Tim Minchin: interview

Tim Minchin Tim Minchin - © Laura Pannick
Posted: Thu Dec 2 2010

Piano-playing comic Tim Minchin has gone from sitting at pub joannas to concert-hall grands in a year. So has he watered down his act? Has he fuck…

'Excuse me,' says the pretty, young, heavily pregnant teacher, breathlessly tapping me on my shoulder. 'Is that Tim Minchin?'
'Yes, it is.'
She giggles and blushes. 'I love him! I've seen him live, and the other day I saw him on the tube! He was so lovely. He offered me his seat.'
'Did you take it?'
'Oh, good gracious, no…'
'Here, Miss, what's he doing here?' We're joined by a young man who towers above both of us. 'I've seen him on YouTube; he's bare funny.' Gawping, he points. 'That's proper good.'

Our photographer has brought us into a secondary school in Camden to get a shot by some young birch trees she's spotted. The experience teaches me two things about Tim Minchin. One, he is far more famous than he was when I last interviewed him 12 months ago. And two, he has some remarkable hidden talents.

'Would this make a good shot?' Minchin is asking. Having gripped the tree with the skill of an experienced pole dancer, he's effortlessly lifted himself into a perfect perpendicular position, his legs outstretched at 90 degrees.

Minchin is a hugely successful comedian and acclaimed musician; he's about to play a show at the O2, he's just written the music for the Royal Shakespeare Company's much-anticipated production of Roald Dahl's 'Matilda' and to top it all off, he's a bloody acrobat. You can really go off some people.

How do you deal with the thought of 16,000 people seeing you perform at the O2?
'I think a lot of people don't really think about what that would do to their ego. They just think: Well, that guy's turned into a bit of a cunt. Not that I've given people reason to think I've turned into a bit of a cunt, but it changes you. You either get scared or you convince yourself you deserve it - even if it's an exercise in self-delusion. I oscillate between the two states. Sometimes I think: You know, I'm fucking good at this - of course 16,000 people are going to come see me. But then, in the middle of the night when you wake up and can't get back to sleep you can lie there scared shitless.'

How has fame changed your everyday life?
'I don't think that it has that much, apart from having a little more money. I think I'm in a slightly unique position, because as far as I know there's no one else in comedy at the moment who is both as well known and as little known as I am. There's no one who's not on TV regularly selling the amount of tickets I sell. Which is nice. I guess what I'm saying is, there's no problem walking down the street.'

So you don't have to go out in disguise?
'I get recognised a lot but it's not a problem. When it first started to happen I was like: God this is a head-fuck! But somewhere along the way in the past year I've just forgotten about it. Besides, if I wear my glasses and pull my hood up nobody notices me.'

Do you worry about the impact of your fame on your kids? (Tim and his wife Sarah have a daughter, Violet and a son, Casper.)
'I'm probably a bit in denial about it because, ultimately, what can you do? But I'm not going to reach Russell Brand levels of fame. The only risk comes when, because I'm so opinionated, the kids get to an age where they can Google me and see some fairly nasty stuff about me because of something I might have written a song about.'

Like your 'Pope Song' which includes the lines: 'If you cover for another motherfucker who's a kiddie-fucker, fuck you/You're no better than the motherfucking rapist…'?
'Yep, that would be the kind of thing. That song's actually an examination of what we find offensive. It challenges people who find that language more offensive than the act. I'm constantly outraged by that. If you listen to the song carefully, it justifies its language: this is the language you should use when you're angry at kiddie-fucking.'

Many comics tone down their material when they become famous, but you seem to have become even more outspoken.
'I feel that the bigger the audience, the bigger the obligation I have to say something I think is important. I've always written material about religion. I think it grew from my shock as a kid that adults actually believed this stuff - and from there I got more and more into science, secularism and rationalism. Some of the things I sing about are contentious, but I seem to get away with it by being cheeky and charming - at least that's the theory. I'll play the “Pope Song” to 16,000 people and hopefully I won't lose more than ten of them.'

In the past you've said you 'tread the line between self-mockery and wanting to be an iconic figure'. Is it hard to hold on to your perspective now you're playing arenas?
'Definitely. I'm never sure of the level to which I'm taking the piss with the rock star posturing - taking the piss out of rock stars while I'm sort of becoming one. But what I can do is mock the idea of grandeur - hence having a 55-piece orchestra on stage with me. I said to my promoters: “If I'm going to play these huge venues, it has to be a show that's so ostentatious and so over the top that the joke would fail if it wasn't in an arena.” So that's what I'm trying to do.'

As you've become more famous, have your fans been getting a bit more fanatical?
'I've had some really kooky ones. But probably my kookiest has decided she's over me. She sends me messages which start, “It was nice, but…” they're all rejection letters, tweets and stuff. She promised she'd stop being too obsessive and coming to all my shows, which she has, but every now and then she sort of reminds me that she's stopped. Crazy woman. That being said, the majority of my fans are wonderful.'

Tim Minchin plays the O2, Dec 14. His new live DVD, 'Ready for This?', is out Nov 29.