Radio host Matt Okine leaps to small screen
MATT Okine's transition from the airwaves to the small screen seems like a logical one, but it's been long time in the making.
The comedian and former Triple J breakfast radio host makes his first foray into acting in The Other Guy, an original comedy series for streaming service Stan.
The funnyman plays radio host AJ Amon, who finds himself unexpectedly back in the dating pool for the first time in a decade after discovering his long-term girlfriend has been having an affair with his best friend.
"It's certainly been several years in the making," Matt tells Weekend.
"In terms of having a TV show I've written and acted in, that's something I've wanted to do ever since I first watched Seinfeld. It really came down to deciding what was the right story to tell and the best way to tell it."
When viewers first meet AJ he is navigating the messy period of separating his life from that of his ex-girlfriend (Valene Kane). There's the physical division of things like mail and furniture - a mattress becomes a particular sticking point - and then the social stumbling blocks of mutual friends and favourite hangouts.
Throw in the awkwardness of dating for the first time in 10 years and you've got a quarry of comedy gold ready for mining.
Matt co-wrote The Other Guy with Becky Lucas (Please Like Me), with help from script producer Greg Waters. The concept is inspired by Matt's 2015 stand-up show of the same name, which was loosely based on events and people from his own life.
"The truth is real life is just not as interesting as TV," he says. "In my head I had this idea of authenticity but that departed pretty quickly when we were developing it. Once I got over that I realised we could take the characters anywhere and have a lot more fun with them and not be bound by this weird idea that it's some sort of documentary about my life.
"I think all writers are going to take events inspired by their life and that's certainly what we did in this show. But there were also plenty of dumb things that didn't (come from real life). We have a lot more fun in The Other Guy world."
The six-part series examines dating in the digital age, the harsh reality of recovering from heartbreak in your 30s and Australia's drinking culture.
Matt's character AJ nearly always has a drink in hand and in one memorable scene, is surprised to find how enjoyable sex is when sober.
"Alcohol is a coping mechanism and an indication that he's in a bad place," he says.
"It's all affected him a bit worse than he's willing to let himself be told. I've been through phases where drinking was a real problem and I don't think I'm alone when it comes to that as a performer. It's a thing with artists because their work and life constantly revolves around them creating things in their head - songs or stories or jokes - and I think a lot of artists find it difficult to switch off without chemical assistance.
"There's also an unspoken thing that happens in your 30s when people start having families and you see friends dropping off. There are whole friendship groups that revolve around drinking; when it stops that group breaks up. The show is making a broader statement about Australia's drinking culture and where that line is. When does it stop being fun?"
While Matt jokes that his character AJ is a much nicer person than he is, he is aware of the parallels viewers are likely to draw between him and his fictional character.
"The reason he is a radio host is technical. We really we wanted to be able to place my character in a situation where he's always able to express the truth to a friend of his, the person working opposite him, in a truth chamber. I've always found the radio is like a confessional booth," he says.
"There was a time where I was going through a really difficult breakup - this is the real Matt talking - and you'd be having these nights where you'd spend all night up crying and talking to your partner and then you'd have to go to work and as soon as the microphone comes on life is supposed to be normal and you've got to pretend you're excited to be awake at 6am."
Matt isn't afraid about being out-shined by his co-star Harriet Dyer (Love Child), who plays AJ's self-obsessed, and self-medicated, friend Stevie.
"The character of Stevie is something I'm really proud of. She steals every scene and that's how it was intended," he says.
"She's really an example of AJ's last true friend, who can stick with him through thick and thin and is constantly trying to pick him out of the dumps in her own self-obsessed way.
"Stevie's character is such a stand-out in terms of punch lines because my character is not in a position in his life to really be that ridiculous. If he was and we had two characters who were that outrageous it would take away from the honesty of the show."
Matt is keeping his fingers crossed for a second and even third season of The Other Guy, which will be distributed internationally by Entertainment One. He hopes it's just the beginning of his career as an actor.
"It's something you put a year of your life into and then all of a sudden it's all coming out at once. People are going to watch it hungover in their pyjamas in bed with a bowl of chips on their stomach, and it all hinges on whether they like it or not," he says.
"I'm really proud of what we've done and it makes me feel like I'm ready to do this on an even bigger scale. I think it's going to showcase to the world that I can hold my own as the lead in TV show or film, and I'm excited about the doors that might open for me."