A conversation: Tim Minchin

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Tim MinchinSome years ago, I was hired by a magazine to interview Tim Minchin. I was very happy to do it because I’ve been a huge fan of Tim’s work for a long time now, plus: s’money innit.

Actually — as it turns out — no it isn’t money because the absolute arses at the magazine in question didn’t ever bother to pay me (despite running with the interview). I was going through some old bits the other day and found the full transcript of the conversation I had with Tim (the previously-published interview was much shorter) and so I thought it might be nice to put the whole thing here. Sadly, I didn’t record the preamble to this chat where (1) I told Tim he had beautiful eyes (he really does) and (2) he told me the ideal temperature of coffee. It was truly fascinating stuff and would almost certainly have won me an award. I’m just sorry that I didn’t catch it. Anyway…

Tim Minchin: Hello. (Tim leans across the desk and extends both hands towards where I have just tossed my dictaphone.)

Matt Waldram Hello — were you just trying to steal that (dictaphone)?

TM: This whole career of mine has been a massive highfalutin trick to get that.

MW: To steal this one dictaphone.

TM: The last six years I’ve been aiming for your ‘Campus’.

MW: ‘Olympus.’

TM: Oh, Olympus! ‘Campus’ — that’d be a good name.

MW: Wait — so you’ve never heard of Olympus?

TM: Yes I have. They make cameras don’t they? And, erm, God.

MW: Yes, and also God. That’s who made this.

TM: Wow! Divine MP3 recorder.

MW: That’s basically what he does now. Just that.

TM: Well in this age — this post-deistic age — gotta do something. Good job he had a trade. His dad’s ‘well in case this “God” thing falls through — might as well have a trade.’

MW: Exactly. It’s just like Bruce Willis doing those Aviva adverts; just gotta keep the money coming in. What are you —

TM: (Writing something down) I’m stealing your joke.

MW: I made a joke?

TM: ‘In case the God thing doesn’t work out.’ It’s good to have good aim.

MW: Yep.

TM: It’s good to have big aims, but you need a fall-back.

MW: You need a fall-back trade in low-end consumer electronics.

TM: What’s your fall-back? If this doesn’t work out, or is this it? You’re actually an acrobat.

MW: Well my fall-back is my actual career.

TM: Oh crap!

MW: I work for an IT company saying, ‘buy this computer and now have you considered buying more computers?’ and then I go home and wank into a pot noodle and wish I was dead.

TM: Yeah right.

MW: I don’t really have any pot noodles.

TM: So how do you do this stuff? This is a hobby?

MW: I used to run an online magazine and the remit of it was interviewing people, finding and tracking down cult films, cult icons, stuff like that. As a result of that I interviewed quite a lot of people, and then just because for a while the website did all right people just started saying, ‘do you want to come and interview such-and-such?’ and then —

TM: And this is it!

MW: Here I am! Hi.

TM: This is [Magazine Who Hate Paying Writers].

MW: Yeah, this is [Magazine Who Hate Paying Writers] who I had never heard of before they came and gave me a poke but I looked at the site and it looks all right and so I said I’d do this. Also — without wanting to blow too much smoke up your backside — I am a bit of a fan of yours, so I just thought, ‘well I’m gonna —’

TM: Take that. I’ll take that.

MW: I’m editing it out.

TM: You see this? It starts out as an interview and then we make love.

MW: That’s the only reason I’m here.

TM: Good. Thanks for being ‘a bit of a fan’.

MW: Oh, you’re welcome. Um, so I do have some questions here.

TM: Okay.

MW: That is sort of why I’m here. They’re obviously all massively important.

TM: What are we selling? The DVD mostly, I suppose.

MW: Well there’s the DVD, there’s Matilda —

TM: The DVD’s really good, I think, but it’s the least interesting thing to talk about ’cause it’s done.

MW: But it’s not out yet though.

TM: No.

MW: Not for a few weeks, so —

TM: It’s been out in Australia for a year. A different taping of this same tour.

MW: Right, and I’ve got a review copy so technically I’ve beaten —

TM: Oh do you?

MW: Yup!

TM: You have a review copy of the — is it in this? (Tim grabs the box for the ‘Ready for This?’ DVD.)

MW: No, no. I don’t get any of that glamorous stuff.

TM: Good!

MW: They’ve literally just shoved it into a too-big envelope with a letter that says, ‘don’t you DARE pirate this you horrible piratey bastard.’

TM: ‘You fucker!’

MW: Exactly right.

TM: ‘This was your job.’

MW: Oh, speaking of —

TM: Oh, yeah okay —

MW: First thing I — actually I’m going to ignore these for a bit because I’m just going to ask stuff that I want to know.

TM: Yeah. I think that’s better — it’s more interesting.

MW: Have you ever heard back from Mr. Daoust? (Phil Daoust, a critic who wrote a fairly harsh review of Tim in the Guardian after his first Edinburgh gig.)

TM: No, although he is on Twitter and I did comment on something he said… in defence of it, and he’s commented back. It’s quite funny, the Guardian — at the time I started playing it (‘The Song for Phil Daoust’) in Edinburgh — wrote a little story and got a comment from him and he said something like, ‘I’m just glad to be remembered,’ which is what they say. I mean he’s been extremely good about it. As he should be because —

MW: There’ll be another song if he’s not?

TM: The shit that would rain down on him if he tried to — because although the song is extrememly rude, and talks about wanting his family to die, it’s so obviously a joke and it’s a joke against myself as well in the end. Whereas if anyone follows a link to the review, it was just horrible. Mean. That’s just straight-up mean to a new comic and so he’ll never end up looking good, even though my —

MW: The review was my first real exposure to you.

TM: Yeah. Right.

MW: A friend of mine had seen you in Edinburgh —

TM: That’s why it hurts. Because you know that even though it was all just a joke and all that, this is — you know — my first year and something I’ve worked really hard on and although — the stupid thing is, of course, you have lots of good reviews but it doesn’t matter about the good reviews because they’re lovely, they do matter but that’s nice. You’ve worked hard and you feel like good reviews are — they’re not glowing ones but it’s appropriate for the reviews to be respectful. Then when you know that a whole load of Guardian readers — you know, my paper, my lefty, intellectual paper — are getting their first taste of you by some guy who’s just turned up grumpy, it’s just very hard to get it out of your head.

MW: Well I don’t know if this helps at all, but when my friend said, ‘Check out this Tim Minchin guy,’ I googled you and that review came up —

TM: Well that’s the trouble.

MW: — so I read that, but as soon as I saw that it was Phil Daoust I knew that it would probably be okay. The only other exposure I’d had to him was when he wrote a review of Steve Coogan that prompted him to say on one of his live videos that he was going to make a morningstar out of a toilet chain, some plasticine, and some fish hooks. Then he was going to use it to smash his face.

TM: I didn’t even know what he said.

MW: So I thought, ‘well if he doesn’t like Coogan and I do, then maybe I’ll like this other guy.’ That’s you.

TM: He’s an interesting guy. Every now and then he writes something really beautiful but that’s a bit defensive, and I’ve seen him write (someone gives Tim a coffee) THANKS!

MW: You’ve seen him write ‘Thanks’?

TM: I’ve seen him write a review of — who’s that gorgeous female comic who’s often on QI? Legend. Total legend and her name has just gone —

MW: Ronni Ancona? Dawn French? Jo Brand?

TM: No, she’s erm — grrrrrrr. Hilarious. Most famous female comedian in the country other than Jennifer Saunders.

MW: She sounds super.

TM: Moving on. I saw him review a Desert Island Discs episode, where he just ripped into someone for their music tastes. You don’t get to do that; it’s their music tastes. It’s a lovely show. How do you review Desert Island Discs anyway? It’s just a show where you’re asking someone what they’d wanna take to a desert island. Leave them alone you fuck. I don’t believe in that style of Arts journalism but there’s a grand tradition of it. Of scepticism. Especially theatre critics and stuff. I might be about to walk into a shit-storm with Matilda because that’s where the baddies hang out — in theatre criticism.

MW: What I did like about the review was that one of the worst things he could find to say was that you had fretful hair.

TM: Yeah. Well, ‘porpentine.’

MW: Porpentine. Fretful, porpentine hair.

TM: The fucker quoted Hamlet on me. Don’t quote Hamlet on me. And ‘whatever happened to the grand old tradition of tarring and feathering,’ is what I remember. In hindsight, it’s quite funny. A sort of biting review, but when you’re new — I just wasn’t ready for it, you know. A lot of people never get the reviews I get. I get lovely reviews.

MW: I think the song is an appropriate response.

TM: Yeah, and look if you type his name into Google the whole thing comes back to me and that is a very specific type of revenge. I’ve basically stolen his online identity. Poor bloke. People are rude to him and I now defend him, I go, ‘Hold on, I’ve done Phil. Don’t be rude to him.’

MW: You said before that you felt your career had been a slow-burner, that you hadn’t had a ‘Kate Bush moment.’ Have you had that now?

TM: Oh. Yeah. I mean, sitting right now having just moved house and having this DVD coming out, and Matilda opening in 5 days, and a Symphony Orchestra O2 gig in a month. I feel a complete inability to deal with it. Not in a logistical way — I’m quite well equipped to work really hard and just fucking do it, I’ll be there on stage and it will be fine I suppose, hopefully it’ll be great. But, sort of emotionally — ‘emotionally’ is not the right word — conceptually to get my head around what’s going on in my life, after all those — it is a wonderful and very-difficult-to-kind-of-get-your-head-around thing. I am extremely grateful for it. It’s really hard work, and it’s more than I ever, ever, ever thought I had any possibility of getting to. Everyone who has a career that goes well must feel like that. I suppose some people who get success early might feel like they deserve it, because they’ve never known what it is, they’re ‘well I must deserve it, because I’m brilliant, because I’m 18 and I’m selling albums,’ you know, whatever. But I spent my 20s thinking if I was lucky I’d be able to write some music for Kids’ theatre and, and play in bands and —

MW: Like Timmy the Dog?

TM: Yeah like ‘Timmy the Dog’ and hopefully not have to get another job if I could possibly help it. I thought ‘oh if it comes to it I’d quite like to teach.’ English or something. And I still, I would be perfectly happy doing that, I’m sure. Because I don’t really believe your happiness is connected to your achievement of goals anyway. But fuck, man, it’s really cool what I get to do now. Matilda has had a huge impact on me ‘cause that’s where I come from, writing music for theatre is what I started doing — well before ‘Timmy the Dog’ — and to have that come back… Because comedy came out of not really getting where I wanted to with writing for theatre and writing for bands. In hindsight it’s because I wasn’t really being ambitious enough in that regard, I didn’t think I was good enough to work, to write music for real theatre companies — it comes from not being trained or anything — you don’t have any context for your work. And, you know, arguably I’m still not good enough but we’ll soon find out — whatever that means — but comedy kind of came out of that and to think that out of comedy has come me getting to do what I started doing at 17, writing a musical version of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ at Midnite Youth Theatre Company, I’m now doing for the RSC with a Roald Dahl story which is my childhood author of choice. To think that that’s come out of comedy just, it’s incredibly cool that comedy’s given me this massive leap in, in this other side of what I do. But it’s all the same job actually; all I do is write theatrical songs, and in my comedy career they’re a bit adult and I perform them myself, but I don’t see that that’s a separate job. It’s just clever-dick songs really. What was your question?

MW: Oh, who knows? That probably answered it though.

TM: It’s an interesting thing, having all your dreams come true. Because saying things like that sounds extraordinarily churlish, but not being appreciative of it is obscene. It’s a thing that all people, I suppose, have to find their peace with. At the moment my career will have ups and downs — and I’m very aware that I might not ever have another year like this again — but I don’t want to go, ‘Yeah it’s fine, you know. It’s good. I’ve worked really hard. It’s fine.’ It’s not fine, it’s fucking amazing. But at the same time, I don’t want to go, ‘I’m the king of the fucking world!’

MW: ‘I’m God now!’

TM: That’s right. I feel very lucky. I don’t think I had this coming. I think it’s great that these little various skills I have seem to add up to something, because I’m not the greatest pianist, or the greatest vocalist, or the greatest actor. I wasn’t any of those things but I found if I jammed it all together hard enough I sort of had a thing. It’s lovely to find that you have a thing.

MW: Oh, people love your thing I’m sure. You keep busy, but with all of that stuff you’ve done this year — the DVD tour, once with a band and once without, Matilda, the orchestral gig at the O2, the short animated feature of Storm — are you just going to sit back and have a bit of a rest, or are you still going?

TM: I’m gonna have a rest in January but the orchestra idea actually came out of Australia so I’ve gotta do it there in February, March, April and then back here to do the orchestra thing in Scotland, and then to the US to do some gigs which will be much, much smaller but hopefully a bit of telly or something in June, July and then I was gonna try and do a play but that might fall through. I’d like to get back on stage and do some acting before I completely lose my confidence. I’m not addicted to the idea that I’ll act again — it’s not what I was best at maybe — but at the same time it was a huge part of how I self-identified even though I never got much work, but I never got much work as a composer either and that’s worked out all right so maybe, maybe it’s still there.

MW: Well, I’ve seen your shows a few times now in various guises — not me in different guises, the show —

TM: That’s why I didn’t recognise you!

MW: Well I wouldn’t want you to think I’d come more than once, I wouldn’t want your ego to get out of control. So I came once with a moustache and another time in drag and — what was my point? Oh, observations about your shows. Firstly your leg-clothes — probably not a word, but I’ll use it —

TM: ‘Leg-clothes’?

MW: Leg-clothes!

TM: Yeah.

MW: Tighter every time.

TM: Yeah. There’s an inverse relationship between largess of pants and largess of career.

MW: Hot pants next time?

TM: Well, I was thinking, I’ve actually written the phrase ‘dressed here in lycra’ into one of my songs in an attempt to sort of bully myself into wearing tight lycra leggings. I did on the first night at Hammersmith, I wore wet-look leggings, they’re here (grabs DVD box for ‘Ready for this?’) they’re those ones. They’re proper shiny leggings, and my fans mocked me so hard that I didn’t have the guts to go through with it. So yeah, I dunno, it is hard when you’ve set yourself a task that gets tighter and tighter, I’m gonna have to lose weight.

MW: The expectations now are — I think ultimately what we want is that you walk on stage, sneeze, and get sliced clean in half.

TM: Yeah.

MW: I think that people will keep coming back for maybe that. The other thing is — coming back to what you were saying about the acting thing — you don’t really come across like a stand-up comedian. You’re more like an actor doing a one-man show.

TM: Acting’s just always been one of those things I’ve enjoyed. I’ve always been aware that probably writing songs — stupid songs, or at least theatrical songs — is, I dunno, I certainly don’t think about that — about my persona on stage. In fact I work really hard not to address it too much in my head. I didn’t consciously become anything on stage and I don’t wanna worry about it too much. It’s developed a little bit; he used to be a lot more nervous than he is in this — ‘He’, the on-stage guy. I’ve gotta keep reminding myself of that ‘cause as the experience gets bigger I don’t want to lose that tension between being small and self-deprecating and completely narcissistic self-lover, you know, that’s a tautology. I think that’s really important so I’m opening my orchestra show with two huge songs and then I’m gonna go, ‘so I’ve got a new song,’ and I don’t know the lyrics ‘cause the third song is the one that you’ve seen with the lyric muck-up.

(Helen, PR manager, enters the room.)

TM: I’m really gonna work hard to see how little I can make him and how big I can make him. (To Helen) We’ve gotta get finished haven’t we? Jesus, I’m already fifteen minutes late.

MW: That’s fine.

TM: Shit. I really like talking to people, you know. It feels nice. It’s ridiculous, I need ten-minute turnarounds. We’ve talked about some stuff haven’t we?

MW: We’ve got some stuff.

TM: We’ve probably talked about more interesting stuff than —

MW: — than [Magazine Who Hate Paying Writers] wanted me to ask.

TM: Yeah. You certainly haven’t done your job, that’s the main thing.

MW: I’m probably gonna try and sell this dictaphone on eBay. I certainly won’t be needing it anymore. Do you still want it?

TM: Yeah.

MW: My name’s gonna be mud.

TM: Perfect.

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3 thoughts on “A conversation: Tim Minchin

  1. Hi, Tali – sorry for the really, really, really delayed response! Been a hectic last few months and I’ve neglected my blog somewhat. Thank you very much for the comment, it helps that Tim was so willing to just play around for 20 minutes and not worry too much about just pushing his stuff.

    I’d love to do more interviews, and I do have an archive of old ones that I could probably post here at some point. I’ll almost certainly look to do more new stuff.

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