Heavily themed shows have been a regular fixture on the Comedy Festival for some time now. At the first festival I reviewed four years ago, it seemed every single local show I went to had some kooky concept that either ingeniously merged sketch and stand-up or collapsed under a ludicrous idea.
Eli Matthewson had one such show then, an hour of stand-up and sketch blurred together under the banner of mocking and exploring internet culture. He was as talented then as he is now, but the show itself was too disjointed and without a proper storyline to work effectively.
I was a little apprehensive walking in to Myths and Legends, which is based around the hook of Matthewson using his Classics degree for the first time professionally. It's a topic the likes of Eddie Izzard have mined successfully in the past, but I had a fretful mental image of this being some jokey-university lecture.
Thankfully, Matthewson avoids falling into that trap. The Greek gods and his university degree are used as a springboard for a menagerie of topics, ranging from porn to millennial culture to, most prominently, growing up Christian and gay.
Listen to our Comedy Festival podcast with Eli Matthewson, Rhys Nicholson and James Roque:
Matthewson is a talented and clever stand-up, and excels when working with an hour of sharply honed material. He has taken an easily marketable idea and twisted it perfectly, seen best when contrasting mythology and Christianity. I wish that element had been the sole focus, as personal stories always make a show more unique but many of them here, such as growing up gay and Christian, are glossed over due to the various other topics that get touched on.
Yet, even though the other jokes do diverge drastically from the theme, the majority still work wonders. A detailed aside involving British reality TV and The Chase are ultimately side-notes to the overall storyline, but Matthewson's perfect delivery and wicked imagination ensures they still feel necessary. A wonderfully meta ending also subtly brings the show together in a tight package, an unexpected twist that lets all of Matthewson's best qualities as a stand-up and performer shine.
Structurally, Myths and Legends is a show of two halves, partly focused on the Classics elements on the poster and the rest of the time freewheeling through various witty observations. It still works cohesively thanks to Matthewson's captivating persona and bountiful comedic talents, neither of which require high concepts or wacky themes to leave the audience in stitches.
Who: Eli Matthewson, Myths and Legends
Where: Basement Theatre until May 18