'Starstruck' Creator Rose Matafeo on Being a Nerdy Teenage Rastafarian

The BBC Three comedian relives her growing up years in New Zealand for our "Share Location" column.
Starstruck comedian Rose Matafeo in a dress
Rose Matafeo. Photo: Courtesy of PR

Rose Matafeo is missing London. Not loads, but a bit. She’s in LA when we talk over Zoom, and getting ready to head to New York before coming home. 

“The sunshine’s almost, like, scary,” the Kiwi comedian says. “It's on every day. The sun is on every day.”


The second series of Starstruck, her very, very excellent rom-com about a whirlwind fling between nanny and cinema worker Jessie and gigantic Hollywood star Tom has begun on BBC Three this week. While she’s been over in the US she’s had to try to rein in her own slightly embarrassing instincts.

“It's funny being in America, surrounded by American people, because I constantly forget that not everyone with an American accent is famous. Like, immediately I'll be like, ‘Oh my God, who are you? Are you a celebrity?’ No, everyone here talks like that.” 

While America’s very keen on Starstruck – the second season’s coming to HBO Max soon – and Matafeo, yer man on the street seems slightly less agog with wonder at her.

“In some instances Americans have had difficulty understanding my accent or maybe I'm just talking too slow. And sometimes you make a joke and they don't necessarily get it.” She thinks. “Not to play into that LadBible, British bants, 'there ain't nothing like British banter!' There is something to it, but don't, you know, go on about it.”

VICE: Where did you have your first snog?
Rose Matafeo:
On a bench in Coxs Bay park with Tom... I shouldn't say his last name, but I really do want to. He wore a lot of Che Guevara merchandise and went to a different co-ed school. It was amazing when you were a teenager, because like, there were fewer phones and you wouldn't really know where everyone was all the time. It was the very, very last sort of generation where that was the case, so it was really quite sweet when teenage romance or crushes happened by chance.


There'd be a certain time when I knew the bus from his school was rounding a corner – I would walk up after school and always see him get off the bus. I think we went out for maybe two weeks. I think he played the clarinet. I do remember [the kiss] was quite disgusting: He had braces, and I do truly remember a piece of couscous that I did not consume before that. I was like, “maybe that came from your mouth”. He from a quite hippyish family and couscous was very big mid-2000s in New Zealand. So yeah, wasn't a great kiss.

What was your classic date spot growing up?
I didn't go on dates, genuinely. There were always haunts you'd try to meet guys at. I'd always go to gigs. Tom was actually a bassist in a band – it was very much the time of emo and indie music colliding. In New Zealand there was a square called Aotea Square where all the emos would hang out. Sometimes I'd hang out with them, but I did not have the look to dress like them. Then I'd hang out with this indie lot who would be at another square, where there would be a venue on Friday nights and there'd be like teenage bands playing. That's where I would go every Friday night to attempt to fall in love and usually fail. Those were the spots, just trying desperately to get emo kids and indie guys to fall in love with you. Did not happen.


What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
I haven't had many terrible jobs. I haven't had many jobs. I was a barback at a comedy club when I was about 16 and I really did love it, it was so much fun. The kitchen was actually at a hotel across a very busy inner city street, so my job would be to run across that busy street – not at the lights – to pick up fries and stuff and run back across. I literally looked like Manuel [from Fawlty Towers]. It was insane, all these plates and stuff, a 16-year-old girl just like running back and forth over a busy road. I'm shocked that I didn't die doing it. And shocked they weren't sued for putting a minor in such danger.

What was your first experience of smoking weed
I grew up Rastafarian. My parents are Rastafarians, part of the Twelve Tribes of Israel in New Zealand, which is a denomination of Rastafarianism there. There's a big cliché about Rastafarianism that it's just about smoking weed and Bob Marley. And what's funny is that those are very big parts of it, but! It's also a real hardcore conservative religion, because a lot of people come to that faith from very hardcore [denominations]. 


My dad's mum was a Seventh-day Adventist; my mum's family was Catholic. And so they came to it because they had an affinity for the religion and stuff. But anyway, that's a long way of saying, I didn't know what the smell of weed was because it was the smell of my upbringing. I remember being a teenager, and the penny dropping, and saying to my mum, “Hang on, wait, when dad goes to the wash house... like, is that weed?” And she laughed in my face. And she was like, “yeah, that's weed, like, what is wrong with you?” 

It's since dissipated, but in my teens, I had a rather high tolerance for weed because I truly had been around it quite a bit. Not to a ridiculous extent – it was definitely a pretty safe environment to be introduced. It never felt like contraband to me. The first time I smoked weed was the night after the first ever comedy gig I did when I was 15. It was very sweet actually: I did my first comedy gig ever, all my family came and watched, we had a gorgeous Japanese meal. And then I went off with my friends Sophie and Rosa and Nick and smoked some weed. It was a fun time. I was wearing a sweater vest that night.

What was the biggest mistake of your teenage years?
I lived quite a conservative life because I was a nerd. I never got blackout drunk or anything. By the time I was drinking and stuff, my mum was a real cool mum about it. I mean, probably the worst thing was I lost my iPod Nano at a party. Also at that party I vomited up a cask – not wine, but a tequila mix cocktail that I drank out of a goon sack [the plastic bag inside a box of wine]. Then my mum picked us all up, and I lied to her and said that I had dropped [the iPod] skateboarding at Diwali celebrations the next day. I think I got a new one for my birthday, but I lied to my mother and it was wrong. I cannot believe that was the biggest mistake of my teens – “I lost my iPod Nano”. Fucking hell.


What was the first thing you got for free as a result of newfound fame?
I used to get free haircuts at this hair salon in New Zealand. I had curly hair at the time and I was desperate. I just hated it. I was 19, and I decided to get my hair chemically straightened. It's so weird looking back at pictures of that – I kind of regret that I got it for free, because it's quite an expensive thing to do. I look so much older than I was! Maybe that was the point, maybe I wanted to look older or had this white girl hair fantasy of straight hair. The first feeling of, like, “this is so fucking cool” was just getting into comedy gigs for free because you worked at [Auckland comedy institution] The Classic. Being able to, as a teenager, rock up at any time and just slip in the back and just watch a comedy show – that was the coolest feeling. It felt like Goodfellas, with the table. I was a 16-year-old with braces being like [Ray Liotta impression], “Can I can I pop in?” 

What are the best and worst places you’ve visited in the UK?
Manchester has got really incredible vintage shopping which I freaking love. Bristol's fucking popping off. I do want to say Edinburgh because it's just a very special place with all of the Fringe festivals and stuff – it's just like such a beautiful city and has a lot of memories, there. You know what? I’ll change my answer to Liverpool, because it's an incredible city. Awesome people, Gerry and the Pacemakers, what more could you want? That ferry across the Mersey – I've done it twice. It's fucking awesome. A lot of cool people live there and it just seems like a really happening town. 

Worst? I will say Peterborough has a beautiful, beautiful church. And that's all I'll say. I love and liked the people of Peterborough, but I also had a terrible gig there so I don't think they like me. I think it was opening for Rob Delaney. It was not a good gig. I remember doing the gig, and then basically walking directly offstage straight to the train station.

Starstruck season 2 is on iPlayer now