Tim Minchin Interview - Comic wizard of Oz
EMMA LEE Comedian, actor, composer, songwriter, pianist… Tim Minchin is a Jack of all trades and a master of at least one. Emma Outten spoke to the Australian performer in advance of his appearance at Norwich Playhouse on Saturday February 10.
Tim Minchin sounded very bright and breezy considering it was only 9am. But then one of comedy's brightest rising stars is father to an eight-week old baby who had been awake for a couple of hours.
If you have not already heard of Tim, by the end of his forthcoming regional tour, taking in Norwich Playhouse on February 10, you may well have. In the space of two highly successful years, there is a sense that the gifted Australian performer, who won the Edinburgh Festival 2005 Perrier Award for Best Newcomer, is on the verge of something big.
Like his baby daughter, Violet, Tim was born in this country, but his parents moved back to Australia when he was one.
He owns an impressive CV, as his stage credits as an actor include The Australian Shakespeare Company's Twelfth Night, and he has also been a pianist/musical director for a number of Australian stage shows.
Then, in 2002, Tim left Perth for the bright lights of Melbourne. His mission when he first moved was to sell albums, as he had a band that he wanted to break, but it was not long after that that he got into comedy.
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Until a couple of years ago, Tim did not know that comedy was something he could do, but with Australian audiences wowed, he brought his talents to the UK, performing at Edinburgh and also at London's Soho and Lyric Theatres. Then he brought his growing family here (his wife Sarah was six months pregnant when they moved to London, in September of last year).
Tim said of the move: “After Edinburgh 2005 it was really a decision about when rather than if.” He added: “Edinburgh happened and suddenly I was in a position to be earning an income.”
The Perrier Award has been an “absolute blessing”, said the 31-year-old. Suddenly he was doing DVD deals and West End shows. “I felt like a man who was very, very ready for some of this action.” He is currently talking to TV producers here and in the US. 's a different world,” he said, comparing his new life to his old one in Australia, “It's a culture of comedy over here.”
What sets him apart from his peers is his striking ability to serve up comedy through live music and song. It sounds as though it is a winning combination. As he noted: “It's easier to listen to the same songs again - it's harder to listen to the same jokes again.”
When he was playing in bands he had never taken himself too seriously. Even his one heartbreak, in his early 20s, ended up manifesting itself in self-mockery. “I don't think I'm a repressed '1950s' bloke,” he said of his attempts at serious song-writing. And his attempts at writing a whole album of songs meant that one half of the album was comic and the other half was not comic at all. So he made a decision: “I'll get this comedy stuff off my chest… get this satirical stuff out of the way.”
So does he feel a Jack of all trades but master of none? “Most people would say I'm pretty OK on the piano,” he replied.
His acclaimed act offers, among other things, the striking sound of an accomplished pianist - albeit a barefoot one.
Why no footwear? “You make random decisions,“ he said, by way of explanation. So when Tim went from playing to a group of 10 people in Melbourne to playing at the Royal Albert Hall a year later, he was still minus his shoes. In a funny sort of way, wearing no shoes helps settle his nerves, especially “the bigger the venue and the bigger the piano.”
At first, his show was quite autobiographical. “A couple of my earlier songs very much explained where I've come from,” he said. But he added: “That's funny first time up but very boring after that.”
His favourite song is one about the Israel/Palestine situation, set to a “classical riff.” “The contrast between content and music is what it's all about,” he said. If asked to describe his comedy, Tim would use the words “dark”, “acerbic” and “black”.
Now he's a father, will he start writing songs about his daughter? Maybe, but do not bet on it “There's nothing more boring for people who don't have kids,” he said.
Tim is looking forward to his first regional tour, having only performed in Edinburgh and London until now. “Apart from that I've been absolutely nowhere,” he exclaimed. “Part of me is freaking out, but part of me is really excited.”
After Norwich he has been invited to perform at the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado and so he was very sorry about having to cancel a handful of later dates on the tour. “I hope I haven't wasted any journalist's time,” he said, sounding concerned, at the end of an interview that was a far from wasted half-hour.
Tim Minchin performs at Norwich Playhouse on Saturday February 10. Box office: 01603 598598.