Australian comedians don’t normally get much coverage over in the UK, so when one comes over and starts winning awards, we have to investigate. Tom Canning caught up with Tim Minchin in London to find out just what all the fuss is about.
Think of the words ‘Comedy’ and ‘Pianist’ and no doubt you are likely to think of loveable West Country cockney impersonator Bill Bailey. But now, there is another. Heralding from Melbourne, Australia, and having already won the Perrier Newcomer Award in 2005, Tim Minchin has just finished a tour of Britain with a mix of his two previous shows Darkside and So Fucking Rock.
“The show’s kinda biographical,” says Tim. “Before the comedy, I was trying to be a rock or pop musician, problem was, the thing that differed between me and everybody else was that I couldn’t take myself that seriously. A few years ago I recorded an album and shopped it around a lot of record labels. There were a lot of positive responses to it but, and there is always a big but, they didn’t know how to handle some of the songs being funny and some of them being really serious. The show is kinda my two fingers to the music business.”
So who were his influences to writing the show? “Most of my influences aren’t really comedy based, more musical. In terms of comedy, I take more from Shakespeare and Beckett than any comedian around at the moment. In terms of piano, again, not really any influences. I started learning piano when I was eight years old and had lessons for about three years before I gave it up. Just found the discipline not enjoyable. I got to Grade 2 and just wasn’t that interested in progressing at the time. Then I started writing music with my brother, who’s a guitarist, and got back into it again. I’m more of a hack pianist really, you know, a ‘more you practice, the better you get’ kind of guy.”
Playing piano like a combination of Matthew Bellamy from Muse and Ben Folds, Minchin’s show features jazzlike songs about inflatable dolls, overweight children, a poem about being angry and a funky pop anthem about canvas bags. “The story behind Canvas Bags is that in Australia, plastic bags are becoming such a polluting issue that they are actually banned in some states, and some chains of supermarkets won’t hand them out, so I’m trying to do my bit to ease the problem. And it’s also my way at having a go at people who reckon they’re total environmentalists, and yet all they do for the environment is recycle once a week. In Melbourne, there’s loads of these left-wing yuppies who have these fixations on doing little things and making them out to be bigger than they actually are.”
One thing that had caught me about Tim Minchin is his unique appearance. Looking like how Robert Smith might turn up to his parents’ house for dinner, Tim’s stage attire includes dark eye make-up and no shoes. “I come from a theatre background, so I’ve always been aware of having a making sure you have a presence and an individual style. So that’s why I have the hair and eye make-up. The eye make-up is important, as because when I’m playing piano, my hands are kinda trapped, so I have to use my face for expression and gestures.
“Thing is, five years ago I was coming on stage like this and performing to five people, who thought I was a bit weird, now everyone thinks I have a stylist whose trying to make me wacky!”
I’d like to write a musical, but not until 2008 at the earliest. I wouldn’t do a spin-off style musical though.
So that’s the reason behind not wearing any shoes? “Kinda, it also makes me feel more comfortable. I see the stage as my lounge and I’m just playing piano, so if a joke goes wrong, I don’t really care. If they chose not to laugh, so what? I’ve got feet!”
For the last few months, Minchin has been touring around the UK, taking in all the sights and smells of our fair and pleasant land, like Canterbury, Newcastle and Sheffield. “Britain is cool. Thing is, I’ve got a geeky tourist style, so I’m into all that museum and gallery visiting. I’m just having to be careful, as there’s a strange phenomena in that all Aussies get fat when they move to England. The only bad thing about Britain is the obvious lack of beach and the fact that the British weather system can be sunny and snowy within an hour!”
With only minutes until his show started, I had time for one more question. And seeing as Tim is not only a comedian, but also an actor and talented musician, would he ever consider doing what is ‘apparently’ the cool thing to do at the moment, and make a TV spin-off musical like Neighbours the Opera, or Flying Doctors: the Musical? He laughs: “Flying Doctors, it would be like Ms Saigon, only with a plane. I think not. I’d like to write a musical, but not until 2008 at the earliest. I wouldn’t do a spin-off style musical though. Just because Queen and Ben Elton are making them, doesn’t mean that everyone should stop writing good musicals. Although, one of my mates is writing Shane Warne: the Musical at the moment…”
The CDs of Darkside and So Rock are available via www.timminchin.com