“No One’s Fighting Anybody”: Matt Okine’s Comedy Punches Neither Up Or Down

6 December 2019 | 2:38 pm | Hannah Story

Gagging For It is a way to unpack how we use humour in our everyday lives, in our careers, and to grapple with difficult situations. This week, Hannah Story speaks to Matt Okine.

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Writer, comedian, actor and broadcaster Matt Okine’s sense of humour is amorphous and broad –he likes situational comedy, observational comedy, and blue humour. “Dicks and vaginas [are] funny,” he nods. “I still think sex is funny.” 

But Okine is absolutely not interested in the surreal – “I don’t necessarily find ‘zany’ funny. Too surreal, I just find actually boring” – and he has no interest in pranks or comedy ‘roasts’. It makes him feel uncomfortable to watch them. “I don’t like to trick people. I want to make sure that no one’s laughing at anyone, that they’re laughing with them,” he says. “I don’t like unnecessary teasing for no reason.” 

Okine tries to be as inclusive as possible with his comedy. He says that comics who brand themselves as ‘fearless’, who ‘tell it like it is’ by attacking people from minorities, are effectively saying that they don’t mind losing that demographic as their audience, because they make enough money from the mainstream. 

“Unfortunately, most of the time, that just means that minorities get treated like shit, because they don’t have the louder voice to make an impact on that person’s income or main audience.” 

For Okine it’s not about the “punching up” versus “punching down”. “No one’s fighting anybody,” he quips. “There's plenty of other ways to make people laugh than punching up or down.”

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In The Other Guy, Okine stars as AJ, a former radio DJ trying to put his life back together after his long-term girlfriend leaves him for his best friend. It’s a set-up that is semi-based on his own life. The second season, which returns to Stan next week, then goes meta, as AJ, with the help of his agent, played by Claudia Karvan, sets about turning his story into a TV show, Cuck

Okine admits that at least one joke in every episode of the latest season of Stan’s The Other Guy is a bit crass. “I’m not too cool for poo and wee jokes,” he says. “It's funny because you end up fighting for these jokes that are really, really stupid to explain. And you're like, 'I promise, if he does this in this situation and his dick's out, or he's wearing this, it'll be funny.' And people are like, 'It just sounds immature.’ 'Yeah! That's because every now and then it's fun to be immature.’”

Okine says he is constantly battling with himself about why a joke is funny. When he’s having these inner conversations, he tends to consider, “What’s the worst tweet that I’m going to get for this joke?” and if he can’t justify the joke, he’ll get rid of it. 

“If people are outraged because they don't think it's funny, then I'm like, 'Yeah, go fuck yourself.'  But if they're outraged because it's offensive to them, then I've gotta think about why, and whether there's a way that I can make it not offensive to as many people as possible.”

Ultimately it’s a question of intention: if it was a mistake – and Okine cops to having made mistakes – then you can just apologise and move on. Though there is a particular line from the first season of The Other Guy that he regrets.

"I would have preferred to go with the woke angle, but I missed it.”

In the first episode of the first season, AJ and his friend Stevie (Harriet Dyer) are drinking at the bowlo, and Stevie has just spiked AJ's drink with ecstasy. Last night’s one-night-stand is working at the bar, and AJ asks his friend if he should go talk to her. Stevie replies, “Don’t be so autistic. You slept together once. She doesn’t want to marry you – go on.” 

It’s something Okine battled with while writing the show, thinking on the issue over and over, until he felt he could justify it. He notes that it’s inherently offensive to use ‘autistic’ in that way, but people do say offensive things in real life, and it’s in Stevie’s character to use language like that flippantly. She also works as a health professional with differently abled people, so is “more learned about the whole situation that she lets on when she says something like that”. 

There’s also the reality that sometimes we don’t pull up our mates when they’ve said something inappropriate, because “there’s something else happening that’s bigger” – in this case, that AJ had just had his drink spiked. Being true to that set-up “doesn’t necessarily mean that someone who has autistic children or suffers from autism is going to feel ok about it”. 

Ultimately Okine reckons his character should have called out Stevie. “Is he really likely to denounce her use of a word when he is high?,” he questions. “I was battling with that. It's far more woke if I'd done that, but it's not realistic if the character had done that. Ultimately, I feel like I made a mistake in that and I would have preferred to go with the woke angle, but I missed it.”

Okine writes shows like The Other Guy because, ever since he was young, he’s used humour to cope with difficult situations. In 2012, he won Best Newcomer at MICF in 2012 for his show Being Black N Chicken N Shit, about the death of his mother from breast cancer when he was 12. The show has since been fictionalised in Okine’s first novel, Being Black ’N Chicken, & Chips, released in September this year. The novel is in turn set to be adapted into a feature film. 

His mother died on Good Friday, which became the source of a “silly joke”. “I was in the car with my best friend at the time, they were driving me home to look after me while dad did stuff about the funeral. And I remember saying, 'Oh well, you know, it's Good Friday. So, assuming she's like Jesus, she'll be back in two days.’” 

When you’re 12, Okine explains, that sort of thing is funny to you. “And it helps alleviate this intense situation that suddenly feels like it's suffocating you. Ever since I've been young, I've used humour to get through tough situations.”