Matt Mathews: TikTok phenom plays the Regency Ballroom

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday November 21, 2023
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Matt Mathews (photo: Amy Weiser)
Matt Mathews (photo: Amy Weiser)

"I don't consider myself a stand-up comedian at all," drawled Matt Mathews. "I don't get on stage and just, like, talk about airplane food. I tell real life stories. It's more in depth. It's real. And it's inspiring. It's all of the things that I feel are truly me to my core. It's about feeling good and laughing, but also leaving with something that you didn't come into the room with."

So, now you know precisely what to expect if you attend the aggressively adorable 29-year-old Alabaman's nearly sold-out performance at the Regency Ballroom on December 1 (He plays Napa's Uptown Theatre November 30), a stop on what he's titled, with similarly descriptive exactitude, his "When That Thang Gets to Thangin'" tour.

The blurriness of it all reflects contemporary reality. Matthews is not so much a performer as a personality. In just over a year, he's gained international fame, attracted more four million followers and made the leap from TikTok to touring on the basis of video clips in which he does farm chores, talks sassy to his animals, acts a teeny bit risqué and cocks his undeniably pretty head like a show chicken.

Feel free to scratch your own head in bemusement. But don't begrudge Mathews this distinctly modern success.

Matt Mathews  

Turns in the road
During a backstage interview with the Bay Area Reporter before a recent appearance at the Paramount Theatre in Denver, Mathews came off as altogether earnest; simultaneously proud of and mystified by his sudden metamorphosis into a touring entertainer.

"I have no fucking idea exactly why this happened. It's not fake. You can ask my family and my friends. I was wandering outside in my bathrobe every morning feeding the animals. One day a friend filmed me and put it on TikTok and, boom, it got 13 million views.

"I'd always thought I was naturally funny," he continued. "I was always the class clown. But this just caught on somehow. When people were leaving comments like, 'You are a light in a dark world' and 'I just laughed for the first time in months,' it made me feel good. So, I was like, how can I take this to a higher level?"

This is not the first major trajectory shift in Mathews' unlikely life.

A decade ago, at age 20, he was enrolled in a nursing program at Jefferson State Community College. A lifelong amateur photographer, he covered his tuition and expenses by shooting portraits, weddings and family events.

Eventually, he left nursing school to focus on photography full time, ultimately building a specialty practice in tastefully intimate boudoir sessions. Mathews had a knack not just for skillful lighting and shooting, but for making women feel comfortable in, and proud of, their bodies. Today, a large majority of his comedy audiences is female.

"The two things that bring me the most joy in life," says Mathews, "Is making people laugh and making people feel good about themselves."

Matt Mathews (right) with his husband Rob Killgore (left)  

By the time he'd married his husband, Rob Kilgore, in 2016 and moved to their small farm, Mathews had become an in-demand photography instructor and lecturer with engagements across the country.

A contemporary conundrum
"I bring my whole self to everything I do," said Mathews. "It's not like I'm being distracted by any shiny object that comes along. When I left school for my photography business, I worked my ass off to make it succeed. And when I decided to start performing after my videos took off online, I hired a successful comedian in Birmingham, Eunice Elliot, to help me write and structure my show.

"Eunice taught me to find my own voice," he continued. "Not to try to tell jokes, but to bring my full self to the stage and be honest. There are a lot of parts of my show that aren't funny. They're raw and emotional. I grew up very poor and I lost my mother to a long battle with addiction in 2007. Talking about that on stage has been very healing for me. It's helped me find a way to forgive her."

At Mathews' Denver gig, it quickly became clear that while his audience expected to see something akin to a comedy act, they were at least as interested in simply sharing space with someone whose good humor, self-motivation and self-assurance they admired. Buying candles and mugs and hoodies at the merch table, they were hoping to take a bit of his gumption home with them.

Mathews' debut tour has been extended through the first few months of next year. But he's starting to think about the personality vs. performance conundrum. Is he a showman or an exhibition? And what's the next show if this one is already 100% himself?

"How," Mathews asks, "does it get better than this?"

Matt Mathews, Dec. 1. $39.50-$150. Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave. (888) 929-7849.

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