Tim Minchin - Looney tunes

This article is from 2008

Tim Minchin

Not one for being stuck in a pigeonhole, Tim Minchin is a musician, actor, comic and father. Anna Millar meets the man who looks like a scarecrow and is terrifying the world of traditional stand-up comedy

As Tim Minchin rocks up at one of New York’s plusher hotel lobbies, even the po-faced concierge can’t resist a smile. The Aussie is trying to coerce a much-needed tipple from the ornate contraption they’re punting as a teapot: ‘Jesus Christ, mate, this is a bit swank.’ The chaotic hair and trademark black eyeliner are still in place from his gig the night before and although the crowd occasionally failed to ‘get him’, the pianist-come-comedian-come-wannabe rock star reckons there’s still reason to be cheerful.

As a recipient of the last ever Perrier Best Newcomer prize back in 2005, Minchin’s loony tunes brand of comedy has afforded him success, both in his native Oz and in the UK, where he now resides with his wife Sarah and baby daughter, Violet. Western Australian born, he’s not your conventional stand-up. Looming large from the shadow of Bill Bailey, Minchin’s shows are a rammy of songs, in turns clever and rude, absurd and irreverent. So what can an audience expect to get for their ever-increasing buck?

‘People are always asking me to define myself and I say: “How do you define genius?” Nah, seriously, I decided early on that I was never going to be a brilliant musician, singer or stand-up but discovered that if I put those things together, something pretty good could happen.’

Previous shows have boasted jazz-like songs about inflatable dolls, overweight children and even a pop anthem about canvas bags. If his energy is boundless on stage – the maniacal grin, the wild-eyed patter, the Worzel Gummidge hair – then the occasional mixed response off-stage provides ample inspiration.

‘I realised a few years back that you can’t please people all of the time. When I won the Perrier a few comedians said they didn’t rate me, but I say fuck it, maybe I don’t rate them. Just because I’m not standing with a mic going punchline, punchline, punchline doesn’t make me any better or worse than anyone else. Besides, the death of comedy surely comes when you stop trying new things.’ Minchin readily admits that the drama elements of his stage shows hark back to his early training in Oz. ‘I come from a theatre background in Australia, so I’ve always been aware of having a presence and an individual style, so that’s why I have the hair and eye make-up. The personality and the stage persona just grew and grew.’ As an actor, he has played Amadeus and Hamlet for the Perth Theatre Company and the Australian Shakespeare Company.

Success aside, you get the feeling that Minchin wouldn’t mind a less chaotic lifestyle. The golden rule is if he’s touring outside the UK, the family come along for the ride; but fatherhood has brought a new set of priorities.

‘Sure, I’m happy that I’ve managed to build a career by doing the things that come most naturally to me rather than compromising anything I believe in, but it gets to the stage where you look out at the audience and think, “What next?” I’ve moved to London, I have a new baby and I’m often on tour. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope a great TV or film deal would come along one day, but you just go with it, you know?’

With a Stateside agent now in place, and a penned sitcom attracting interest from the US networks, Minchin’s ship could come in sooner than he thinks, but he’s happy to take each day as it comes. Certainly he knows to expect the unexpected when it comes to all things Fringe. ‘I’m in a bigger venue this year and when you’ve done well in the past, there’s always the temptation to knock people back down. But I’ll take it on the chin.’

In the meantime, he’s doing the rounds and perfecting his new material in Ready for This?, a trademark brew of tormented love songs, laugh-out-loud melodies and high-pitched spraffing about the woes of the world. ‘It’s more of the same, only much, much better,’ he laughs still grappling with the teapot, the mania slowly sweeping over his face. Then, suddenly, with a wife to see and a baby to feed, he’s off, light on the rock but most certainly on a roll.

Tim Minchin, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 1–17 Aug (not 12), 9.45pm, £12.50–£13.50 (£11.50–£12.50). Previews until 31 Jul, £5.

Wizards of Oz

Brian Donaldson picks five other Aussie acts who are set to be fair dinkum on the Fringe. Cobber. Mate. Etc

Pig Island

This acclaimed sketch troupe debut with Simply Fancy, a surreal fantasy tale inspired by 80s adventure movies.
Gilded Balloon Teviot, 668 1633, 3–25 Aug, 9.15pm, £8.50–£9.50 (£7.50–£8.50). Previews until 2 Aug, £5.

Dave Bloustien

A man who has written comedy for Australian telly over the last decade brings us Beastly, a stand-up show about Africa and the increasingly weird charity industry.
Espionage, 477 7007, 31 Jul–9 Aug, 7.10pm, free.

James Hazelden

Dubbed the ‘Bob Dylan of comedy music’, this chap who has toured with Circus Oz delivers songs about life, death, love and ninjas.
Nicol Edwards, 226 0000, 2–23 Aug (not 4, 11, 18), 9.15pm, free.

The Axis of Awesome

This outfit claim they formed in 68 and having split, now reckon the time is ripe for a comeback.
Gilded Balloon Teviot, 668 1633, 3–25 Aug (not 13, 20), 10.30pm, £8.50–£9.50 (£7.50–£8.50). Previews until 2 Aug, £5.

Sean Choolburra

With Live and Deadly, Australia’s cheekiest black comic will be yarning, rapping, dancing and didgeridooing. If that’s a word.
Edinburgh College of Art, 0870 241 0136, 31 Jul–24 Aug (not 5, 11 & 12, 18), 5.25pm, £8 (£7).

Tim Minchin

  • 4 stars

Musician, actor, comedian and owner of a fine head of hair, the celebrated Tim Minchin presents 'Ready For This'. 'Part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe'.