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August 2005

“ALWAYS LOOK ON THE DARK SIDE OF LIFE” by Jonathan Trew

LOOKING like the bastard son of The Cure’s Robert Smith and Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Australian comic, actor and musician Tim Minchin has the kind of slightly psychotic stage presence that frightens animals. There is something about the staring eyes, randomly barked obscenities and the fury with which he pounds his piano that hints at too much time spent in an isolated garret feeding his frustrations and nursing his grievances.

Dark Side is the name of his aptly titled show. A mix of satirical song, bleak humour and demon piano-playing, it’s a semi-autobiographical tale which explores how Minchin’s ambitions to be a rock star have been thwarted.

According to the various record companies who knocked him back, it was not because he didn’t have the musical chops but because he didn’t have enough neuroses. Being well-balanced just doesn’t sell, whereas well manufactured angst, as Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst profitably proved, is a cash cow. Minchin’s show is his two fingers to the music business, his defiant demonstration that he, too, can have a dark side.

“There are elements of biography in the show,” says Minchin. “When I was trying to be a rock or pop musician, I found the thing that differed between me and everybody else was that I couldn’t take myself that seriously. A few years ago I recorded an album and shopped it around a lot of record labels. There were a lot of positive responses to it but, and there is always a big but, they didn’t know how to handle some of the songs being funny and some of them being really serious. I feel that you don’t have to make your life into a dark, horrible pit to be an artist.”

The son of a surgeon, privately educated, happily married and with a fledgling career as an actor and theatrical composer, Minchin’s show sends up the assumption that rock musicians have to be born under a bad moon.

“I can’t pretend I had some shit childhood,” he says. “In the show, I do a bit called the ‘Angry Poem’, where I say my mother was a bitch and my daddy never came to my ball games. It’s all lies, but it’s me saying, what do you want me to say? You want a dark side? I can have a dark side: I’ll whinge about my dad not coming to my ball games.”

The show garnered rave reviews at the Melbourne Comedy Festival earlier this year and won the Festival Director’s Award. Although Minchin’s profile in the UK is low, he has a fair chance of replicating that success at Edinburgh.

A major selling point is that Dark Side is completely different from the hordes of straight stand-ups, sketch shows and improv groups that throng the Festival; not least because of Minchin’s skills on the piano. Rather than being a gimmick, his playing is an integral part of the show – as much of a character as he is. Surprisingly, he had little formal training.

“I did up to grade two piano and then I quit when I was eight,” he says. “My brother played guitar and I taught myself piano through guitar. I learnt how to play all the little riffs that my brother wanted like the organ intro to ‘Light My Fire’. Sheet music freaks me out, although I knew what the dots meant.”

Minchin downplays his prowess on the piano and reckons if was thrown in with a jazz band, he would quickly be found out as a fraud. He enjoys playing the instrument but it has always been a means to an end for him. “It’s for the gags. I love the fact that I am not just a comedian who can play an instrument a bit, but I can make a gag work because of the music.”

There is a thoughtful bent to Minchin’s show which marks him out from many of his peers. He worries potential audiences may wrongly perceive his show as only being ‘for people with an arts degree’. I point out that Festival Edinburgh is not exactly barren ground for a show by a man described by an Australian critic as the ‘thinking woman’s crumpet’.

“I do feel very comfortable in Edinburgh,” says Minchin. “I feel as if I have found the source of my ginger pubic hair. The source DNA of my Fanta pants.”

Throat

by Tim 14th Aug | 7 comments


So. The throat’s doing its hilarious thing again. Tonsils all grubby. After some hysterically unfunny interactions with the National Health Service, I managed to talk my way into some antibiotics. Who knows if they’ll do any good… but at least I get to swallow some pills. While the nurse was out of the room, I stole a pair of purple latex gloves. Which I imagine will come in handy.

I’m feeling pretty crap in general. Have cancelled all extraneous gigs. I just need to get through tonight and tomorrow night… and then I get a night off. Although I have two radio things on the monday, both of whom require songs. (In fact, the BBC Radio2 folk are trucking in a grand piano for no other reason than my 10 minute set on Monday night. Silly buggers. The show’s being recorded in front of about 650 people at the Assembly Rooms Music Hall. Should be fun.)

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. Stupid fuckers. And I swear if I get called “classically-trained” one more time, I’m going to find some sheet-music, roll it into a tube, and insert it. I think they get fooled by the length of my jacket. Probably the most obvious thing about my dubious piano skills is that I’m far from classically-fucking-trained. Why does it bother me? I’ve no idea. Anyway, click on to read: The Times Review.

If you haven’t read the first review, it’s here: The Scotsman Review. I have read a few other reviews she’s written since mine came out… and I escaped a potentially lethal pen. She’s caustic as fuck when she wants to be.

While we’re media-watching, there was an article in the SMH yesterday about the Edinburgh Fringe. Check it if you want: SMH Article.

Also, they tell me that an article on Dark Side is to be the lead story in Time Out magazine, which is a weekly entertainment guide that everyone reads in London. Aparently that’s really good.

Apart from the (stressful goddamn) health issues, all goes swimmingly. A few producers and managers still showing interest. I’m just listening and trying to be patient. We almost sold out last night, which is amazing.

Hope everyone’s having fun. Thanks for your posts. They make me feel all tepid in the trouser. Franklin, Turbank, Gwenyth, Jorge… I love yez all.

xt

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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.

Hi.
It seems I’m too lazy to do this blogging thing with any regularity.
It’s now a week since my show opened. Feels like a month. It’s all going remarkably well really. Got a great review (see Comedy Reviews), have had pretty ace crowds, my voice is holding up, the piano is really good, everybody is nice to me, the weather is fine, I’ve had about 2 drinks over the entire week, my body is standing up to the stage falls thanks to a high-density crash-mat, my friends are all ace, my sister is wicked, there are excellent people helping me with flyering and stuff and i’ve met a few producers who are interested in helping me take my show to various places. We shall see.
The only thing I don’t have is easy internet access. thus my grammatically unsound blog.
Thanks for posting comments on my site. I particularly like the work of Franklin, who I suspect is actually my mum. Hi mum. Thanks for everything.
I hope everyone is good.
I’m definitely going to post some pics at some stage. Promise.
xt.

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HE APPEARS, looking like Edward Scissorhands – all Johnny Depp prettiness and ludicrous hair – and goes from nervous smile to manic breakdance in just under ten seconds. Then he goes to the piano and turns into the secret lovechild of Bill Bailey. Which is about as complimentary as I get to a comic at a keyboard. He plays like an angel, sings like the rock star he always wanted to be and has a devil of a sense of humour.

I have to write nice things, of course, as, in his opening song, he makes it quite clear he will do things to (to say nothing of in) my pot plants should I give him a bad review.

His songs range from the downright silly, through quirky, to genuinely, if weirdly, touching. He has something of an obsession with taking everything ad absurdum, which makes a few of his songs feel just slightly as if they are outstaying their welcome.

Much of his musical comedy plays with repetition and anticipation. But then he gets up to the mic and does a section of classic stand up about his father being a cancer specialist that is black and brilliant – and follows, a song later, with a section about his anger management therapy that reveals him to be a seriously, hilariously, impressive actor. He is also a terrific jazz performer and his Beat Poem is something I’d love to listen to again.

There cannot be an act ahead of us in Edinburgh that is this variegated. Minchin manages to be gently observational one minute, mordant and dark the next. He will sit barefoot at the piano and segue from something whimsical that sounds like it has been channelled through Boothby Graffoe to a number he introduces as being “about God and anal sex”.

Karen Koren, a woman with a serious eye for talent and a heart for encouraging it, discovered him ‘Down Under’. Minchin is an Aussie and this is his first gig in the UK. Dare I mention Perrier Best Newcomer this early in the Festival? I think I can. Koren has given him her biggest venue and a shiny white piano. He richly deserves it all. And more. This is an extraordinary performer.

(Kate Copstick – The Scotsman)