Edinburgh-based stand-up discusses weird nativity plays and her dream comedy bill
Stand-up Amy Matthews takes on our q&a aimed at rising stars of the Scottish comedy scene. She tells us about forgetting great advice and why she's 'laughably inoffensive'
Can you tell us about the moment when you thought: 'stand-up is for me'?
It was an accident. It was a bucket list thing for me to do something at the Fringe, so in 2017 I wrote a two-person sitcom play, which I took to the Fringe that year. I hadn't acted on stage since my primary school nativity (where I played Rodney Trotter: it was a weird school) and I'd never written a play, so it was slightly insane. I also had to live in a shipping container with 11 other people for two weeks because that was the only accommodation I could afford / find for August. A friend came to see it and said that my writing would work as stand-up and that I should give it a try. So that September I did, and it went OK. I really enjoyed it and it's gotten grossly out of hand since. When did I decide comedy was for me? Could have been hearing the rain batter the top of the shipping container as I listened to the Russian man in the bunk below me talk in his sleep? Could have been that I found the perfect medium to exercise both insecurity and ego? Who knows …
Do you have any pre-show rituals you can tell us about?
Not really. I had a good run of gigs after eating tomato soup for dinner, but I think that says more about my shopping habits than any metaphysical forces at work. I do genuinely tell myself before each gig that if you're not going to enjoy it, what are you doing it for? So that reminder is helpful. I've never done a gig without wearing a piece of jewellery from each of my grandmothers. They never got to see me do stand-up (in fact they both just missed out on that) so I take them onstage with me instead. It's not a luck thing as such but it's something I realised the other day.
How do you handle hecklers?
I've been pretty lucky to be fair: nothing too bad. Someone shouted 'Baby Spice' at me once. I mean, I'll take it. People have said worse. I think I look as much like Baby Spice as every other white blonde woman in the world, but I'd rather a lazy heckle than a bad one. It's not a heckle as such, but someone once played a YouTube video out loud on their phone during my set. It wasn't in a comedy club so I couldn't do much with it. Instead I think I was just audibly annoyed. Give them their due, I can't compete with 'nine epic fails in three minutes'.
Where do you draw the line when it comes to 'offensive comedy'?
I think I'm laughably inoffensive, so I can't really speak about my own writing. There's not much offence to be had from jokes about kayaks. I just haven't ever really dabbled in shock factor or purposefully controversial stuff; it's not massively my vibe. If I think about things more broadly and consider how I feel about 'offensive comedy' more generally, I'd say it comes down to nuance. I wouldn't say there's any one topic that's off-limits; it's context-dependent, delivery-dependent, and it matters who is saying it. I hate when people get their back up that some demographics can make some jokes about certain things and other demographics can't. It's like, yes, that's correct, there is a reason it's different coming from your mouth and not theirs. There are whole histories and systemic social structures behind what each person has to say, and self-awareness is important in addressing that. Also, you have to have the craftsmanship to pull it off. I see a lot of new acts come in bulldozing gigs with their 'just saying what everyone is thinking' style because they've watched Jimmy Carr in their bedroom once. Knowing how to talk about icky topics in comedy is an absolute art and you're probably not going to nail that in your first gig. You might in fact just be a tool. Bottom line is anything can be funny if it's been considered in the right way, but as I heard Steve Coogan say on a podcast once, 'people don't have bumper stickers that say "I heart nuance".'
You're curating your own 'legends of comedy' line-up. Tell us the bill's top three acts
James Acaster: that's now become everyone's answer, and with the risk of sounding like a 15-year-old girl who saw The 1975 before they were cool, I have always been in complete awe of him.
Sara Pascoe: I watched a lot of comedy growing up but I think she's the first person who I remember watching as a teen and thinking 'I want to try that'. I think that's testament to why having women represented is so important. The only women I had ever seen on the likes of panel shows growing up were Jo Caulfield and Jo Brand, whom I loved. Then I remember suddenly the Pascoes and the Ryans and the Beas came through and I was like, 'oh, this is for lots of other women too'.
Kerry Godliman: I think she's one of the most underrated comics. There are people you watch and go 'they're very good at writing and delivering funny things'. I look at her and go 'you just are funny'.
(Also, can Paul Foot and Noel Fielding and Lou Sanders and Jamie Demetriou come too please?)
What's the one thing (good or bad) you remember about your very first stand-up gig?
That my friends came. And always have. I've never been precious about people seeing me do comedy, and I've always had friends and family be incredibly supportive.
What's the best piece of advice you've received from another comedian so far?
I'm really annoyed at myself because I vividly remember David Kay saying something to me in a green room that really resonated with me at the time and I distinctly remember saying to myself 'I should write that in my notes'. Alas, I forgot to write it in my notes, and all that remains in my memory of that golden nugget is that it was great advice. Whatever it was. The advice could have been to make notes in my phone to remember things.
Which comedian's memoir would you recommend to someone?
Sara Pascoe's Animal is just gorgeous. I honestly think it's one of the most personally transformative books I've ever read. It's a memoir and an essay and just a hilarious book. It's the book I want to give everyone in the world.
Special mentions: not sure if it counts as a memoir as such, but John Robins & Elis James' Holy Vible is fantastic, addressing the big questions in life, like, 'are you on email?'
James Acaster's Classic Scrapes kept making me laugh on transport so I had to read it indoors, and I listened to David Mitchell's Back Story on audiobook and that was wonderful.
Amy Matthews is at Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh, Sunday 7 & Monday 8, Wednesday 17 April, Monday 6 May; Glee, Glasgow, Friday 12 April; The Stand, Glasgow, Friday 19–Sunday 21 April, Sunday 12 May; The Stand, Edinburgh, Sunday 28 April; Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wednesday 29 May.