Words by Lou Pardi
After seven years in London, Aussie Tim Minchin has rounded off the edges of his Perth accent with a decidedly English lilt. He’s also managed to become some kind of rock star – screaming fans, arenas of audiences; the works. It’s a little ironic considering his cabaret act was born lampooning the rock star phenomenon.
“When I first started doing comedy I was taking the piss out of the fact that I wanted to be a musician and songwriter and didn’t really have the requisite depression, shitty childhood, self-loathing, drug habits and all that,” Tim explains. “That’s been the bedrock of the personality I am on stage, even though my comedy has become more and more about logic and beliefs. I’m a nerd, not a rock star. I’m a nerd who likes logic and books and philosophy, not drugs and bitches.”
Nerd claims aside, the ladies of London appear to think that Tim is a rock star, potentially because he quite looks like one. “The line between the joke and reality is completely blurred. I now wear skinny jeans as a matter of course – and I’ll often put a bit of eye makeup on before I go out. It’s hilarious,” Tim says, although he qualifies that he doesn’t require himself to keep up the image full-time. “I’ve gone back to being normal me. I’ve realised I don’t have to change,” he says. “If people want a photo with me they can have a photo with me and that’s really really flattering and fantastic, but if I look like shit (like when I got stopped jogging yesterday and I looked like shit for the photo) then that’s fine. Although there’s a mythology you want to maintain and a certain enigma, I want the people who like my work to also know I’m also just a completely fucking stupid Perth boy – I like that.”
The day we speak with Tim is, coincidentally, the day his musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda is scheduled to preview. Together with none other than the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and esteemed director Matthew Warchus, he’s brought the tale of an under loved, over psychokinetically gifted child to stage. At the eleventh hour, he’s having mixed feelings about Matilda, “I sort of vacillate between thinking it’s kind of brilliant and thinking I’m just mediocre and that everyone’s going to know that it’s just mediocre.”
Tim’s comedy cabaret performances, for which he is famous (although he originally trained as an actor and has been creating musical theatre since he was 17) rely heavily on the contrast. Sitting behind a grand piano in a formal suit with tails and liberally applied eyeliner, he delivers songs which are far from classical – ranging in subject matter from comedic social commentary to the entirely absurd. His repertoire includes dramatic epic pieces addressing such monumental subjects as cheese. It was just a matter of time before the joke was pushed to its natural conclusion – performance with an entire symphony orchestra.
Tim Minchin vs Australia’s Orchestras was initiated by Australian producer Blue Hawk Events, who approached orchestras in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne Sydney Tasmania and Western Australia to see which of them wanted to perform with Tim (they all did). The idea has inspired a production in Europe, where Tim has hired an orchestra to tour with him to gigs including a performance at the 14,000 seat Birmingham arena. He’ll only have two rehearsals before the first gig.
Tim has written prolifically for the tour. He’s got eight new songs he’s trying to fit into the set list, ousting backlist hits. The current draft of the set list is two thirds new stuff. It’s fair to say Tim is somewhat apprehensive. “I think, ‘this is going to be amazing, no one will have ever have seen someone doing witty lyrics and mega rock star nonsense with a symphony orchestra’ and then the next day I think, ‘this is just fucking ridiculous, it’s just stupid.’ You still have these crises, but on some level you have to feel better about yourself. I do at times think, ‘well I must be pretty good at this job because I wouldn’t be writing a musical for the RSC otherwise.’” Speaking of which, best he get back to Matilda.
This article first appeared in triple j magazine