Tim Key: 'I get more relaxed and reassured by each seat filled with a nice person'

This article is from 2018

Tim Key:

In his Fringe time, Tim Key has had a fully run bath and a double bed on stage as he seduced critics, judges and audiences with his poetry-comedy-multimedia thing

Once upon a time, Tim Key wouldn't even consider taking to his stage without having the word 'slut' in the show title. Debut Fringe hour The Slut in the Hut (it was performed at the old Hut shipping container in the Pleasance Courtyard) was followed by The Slutcracker (winner of the 2009 Edinburgh Comedy Award), Masterslut and Single White Slut. And what about that time he put on a work-in-progress show? Yup, it was called Work-in-Slutgress.

For his 2018 Fringe affair (in the wide setting of the Pleasance Grand), he's opted to get right out of the corner he had so adeptly painted himself into, and is embarking on a Megadate. 'Those [Slut titles] were very arbitrary and bore no relation to what was happening on the stage, whereas this one is about a huge date,' he insists over frothy coffee in Edinburgh back in June. 'It was going to be about a car and that wouldn't have been called Megadate. This one really does feel like a show called Megadate.'

This 70-minute piece is the true-ish (maybe) story of being on a London date at the Planetarium and Madame Tussauds followed by a flurry of texts (though not exactly what you'd call an exchange), and the hunt for a lost bank card at a bowling alley.

'So, that bit of it is true. I did go to a bowling alley to retrieve a bank card and it was 9.30 in the morning and I did take a lane. I bowled a bit, I definitely left, there was drizzle, and they didn't have my card. At the time, I thought, a) this feels, objectively, like a low point; and, secondly, the slight thought in my mind was to go straight to a café with my notepad. So I started more or less writing down what had just happened. I had to salvage something from the situation.'

And what he has salvaged is another curious slice of Key-shaped excellence, containing many of his familiar tropes of yore: there's the passive-aggressive attitude with his audience; the reading of poems on cards which he then flings to the floor; some heavily artful black and white films intermittently played on a screen; and while entering the auditorium, you'll see our entertainer for the evening stalking his own stage a good quarter of an hour before kick-off.

'I've always done that,' Key admits, wholly without apology. 'Walking on is a bit much, isn't it? There must be a reason why I don't do that, but what can it be? It's now force of habit, but if there is something in it, it's that 15 minutes before going on I'd get increasingly anxious. In my mind I'd be picturing the audience as demons and devils and ogres carrying tridents and other pieces of equipment they might do me harm with. I think it's quite a good thing that I actually have a nice audience; you watch as they come in and it has the opposite effect of being offstage: I get more relaxed and more reassured by each seat that is filled with a nice person.'

One other regular aspect of a Key performance that has remained intact is when the passiveness makes way for full-on aggression. It's not the audience that gets it, necessarily, it's usually his own vocal cords as he stamps a foot while bellowing a question or command. 'Melbourne was a classic where I did three nights and it was shot to pieces. You drink lemon and ginger tea: it's demeaning to put that stuff in your body when you want to be eating chocolate, but in it goes and it does revitalise you. In Edinburgh for a long month, it's constantly on the verge. It's quite a resilient organ (I want to say organ; it is an organ isn't it?). It can bounce back.'

Now that he's about to set foot back on Fringe soil, it's perfectly reasonable for him to reflect back on his moment of glory. In Megadate, Key pores over his successes such as being Sidekick Simon for the rebooted Alan Partridge, acting with Rufus Sewell, and that time he left Edinburgh with its major comedy award under his arm (on stage he amusingly and pompously keeps referring to it as the Perrier despite the water company having ended their sponsorship deal a few years earlier). 'I stumbled upon it the other day,' he notes. 'It's on a shelf, above a printer, and there's stuff on it. To not have it upright is a good sign of modesty, and to put other stuff on it is very humble. Your next step, I suppose, is melting it down or firing it into space. It's nice to have about the place, but I don't have a shrine.'

Tim Key: Megadate, Pleasance Courtyard, 16–26 Aug (not 21 & 22), 11.15pm, £14–£16 (£12–£14).

Tim Key: Megadate

The award-winning comedian, performance poet and actor engages in autumnal wistfulness as he mixes pithy verse with storytelling.