Tim Minchin interview

14 December 2009

Written by: Lawrie Zion

After studying arts and music in Perth, the multitalented Tim Minchin eventually gained local and international recognition for his comedy shows involving a grand piano, make-up, and bucket-loads of witty humour while on tour in England, the country he now calls home. I stole some precious little time from him to discover more about the elements in his winning formula, and what the future looks like through his glasses … if he wears them.

How do you think your style of humour developed?

Same as anyone I guess – it just comes from upbringing. It’s a mixture of my mum’s side of the family (iconoclastic, laid-back, silly folk) and my dad’s (very logical and sort of straight). I also think my style is a result of the fact that I didn’t watch much live comedy before I started, so I don’t think I feel the pressure some comics feel to emulate comic heroes.

Have you created a stage character/persona?

I suppose I have, although it’s not been particularly conscious. When I’m on stage, I don’t feel like I’m pretending to be something I’m not … I just feel like I’m trying to present each bit in the way my instincts say will be funniest. I know the look I have created has a significant effect on how I am perceived and how my jokes are received. It’s fun to dress up and look like a bit of a rock star and then do jokes about logical fallacies.

Can you explain the formula you follow in producing your songs …

Once I’ve thought of a subject matter, the basic hook lyric usually appears in my head with a built-in rhythm and often a pretty developed melody. Often the hook line will change once I’ve worked more on the musical style. It’s kinda hard to explain… but yeah – I generally think of a central lyric, put it to music, then expand the music, then fill in the lyrics. Then play it over and over and fix the shit that’s wrong.

Recently you have been working with the Royal Shakespeare Company on the music theatre adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book Matilda. What can we expect from the collaboration?

I think the RSC came to me because they wanted someone they thought could capture Roald’s mix of dark humour and gentle whimsy. Hopefully Matilda will be awesome – funny, moving, big and brassy, sweet, fun for adults and kids, profound, silly, commercially successful and different! Not ambitious or anything, am I?! I’ve written a lot of music for theatre, and in some ways I still think I’m suited to it as much as I am to comedy.

Does this project signify a move in you career away from comedy, and toward composing?

Maybe. I’d like to keep doing it all. Ideally I’ll be able to have a career in which if I don’t feel like touring (and being in the media spotlight etc) I won’t have to. I would love to write music for theatre for the rest of my life… but not exclusively!

What has fame brought you?

Well, I’m not all that famous really, so I haven’t had to suffer too much of the shit that goes with it. It has changed significantly here in the UK this year though, and I’m having to think seriously about what I want and why. I don’t want my kids to hate walking down the street with me. However, I love my job so much, that more and more people know about my work, and the power I am gaining to make the artistic choices I want to make (Although there’s an equal amount of artistic pressure that comes with it!) And I’ve bought a grand piano and I’d like to get a house for it to fit in … so maybe “fame” will bring me that.

10 Queries for a coffee break

 1: My horoscope – as a Libran it blows my mind that otherwise smart people actually think their star sign has something to do with their personality!

2: Next holiday destination: W.A!

3: I don’t

take the parenting burden enough.

4: Most important current world issue:

According to the English press, what “Jordan” is doing.

5: I constantly repeat the word… complicated.

6: Top 3 albums of all time: Oh christ, can’t answer that.

7: I can’t stand … people who won’t adjust their views in the face of good argument

8: The last thing that made me laugh … my wife. Can’t remember why, but she’s nearly always the last thing to make me laugh.

9: Consumer item you can’t live without: is a piano a consumer item? If not, my iPhone nowadays.

10: Last thing you apologised for? Being away on tour and having a wicked time, while my wife gets four hours sleep a night and looks after 2 kids full time.

Tim Minchin is touring Australia  this December and February, check here for states and dates

Emily Altis is a Theatre and Drama student at La Trobe University. This is her first story for upstart.