Tim Key on returning to stand-up and Alan Partridge
PUBLISHED: 11:19 01 June 2018
The Kronenbourg-guzzling poet, comedian and Alan Partridge side-kick is bringing his new solo show, the story of a dream date, to Norwich, fresh from it being hailed as one of the funniest shows of the year.
“Poeticals, talking, standing, spotlights, cables, Kronenbourg, foot-stamping and old school wistfulness,” is how comedian Tim Key describes his solo show – Megadate – which brings him to Norwich this month.
Indeed, a Tim Key show features far more than just stand-up. His live offerings are ambitious and theatrical, an intricate web of pithy poems and playful anecdotes, short films and elaborate stunts, and, yes, plenty of lager guzzling.
His date at the Norwich Playhouse will be a return to Norfolk which he is more than familiar with as for the last eight years, he has been sitting alongside Norfolk’s premiere digital radio DJ Alan Partridge as the scene-stealing Sidekick Simon.
Memorably in the Norfolk-shot big screen Partridge outing Alpha Papa Sidekick Simon found himself taped to a chair while wearing a specially adapted gaffer-taped helmet with shotgun attachment after becoming caught up in the siege at North Norfolk Digital.
Key is set to revive the role for the new BBC1 Partridge vehicle being broadcast later this year, and it’s “constantly an honour to be included,” he admits.
His other acting credits have included parts in TV treasures like Inside No 9, Peep Show and Suffolk-filmed Detectorists, while on stage he has appeared in the 20th anniversary production of Yasmina Reza’s Art at London’s Old Vic Theatre.
But it’s live on stage – reading silly poems off the back of playing cards, teasing the audience with semi-whimsical stories and sloshing cans of beer – that’s earned Key a legion of fans, and Megadate has been acclaimed as his funniest show yet.
In Megadate, you reminisce about an elaborate first date. Is the show based on your own person experience?
I think this show is rooted in reality – somewhere, somehow, someone – but blended with a lot of dreamy imaginings. There are moments, people, things that happened in real life. But I talk about throwing myself out of the Shard, so it can’t be entirely true. If there are moments on stage, however, where I look a bit wistful, that’s because I am a bit.
Short poems are your trademark, but there’s a large story element to this show. Which do you prefer to write?
The short poems are the enjoyable bit. They take no time or thought – obviously! – and I like doing it. The long-form bits kill me. Lots of thinking, trying it out on stage, reaching deep, deep into your soul. That’s the hard bit, but, obviously, the more satisfying part, too. No gain without pain.
Megadate is your first solo show in four years. Why the break from live comedy?
Good point. To be fair I did make a TV show – Gap Year – that took ages and meant I was, weirdly, living in Kuala Lumpur for five months. It’s difficult to stay active on the live scene in those circumstances.
You didn’t attempt to break the South East Asian comedy circuit while you were there then?
I did do 10 minutes at a Malaysian lady’s 40th birthday party one night, to be fair to me, to a fairly mixed reaction. But I have missed not having a solo show, I must admit.
Your TV acting CV is substantial. Does the writer in you want to change lines or edit scripts?
It’s case by case, I think. Ideally you take jobs because you like the writing. Sometimes the writing can be exemplary but it still might make the thing better if you just tweak a word or a phrase. I’m shooting Alan Partridge at the moment, that’s a pretty good example. Steve Coogan and [co-writers] the Gibbons brothers’ scripts are impeccable, but there’s always room for the odd tweak in the moment… To be fair, slightly more than the odd tweak with Steve. But he’s Alan Partridge.
What can you tell us about the new series?
It’s kind of a bit like The One Show – so there are autocues around the place.
Does that mean you don’t have to learn your lines?
Well, it helps you stay on top of them, because they change a bit on the day. The trick is not looking like you’re literally reading your lines off the autocue. Desperately hoping my head and eyes aren’t drifting slowly from left to right whilst I’m talking.
You were a Partridge fan before getting the part of Sidekick Simon. How does it feel to be involved?
If I wasn’t in this I would be counting down the days until I could watch it. It’s so odd. Steve shook my hand at the end of a scene the other day and said “thanks mate”. Not a great anecdote, but amazing how surreal that stuff is. Steve Coogan pleased with you. Feels good!
This is your third UK tour. What’s your favourite thing about being on the road?
Best part is definitely the shows. You assume the show will only ever work in London, you’ll travel to some other town and be destroyed. Then you suddenly realise that no matter where you go it’s more or less the same. Maybe better.
And the worst?
Hearing the applause die down as you walk to your dressing room and eventually you are sitting in silence staring at yourself in a mirror with light bulbs around it sipping a warm Grolsch.
You recently played Yvan in Art at the Old Vic. How did you find the role?
Mmmm, the most difficult thing I’ve ever done? God, I still have flashbacks. But, inevitably, it was also one of the most rewarding. That’s the problem, you realise that you really have to go out of your comfort zone to get anything worthwhile done these days. Glad I did it, but at times I did feel like I was going mad.
I was part of a three-person cast with Rufus Sewell and Paul Ritter – two very well-respected theatre actors – and I remember, in rehearsals, seeing those two gradually getting better and better at doing their parts. It did feel like I was slightly watching a masterclass at times. Ritter going absolutely mental at my character, spit flying everywhere, Sewell watching on callously. They were exceptional.
Would you like to do more West End roles?
Yes. One day. I’d like to do some Pinter at some point.
Which Pinter play would you most like to take on, and who would be in your dream cast?
Well, I guess I wouldn’t mind doing The Caretaker with Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan if push came to shove.
Finally, why should people come to see Megadate?
Well, it’s only an hour and a bit. You can watch it and it still doesn’t screw up your whole night. I know it’s not really the hard sell but I guess I would say “you may as well”.
• Tim Key: Megadate is at Norwich Playhouse on June 29, 8pm, £16, 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk