Tim Minchin is an Australian comedian, musician, writer and actor who has been steadily growing in popularity since his debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival won him the Perrier Award for best newcomer.
Skiddle caught up with one of the most exciting comics working today to discuss his latest DVD ‘Ready For This?’, writing music for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s forthcoming adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved ‘Matilda’, performing with a 55-piece Symphony Orchestra, and, of course, revenge.
‘Ready For This?’ was filmed over two nights at Hammersmith and is released in the UK on 29th November.
As soon as the interview begins, Tim reaches across the table…
I thought you were going to steal my dictaphone then!
This whole career of mine has been a massive highfalutin trick to get that.
To steal this one dictaphone?
The last six years I’ve been aiming for your ‘Campus’
Oh, Olympus! ‘Campus’… that’d be a good name.
Not heard of Olympus?
Yes I have. They make cameras don’t they? And, erm, God.
And also God. That’s who made this.
Wow. Divine MP3 recorder.
That’s what he does now. Just that.
Well in this age, this post-deistic age, gotta do something. Good job he had a trade. His Dad’s: ‘well just in case this ‘God’ thing falls through, might as well have a trade.’
It’s just like Bruce Willis doing the Aviva adverts; it’s just to keep the money coming in.
(Starts writing something down) I’m stealing your joke. ‘In case the ‘God’ thing doesn’t work out.’ It’s good to have good aim. It’s good to have big aims, but you need a fall-back.
Right. Have you ever heard anything back from Phil Daoust? [Guardian critic who slated Minchin's 2005 Edinburgh show]
No, although he is on Twitter and I did comment on something he said, in defence of it, and he’s commented back. It’s quite funny, the Guardian at the time I first started playing it (the ‘Song for Phil Daoust’) in Edinburgh wrote a little story and got a comment from him and he said ‘I’m just glad to be remembered’ which is what they say. I mean, he’s been extremely good about it because…
There’ll be another song if he’s not?
The shit that would rain down on him if he tried to… because although the song is extremely rude, and talks about wanting his family to die, it’s so obviously a joke, and it’s a joke against myself in the end. Whereas if anyone follows a link to the review, it was just straight-up mean to a new comic and so he’ll never end up looking good. (Read the Guardian's review).
His review was actually my first exposure to you.
That’s why it hurts, because you know that, even though it was all just a joke and all that, but this is, you know, my first year and something I’ve worked really hard on…and then when you know that a whole load of Guardian readers, you know my paper ‘my lefty, intellectual paper’, getting their first taste of you by some guy who’s just turned up tired and grumpy is just, it’s just very hard to get it out of your head.
I just don’t believe in that style of Arts Journalism, but there’s a grand tradition of it; of scepticism. Especially theatre critics and stuff. I might be about to walk into a shit-storm with ‘Matilda’ because that’s where the baddies hang out. In theatre criticism.
You’ve said in the past that your career had been slow burning, that you’d had no ‘Kate Bush moment’. Do you feel like you’ve had that in 2010?
Yeah. Sitting right now having just moved house and having this DVD coming out, and 'Matilda' opening in five days, and a Symphony Orchestra O2 gig in a month, I feel a complete inability to deal with it. Not in a logistical way, I’m quite well equipped to work really hard and just fucking do it. I’ll be there on stage and it will be fine, I suppose. Hopefully it’ll be great. But conceptually to get my head around what’s going on in my life… it is a wonderful and very-difficult-to-get-your-head-around thing. I am extremely grateful for it.
It’s really hard work and it’s more than I ever, ever, ever thought I had any possibility of getting to… I spent my 20s thinking if I was lucky I’d be able to write some music for kids’ theatre and play in bands.
Bands like ‘Timmy the Dog’?
Yeah like ‘Timmy the Dog’.
So what if all of this hadn’t worked out as it has?
I thought ‘oh, if it comes to it I’d quite like to teach.’ English or something. And I still would be perfectly happy doing that, I’m sure. I don’t really believe that your happiness is connected to your achievement of goals anyway. But, fuck man, it’s really cool what I get to do now. ‘Matilda’ has had a huge impact on me because that’s where I come from. Writing music for theatre is what I started doing, well before ‘Timmy the Dog’, and to have that come back… you know comedy came out of not really getting where I wanted to with writing for theatre and writing for bands. In hindsight, it’s because I wasn’t really being ambitious enough in that regard. I didn’t think I was good enough to write music for real theatre companies. It comes from not being trained or anything; you don’t have any context for your work.
Comedy kind of came out of that, and to think that out of comedy has come me getting to do what I started doing at seventeen, writing a musical version of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ at Midnite Youth Theatre Company, I’m now doing for the RSC with a Roald Dahl story, which is my childhood author of choice. It’s incredibly cool that comedy’s given me this massive leap in this other side of what I do.
2010 was definitely a huge year for you…
It’s an interesting thing, having all your dreams come true, because saying things like that sounds extraordinarily churlish, but not being appreciative of it is obscene. My career will have ups and downs and I’m very aware that I might not ever have a year like this again, but I don’t want to go ‘Yeah it’s fine, you know. It’s good, I’ve worked really hard. It’s fine.’ It’s not, it’s fucking amazing. But at the same time I don’t want to go ‘I’m the king of the fucking World.’
I feel very lucky. I don’t think I had this coming. It’s great that these little various skills I have seem to add up to something because I’m not the greatest pianist, or the greatest vocalist, or the greatest actor. I wasn’t any of those things but I found if I jammed it all together hard enough, I sort of had a thing. It’s lovely to find that you have a thing.
With everything you’ve one this year: the DVD, the tour - twice, with a band and without a band - ‘Matilda’ coming out, the Symphony Orchestra gigs, an Animated Short of your beat poem ‘Storm’, what are you going to do in 2011?
I’m going to have a rest in January, but the orchestra idea actually came out of Australia so I’ve got to do it there February, March, April and then back here to do the orchestra thing in Scotland. Then to the US to do some gigs which will be much, much smaller but hopefully a bit of telly in June, July and then I was going to try and do a play but that might fall through, but I’d like to get back on stage and do some acting before I completely lose my confidence.
I’ve seen your show a few times, in different guises. Not me in different guises, the show…
That’s why I didn’t recognise you.
I wouldn’t want you to think I’d come more than once; I wouldn’t want your ego to get out of control. So the second time I had a moustache. A couple of observations that I made: firstly, your ‘leg-clothes’ get tighter every time.
‘Leg-clothes’? There’s an inverse relationship between largess of pants and largess of career.
So hot pants next time?
I’ve actually written the phrase ‘dressed here in lycra’ into one of my songs in an attempt to bully myself into wearing tight lycra leggings. On the first night at Hammersmith, there were three nights and we taped two, I wore wet-look leggings. They’re proper shiny leggings and my fans mocked me so hard that I didn’t have the guts to go through with it. It is hard when you’ve set yourself a task that gets tighter and tighter; I’m going to have to lose weight.
The second observation is that you don’t really come across on stage as a stand-up comedian. You’re more like an actor in a one-man show. Is that something that was quite deliberate?
Acting’s just always been one of those things I’ve enjoyed. I certainly don’t think about my persona on stage. In fact I work really hard not to address it too much in my head. I didn’t consciously become anything on stage and I don’t want to worry about it too much.
It’s developed a little bit. 'He' used to be a lot more nervous - ‘he’ the on-stage guy - than he is in this. I’ve got to keep reminding myself of that because as the experience gets bigger I don’t want to lose the tension between being small and self-deprecating and a completely narcissistic self-lover, you know, that’s a tautology.
Tickets for ‘Matilda’ at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Tim’s Symphony Orchestra gigs are available to buy now.
See clips from Tim's forthcoming DVD 'Ready For This?' below:
Interview by: Matthew Waldram
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