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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.”

1 Comment

Tim Minchin · Quick One on 14th of August 2005