Sitting backstage at L.A.’s Largo without the mascara and unruly mop of red hair, Tim Minchin doesn’t look like a rock star. But that’s the point.
“I’m a philosophy nerd. I read loads about psychology, and I listen to science podcasts,” says the self-taught musical comic, still bemused that his act — an unusually cerebral mix of dirty jokes and politically conscious ditties — has gotten popular enough to sell out arenas in the U.K.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a musical hack,” admits the Australian funnyman, who studied piano until second grade but never learned to read music. After university, he took a year off to act and write music. He even joined a disco cover group called Jungle Boogie. “We’d wear silver pants and play ‘YMCA’ at the end of the night,” he remembers.
But it was a cabaret gig that formed Minchin’s current persona — mascara and all.
Applying the cabaret style to original songs, he uses witty tunes as a delivery device for big ideas. “I think my show has a proselytizing role to make thinking cool and funny,” he observes. (“Prejudice” finds Minchin embracing his own minority status as a “ginger,” while “The Pope Song” rhymes “papist” with “rapist” as he takes pederast priests to task.)
Unlike other musical comedians, who strum their guitars to fill the space where laughter should go, Minchin is a damn fine composer in his own right. In addition to scoring several small theatrical musicals Down Under, he wrote the music and lyrics for the West End-bound tuner “Matilda.”
Minchin, who had once written the Roald Dahl estate to inquire about the rights to “Matilda,” was delighted to be approached by the Royal Shakespeare Company about adapting the book. “I guess they saw through the politics and profanity to see someone who knows how to write dark, silly songs,” he says.
Though Minchin won an Alternative Comedy award at Aspen in 2007, he resisted the industry offers that followed, holding out out for a live tour before tackling the U.S. “I hope I can be the first person to play the Hollywood Bowl without actually being in a movie.”
MONTREAL JUST FOR LAUGHS
P.O.V.: “I’m a rationalist. I really like good ideas, and science is the best idea we’ve ever had — this idea that we shouldn’t trust ourselves and we have to test shit.”
Influences: “Not comedians, just people who write great lyrics, like the Kinks.”
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