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EVERY year, Fringe pilgrims quest for the Holy Grail of Edinburgh comedy — an act as astonishing as it is unknown. A sleeper hit you can help awaken interest in. Someone you can boast about having seen before he — or she, but usually he — got vaulted into the premier league. Last year it was Will Adamsdale’s mock-motivational lecture Jackson’s Way; the year before it was the US comic Demetri Martin. Both went on to win the Perrier Award.

This year, the early buzz has been swarming around Tim Minchin, an Australian who sings brilliant comedy songs. As he sits at his white baby grand piano, sprouting the sort of hairstyle that Jennifer Aniston might slide into if she decided that she wasn’t worth it any more, you realise you are in the presence of a simply wonderful musician.

Bill Bailey stand aside. Minchin is a genuine musical virtuoso, a classically trained pianist whose songs are constructed and sung with an attention to detail that would make Rufus Wainwright sit up and look nervous. And that’s even before we get to the jokes.

Who knew that there was still so much mileage in that old comic standby, the love song to a blow-up doll? He follows Inflatable You with something even better — Rock’n’ Roll Nerd, a lament for a late-twentysomething of Minchin’s general shape and size, a would-be rocker who is “a victim of his upper-middle-class upbringing/ He can’t sing about the hood or bling-bling . . . He prefers the Beatles to the Stones/ Stevie Wonder to the Ramones.”

Again, he sustains his assault on a potentially soft target by the sheer quantity and quality of his invention, loading sharp lines on to musical backings that would make a New York singer-songwriter weep with minor-chord covetousness.

But if Minchin cannot live up to his unasked-for role as saviour of the Fringe, it is because his stand-up does not captivate in the same way. More even than with Bailey, you want him to get on with the music.

Instead, he gets off his stool between each number to offer artfully awkward, shuffling observations about his muted relationship with his doctor dad, his happy marriage, how he envies his professional friends’ income while they envy his supposed “spiritual and geographical freedom”.

It’s decent stuff, but the troubled Minchin persona looks scrawny placed alongside his musical talents. The straight comedy does not conquer this 350-seater — yup, the Gilded Balloon boss Karen Koren is putting her money where her mouth is with this unknown Aussie — in the way the songs do.

And when you know what sensational stuff you could be getting instead, your tolerance level for the merely good starts to plummet.

2 Comments

Ed Dewson on 14th of August 2005

Hi Timbo, We saw you at “Spank” and loved it. You missed the spat between Andrew Lawrence and Steve Hughes. Pigs are most definitely being eaten separately it seems. Toddled down to see your show on Friday. Blow me down! Loved that too. Read the review on the train on the way back to London and shouted at the newspaper. Three fucking stars? What a tight arse! We’ve got a few clubs in London if you fancy some gigs next time you’re in dear old Blighty. Grrrrr….

Tim Minchin · Throat on 14th of August 2005

[…] Got my second review today. In The Times, no less. It is extremely positive, but there’s a bit of criticism and they only gave me 3 stars. Fuckers. I guess my innocence couldn’t remain eternally unsullied. Check it out: The Times Review. […]