Matt Okine, comedian

Success is being able to choose any coloured plate on the sushi train ...

It’s impossible not to like Matt Okine. Good-natured and down to earth, the Brisbane boy has had an incredible few years, graduating from Stones Corner open-mic nights to now co-hosting Triple J Breakfast and selling out comedy venues around the country. But despite the success, Matt has kept his feet on the ground, sense of humour out of the gutter and heart in his hometown. Fortunately for us, Matt will be back in the bosom of Brisbane once again this March, as he brings his latest show, The Other Guy, to the annual Brisbane Comedy Festival. It’s a big show full of real-life issues like fancy bread and window washing – and you’ve got to hand it to a guy who can turn a long-term break-up into a witty observation of humanity. As Matt navigated Sydney traffic on his way to Triple J’s 40th birthday celebrations last week, he brought The Weekend Edition up to speed on sleep-ins, break-ups and inevitable death in Indooroopilly Shopping Centre.

How are you feeling about launching into another year of breakfast radio – the early mornings haven’t killed your spirit yet?
I was talking to Alex about that the other day actually. It’s like a really long, 15-hour flight. We’re at the end of the first week and it’s like we still haven’t gotten off the ground yet, we’re still just in the gate waiting for clearance because there’s so much stuff we’re going to do in the next year – we don’t even know what’s going to happen, only time will tell. It’s one week down, but we’ve still got 40 to go – and those 40 are going to be filled with wack adventures! This time last year, we had no idea we were going to be holding a rave in Brisbane, coming up to Queensland to collect an alpaca, which we traded for a car, getting seafood jelly poured all over my face and eating the Triple J playlist. So yeah, we’re waiting in the gate, but once these first couple of weeks are down, then the full journey begins!

It’s impressive how well you and your co-host Alex get along at that crazy hour – no one’s ever grumpy. Are you normally a morning person?
Are you kidding me, the morning is awful! I could barely fathom the thought of getting up at 4:30 am for most of my life, until I started this job. I used to go to bed at 4:00 am and now I get up at 4:00 am – I never thought I’d be in that position. But having said that, there’s something really nice about finishing a day’s work and walking out into 11:30 am sunshine and having a whole day of daylight ahead of you. There’s also something nice about watching the sun come up every morning. It’s something that I never expected to appreciate, but when you’re in the studio and you look outside and can see it getting lighter and lighter, there’s a stillness and tranquillity to the world. I’m not a morning person, but I’ve become better at accepting it. On Fridays, we’re allowed to sleep in, and I never thought I’d be excited by getting up at 4:45 am, but when I set my alarm on a Thursday night, I’m like, “Yesss! The world is mine!”

You’re currently on your way to help host Triple J’s massive Beat The Drum concert in Sydney – no doubt another evening of complete strangers launching into conversations like you’re old mates. Are you used to that yet?
Yeah that’s something I wasn’t expecting when I started the job. I remember in the first week, Alex and I were at the airport and this dude just came up to us said, “Hey, how’s it going man? Where are you off to?” and we had this chat as if we’d known each other forever and he walked away and I asked Alex, “Who was that?” and Alex said, “I don’t know. Ohhh, that’s right, you’re new to this. You’re going to realise that people just feel like they know you.” And it’s true. It’s really weird because people come up and say hey, but they won’t introduce themselves. But it’s the fun part of the job; it’s awesome. There’s never an off time – people are welcome to come up and say hey all the time, or they’re welcome to tell me I’m shit at what I do, which happens as well …

Well there was that one time you slept in and missed the start of the show …
I feel like the entire world was listening that day! I’ve had people come up to me, in almost any situation and someone will say, “Oh, I bet Matt won’t make it”. I’ve been late once in the whole year and now my reliability has gone out the window, no one trusts me at all. When a situation like that happens, you realise how big our audience is and how many people have been in my situation before, so I’m willing to embrace those cheeky comments. 

Let’s take the shine off it then – what else have you done live on air that you’ve regretted? Have there been times when you’ve put your foot in it, or are you generally fine with whatever comes out of your mouth?
I think I’m pretty ok with what I say. Although I have told stories about people in my life and then gotten messages from them … I told a story once about being on a date with a girl and leaving the bar with her, putting her in a cab, then getting in another cab and just wanting to go back out again because a friend called me … So I did a lap of the block in the cab and then got out at the exact same club I’d just walked out of. I told that story on air and two seconds later I got a message from the date saying “Chivalry is dead” … I cracked up on air, but it was funny realising that all the situations I get myself into and the people involved in them aren’t just part of content-making for the show – they’re also listeners as well, so I’ve got to be careful!

Like your poor dad Mack, he cops it a bit …
Aw yeah, Dad cops it but he’s an old man, what else has he got to do except cop a bit of flack on the radio? Plus people love Dad more than they like me – it kills me! I did a show and people asked to get a photo with my dad – I was like, “What about me?! I’m the one who does all the talking!”

You’ll be back in Brisbane to perform at the Brisbane Comedy Festival in March. What can you reveal about your new show, The Other Guy?
It’s a pretty heavy show – it’s pretty real. I decided to be as open about my life as I can possibly be in this last year or two – because of that thing of whatever you’re going through, lots of other people are going through too. And basically I went through a pretty big break-up last year because I found out that my girlfriend of nine years was seeing my best friend. We were all living in a house together and I found out they were having an affair, if you will, and everything sort of unravelled after that. So really, I guess it’s a show about two young people who grew up together, who are trying to figure out how to become adults …

To help you unwind after such a heavy show, what will be on your to-consume list while you’re home?
I’ve been hanging out with a friend recently and we enjoy food very much, so whenever we’re in the same place we spend all of our time finding the best food, which usually involves some sort of dumpling, some form of fine dining, and some form of copious amounts of booze …

All at the same time?
Yeah! If you can find me that place, I’m there!

Which suburb did you grow up in?
I grew up in Indro; I’m a total west-side kid. My parents split up, so I was between Toowong and Indooroopilly for a bit, but then my mum died when I was 13 so I moved back to Indro and was there full-time until I moved to Sydney. It’s weird, I’ll be going about my day in the Triple J offices and then all of a sudden I’ll have this gripping desire to be walking around Indooroopilly Shopping Centre. It’s like how there are some animals that go away but come back to the same spot to die – I feel like that’s what Indooroopilly Shopping Centre is to me. I’ll die in it one day. Probably of starvation because I’ve been lost in Myer somewhere …

What were you like as a kid?
I always liked making jokes but I wasn’t – I was going to say I wasn’t annoying, but I’m sure everyone around me thought I was annoying! What I meant was my humour was always very calculated and thought through and based more around wit than say being a class-clown. I wasn’t the person who’d try to jump across desks and end up hitting his nuts on the tidy trays – I was more of a wordy person. I loved sports, I always thought I might be a soccer superstar, but I can’t kick for shit …

Do you still play?
Yeah I play soccer and cricket for the ABC team, just recreationally. I’m getting back into a bit of sport because when all you do is talk on the radio, it’s very easy to forget about how fat you can get. So I’m trying to get as much sunlight and physical time as possible so I don’t become that fat radio presenter!

If you could give your teenage self one piece of advice, what would it be?
No one’s against you and no one’s out to get you. You think that the reason you’re not blowing up massively in the first five minutes of your career is because people hate you or they don’t like how outspoken or confident you are – but the reality is, you’re just not good enough yet. You’ll get better, but you’ll only get better by doing it, so just shut up and do it – and all of that will come later.

Can you remember your first stand-up gig?
Yeah it was for RAW Comedy, and I didn’t tell anyone about it except for two friends – the first so I had someone to drive me and I could drink to get through it and the second because if a tree falls in a forest and only two people were there, is the tree going to cop shit for the rest of its life? And you know what, it was amazing – you’re so nervous but then you say the joke you thought might be funny and, lo and behold, some of the people laugh! And the next thing you know, you realise it’s no big deal. It’s the realisation that other people have the same sense of humour as you – and from that point on, you start realising that it’s ok, just say what you think is funny because if you think it’s funny there’s a good chance that someone else in that room will too. Sometimes that ‘someone’ is everyone, but sometimes that ‘someone’ is just your friend standing up the back.

Tell us about your history doing open-mic nights at Stones Corner …
Well that’s where I really started growing up. That was a big realisation about what I was getting myself into, for what turned out to be ten years, because when you do a competition like RAW Comedy, everyone’s there to see their friends who have never done it before and they’re there supporting in that almost patronising yelling and cheering spirit – but when you go to the Stones Corner Hotel on a Thursday night and you’ve interrupted someone mid-Pokies session with your dumb-ass jokes, you start realising pretty quickly what’s funny and what’s not.

No doubt you toughened up quickly!
Yeah, you definitely do! I did that for a solid five years or so in Brisbane and then in Sydney before things started picking up. So it’s definitely been a journey that I’ve worked hard on and a destination I’ve worked hard to get to, but this is just the start of the next level of where I want to be and what I want to be doing.

What’s the best thing about being you right now?
I have to say, things are pretty sweet right now – I can afford sourdough bread and avocado and nice deodorant! I can pay rent every week – that’s the best thing. After never knowing when the next pay cheque was going to come for seven years, all of that stuff is pretty rad. And also, I can do these big rooms now; I can do a gig anywhere in Australia and I know that people will come to it, so things are awesome, it’s a really fun time at the moment. I’m just terrified about the impending controversy that will probably happen in 2015 … There will be something. I get too ahead of myself, it’s always the way.

And finally, how do you define ‘success’?
I think success is whatever you make it. I always used to think if I could just make enough money doing what I wanted to do, which was performing, and I could make enough to support a side career of making a bit of shitty music and performing that whenever I could, then that would be ‘success’ for me. And I guess I’m doing that, so I’ve got to be happy with that. But also, success changes, it floats, it’s not tangible. But I guess I’ll go back to an old joke of mine, which plays like this: success is being able to choose any coloured plate on the sushi train. That’s success for me!

Image courtesy of Zak Kaczmarek.


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