Tim Minchin On Music, Comedy, Fame And Playing The Long Game (Interview)

Tim Minchin is worried that he'll take too long to answer each question (he has form, apparently). Nonetheless, we proceed tentatively to the first... is he a musician or a comedian?

"I'm a musician."

Well, that seems straightforward enough, until he decides to expand...

"A lot of comedy comes from such observed minutiae of life, I didn't start as a stand-up, I had nothing forcing me to that, so I've never had that kind of pressure on me. Also, comedy is often about what makes you anxious or frustrated, and I'm not an activist.

"Calling myself a comedian means I have to be funny enough, but that's never been my only currency. For me, it started out as cabaret, and it became comedy, but it didn't start out like that.

"I think highly lyrical songs are kind of funny in themselves, so my songs might just be funny because of how dense the idea is. I don't actually need punch-lines. I've always felt comfortable on stage, always written silly songs. Then I discovered that, if I focused on that, people would really find it funny."

Okay, moving onto Question Two - he laughs loudly and generously at how long he's been "whittering on so". He's as stimulating company as you'd expect from this verbally gymnastic and mischievous entertainer, especially after ten minutes' preparation - "I'm just better with my makeup on".

Suitably panda-eyed, he continues to explain his non-comedic plan - which currently includes collecting awards for the musical score to Matilda:

"I'm imposing 18 months of not writing comedy on myself because I want to get this musical show happening. The orchestral show (which is Minchin's idea of 'comedy' as opposed to pure music) seems like the end of a particular era... I start doing funny songs, people start listening... how far can you take that? Well, as far as a symphony orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall apparently."

But for this Northampton-born comedian, as popular in Australia as he is in the UK after growing up in Perth, WA, it's all about avoiding the creative pigeon-hole:

"If I had to choose one career now, I would choose making theatre. Luckily, I don't have to, and that's the point. I want a long, varied career where I test myself. I don't want to get in this paranoid loop of not having enough to give. I don't want the Brits to get to the point where they hate me, I just want to make stuff that interests me and potentially interests other people.

"At 70, I want to have written a novel, too. Maybe being clever with the words I use on stage is great for prose, I don't know. I just want to see where it takes me.

"I want to earn enough money but not too much, I want to be famous enough to do what I want, but not so famous that I can't catch a bus... I might bugger that up."

As well as his musicality, what lies at the centre of Minchin's entertaining framework is his need for rationalism and an ardent atheism which has previously led him to figurehead-dom for the Humanist Society, something that strikes me as missing the point of defeating fundamentalism. Why get involved in a fight against something he doesn't believe in? He entirely agrees:

"I said yes a while ago, before I realised I really want to be careful. Saying that, I f***ing rant, it's not like you could come out of my show thinking 'oh, he's on the fence'.

"But there are better ways of communicating my ideas. Why would I make a speech to loads of people who already agree with it rather than go and entertain them? I'd rather make people feel emotion and beauty rather than telling them they don't need god to feel it. I'd rather just imply, "Well, I don't believe in god and look what I make."

Tim Minchin and the Heritage Orchestra are available now on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes from Universal Pictures (UK) Ltd. Watch a trailer below:

ON 14TH NOVEMBER 2011, DVD RRP £19.99