBTQ+ pride flag on it

Award-winning New Zealand comedian and writer Eli Matthewson was ready to ditch the “gay jokes” – until his dad came out to him.

Eli Matthewson wasn’t planning on incorporating any queer gags in his next set after “so much feedback on the quantity of gay jokes”. He wanted to prove he can “write jokes about anything”. 

But 10 years after coming out as gay to his father, his father came out as gay to him. He immediately knew he was going to talk about the discovery and their new dynamic on stage.

“It kind of offset my own struggles with my sexuality because I was like man, what I’ve been through is nothing compared to what my dad has done, the time periods that my dad’s lived through holding onto the secret,” he tells PinkNews

He continues: “He was 62 when he came out, and he lived through the AIDS crisis, raising a family of five kids, had a marriage for 22-23 years and was a church-going Christian.

“I’m so in awe of it, and it just changed our relationship and recontextualised much of my childhood and the things I just couldn’t talk about.”

His new show Daddy-Short Legscurrently running as part of the Underbelly at Edinburgh Fringe programme until 29 August – is an “investigation” of growing older, getting to know himself and his relationship with his dad. 

“But also, [it’s about] knowing what my dad’s been through and being like me – in my 30s – is not necessarily the end of me and revealing my identity as well because of these huge changes I’ve seen my father go through in the last few years,” he says.

Eli Matthewson stares off camera camera while wearing a grey plaid-patterned shirt layered on top of a white sleeveless shirt. He is standing outside in front of a building with grey and blue designs on it

Eli Matthewson hopes “better comedians can rise to the top” to drown out the “beyond gross” and “absolutely horrific” anti-LGBTQ+ jokes. (Provided)

He reflects that self-discovery doesn’t always come from “holding on a secret”  – sometimes, it’s from being denied the “opportunity to consider something”. 

“There is something so positive and so hopeful about still, at that age, being able to have discovered yourself,” he says. “You don’t finish at any age. It’s always more.”

Eli Matthewson won the Fred Award, New Zealand’s most prestigious comedy award, in 2021. He was also half of the first same-sex pairing on Dancing with The Stars NZ

His success is a welcome antidote to the crop of A-list comics who insist on taking cheap pops at the LGBTQ+ community in Netflix special after Netflix special.

Matthewson feels that the discourse around comedians like Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais can sometimes end with people “talking in circles”, and that “comedians who base down on people with absolutely horrific jokes” will probably not change their minds in one conversation.

“So I’m just always like, ‘I’ll write better jokes’ – which isn’t hard because those [anti-LGBTQ+ jokes] are structurally so weak, and there’s nothing to stand on’,” he says. “And just the context is like: ‘Why bring this up? Why are you talking about this?’”

He continues: “There’s a group of comedians who, at the moment, are putting out specials on the regular – always devoting 10 minutes to that subject.

“It’s so gross, and it’s so unprompted. And I guess the best way to drown it out is from the inside of the industry and having diverse voices who are punching up, writing better jokes.”