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Kiwi comedian wins inaugural UC Young Alumni Award

30 October 2023

A trailblazing comedian, writer and producer has won the University of Canterbury Young Alumni Creative Industries Award.


Eli Matthewson is not your average Kiwi comedian (if there is such a thing).  An award-winning writer, actor, radio host, TV presenter and dancer, Matthewson has made a name for himself in the Aotearoa creative arts scene and beyond while using his profile to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and representation.

A UC Arts graduate, Matthewson has been presented with the inaugural Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) Young Alumni Creative Industries Award, at an awards ceremony in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

“Comedy is about reflecting society back to itself, it's about being able to laugh at yourself,” Matthewson says. “I think if we can all take ourselves a little bit less seriously, then we'll all be a little bit happier.”

SDG 4 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education.

Born and raised in Ōtautahi Christchurch, Matthewson discovered his passion for comedy at an early age. His commitment to the performing arts was clear during his student days at the University of Canterbury, which saw him heavily involved in student clubs while studying.

“I studied English and Classics, those were my majors and then I also was in DramaSoc and MuSoc,” he says.

“Having the opportunity to study arts for three years was crucial to following my dreams and having a career in the arts. Artists don’t come out of nowhere, they have to be inspired by what comes before them.”

As well as performing classic Shakespearean roles such as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he was honing his skills in comedy as a Court Jester in late night Scared Scriptless improv shows at the Court Theatre.

Matthewson says of his busy university days: “I think it just made me a better storyteller, more interested in how stories are told. I was always doing a play at the same time, that's the first place I learnt to put on my own shows and just learnt all those skills to put up something by yourself.

“People love to joke about how BAs don't lead to careers, which is why in 2019 I made a show called Myth and Legend. The premise of the show was literally to use my Classic Degree professionally," he says.

Following his graduation from UC with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in English and Classics in 2010, he has headlined comedy shows both here and around the world, including multiple stints performing at the legendary Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the World Buskers Festival, and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. As well as regularly appearing in TV shows, he has also written for several, including creating the sitcom Golden Boy. Recently, Matthewson was head writer for TVNZ comedy panel show Have you been paying attention? and he currently features on the current affairs show, Paddy Gower has Issues.

Matthewson’s comedy draws inspiration from his own life and tackles topics such as sexuality, religion, politics, pop culture, and family. He is not afraid to poke fun at himself or challenge stereotypes and prejudices.

Matthewson won the 2021 Fred Award for best show at the NZ International Comedy Festival, making him one of the first gay comedians to receive the honour. Last year, Matthewson also made local TV history as part of the first same-sex duo competing on Dancing With The Stars.

UC Amokapua | Assistant Vice-Chancellor Engagement Brett Berquist commended Matthewson’s dedication and positive impact on Aotearoa’s entertainment industry, as a performer, writer, Rainbow activist, and “a leading example of creative excellence in the performance arts”.

“At UC we applaud proactive changemakers such as Eli, who are an inspiration for the community as this aligns with UC’s vision of people prepared to make a difference – tangata tū, tangata ora.”

Matthewson was presented with the Creative Industries Award by the Executive Dean of Arts, Professor Kevin Watson, at the UC Young Alumni Awards ceremony, on Saturday night in the Ngaio Marsh Theatre, in the University of Canterbury Students’ Association building, Haere-roa.

Matthewson is not only a talented comedian but also a passionate activist for positive change. He has been involved in various campaigns and initiatives to support LGBTQI+ causes and communities, has spoken out against homophobia and discrimination, and used his comedy to raise awareness and funds for these issues.

His advice to his younger self or students aspiring to follow in his footsteps: “Don’t panic! University for me was a time of working things out – learning for learning’s sake is a great way to go.”

Matthewson isone of the leading voices of Aotearoa New Zealand’s comedy scene, a role model for many people who aspire to follow their dreams, and a worthy recipient of UC’s inaugural Young Alumni Creative Industries Award.


About the UC Young Alumni Creative Industries Award

Recognising UC alumni aged 35 or younger who have made significant contributions in creative fields such as art, music, theatre, design, film and other related industries, recipients of this award will have demonstrated outstanding talent and will be positively contributing to the advancement of their respective field.

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