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Tim Minchin

Tim Minchin’s had a colourful, varied career. He’s gone from hitting the piano keys in comical YouTube clips back in the day, to sharing the screen with David Duchovny in hit TV series Californication, to landing his dream gig in musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

He's penned his own TV show and was lyricist and composer for award-winning musical Matilda, which is currently being adapted into a feature film starring Emma Thompson. He’s a musician, a singer and actor, formerly a comedian, and he’s pretty hard to categorise. And that’s kind of how he likes it. Tierney Seccull caught up with him ahead of his Darwin Festival show for a chat.

This is your first time performing in Darwin, tell us, what enticed you to the Territory?
Well, my work sort of ebbs and flows between the filming bits and the writing bits, the second half of this year is very much about writing. But I hate not performing every now and then, and I’ve got this cracking band that I’ve just spent some time with that are just absolutely banging!

I just want to make sure I perform every now and then, and festivals are the perfect format, so I can do all my writing but still play. When Darwin and the Festival came up, we leapt at it! And also, I’ve never played in Darwin – I think I was last in Darwin 25 years ago? And the Top End, I just don’t get there enough, so yeah, I’m really excited.

I think you’ll find performing at Darwin Amphitheatre to be a magical experience. It’s a big stage with palm trees all around you, set in the botanic gardens, which is just stunning.
Oh, I can’t wait! And outdoor gigs can be a punish, the exception being when it’s a really good amphitheatre. A good amphitheatre can have the best gigs in the world because you get to have that beautiful outdoor experience, but without that outdoor problem of the sound just going and going and having nothing to bounce back. And especially if people sit and bring picnics and all that, they’re just the best.

It’s amazing, you’ll love it. If we were to give our readers a heads up of what to expect, what would we tell them?
Well my job, as I see it, is to try and develop a brand, to use that word, where people come expecting me but nothing else. It’s a bit of an interesting one because I got known on the Internet for my comedy stuff but now I’m not that, and possibly Darwin punters don’t necessarily know that I write West End musicals and songs for films. By far, the majority of my work over the last 20 years has not been writing comedy songs … apart from my activism stuff, like ‘Cardinal Pell’, the stuff I do to put a bug under certain people’s arses [laughs].

So my job is always just to give people an incredibly entertaining night out, and the tool I use is my big old mouth – I like to talk about ideas, I like a chat … My job is to make sure that people get a sense that I’m not one thing, but walk away having had the best night ever, so what I’ll play in Darwin is a really fun set that combines a few of my old more comic things, quite a lot of the stuff from my 2019 album Apart Together, which remains my only studio album [laughs] and I’ll probably play something from Matilda just because, although Matilda never got to Darwin, it is the piece of work I made that more people have seen.

It’s probably not for little kids, but I’m hoping people bring their teens and stuff… Kids these days have probably experienced live music that is generated by DJs and producers, a lot of young people haven’t really seen an eight-piece band just blowing the sh-t out of tunes. So yeah, it’s pretty fun.

I read an article where you said you didn’t want to be “pigeonholed”. Given this show has taken bits and pieces from your career, do you think it kind of demonstrates that?
Well, that’s the intention. I’ve learnt not to try and guess what my audience is made up of. On any given day, if I get stopped on the street, it might be someone who loved my character in Californication, or it might be someone saying Matilda was the first musical they ever saw, or someone that says Upright is their favourite TV show, or it might be an old lady saying “my brother never talked about being abused until your ‘Cardinal Pell’ song came on the radio” – those are the moments that are amazing. The best, most humbling thing about my career, is that I’ve not got known too hard for one thing, and that people like different stuff.

When I play live, I’m not trying to encompass all that. When I’m on tour, the things I say are generally planned, but when I’m playing festivals I just see what happens on the night.

You’ve picked up many accolades over the years and you’ve performed at some incredible venues – soon to be Darwin Amphitheatre – are there any highlights that stick out in your mind?
It’s been a big run, it’s all a bit of a blur … One thing that was huge for me was playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at Wembley. You have these childhood dreams, and I used to sing these songs in the lounge as a teenager. I understudied Judas for an amateur theatre company in Perth in ’95, and I understudied it again for another amateur production, and I thought, “oh well, I’m not really good enough to play Judas in an amateur production,” so I put it to bed. 15 years later I got to play it in arenas all around the world, you know, my life’s been bonkers!

The past couple of years have seen us in and out of lockdowns, pick up any skills or hobbies during your time at home?
Oh mate, I’m obsessed with my work and did a lot of writing, and got to spend more time with my kids. We had an interesting COVID. Obviously my tours shut down, and I have a lot of musicians and people who I feel responsible for, so that was not good. I tried to keep generating work, so we did this live stream of Apart Together, and that was a huge project. We launched my album by doing a paid livestream in that little six months there where musicians were trying that. But then my mum got cancer and my daughter got depression.

My daughter has since been diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and she’s absolutely brilliant now. But like everyone, for so many people, COVID was kind of the background story or at least a kind of complication to the normal sh-t of life. I lost my dear, dear friend Andre who was the producer of Matilda and Groundhog Day, who I was in business with and who was one of my favourite people in the world, he died very suddenly a week before my mum’s news. I couldn’t get to Andre’s funeral and I couldn’t get to mum – who is still around by the way. It’s just the stuff of life, it’s all fine.

And the thing about having kids is that it’s very hard to be happy when your kids aren’t. And so, COVID was a background circus to the real show for us. I only tell these storie as I’ve chatted with my daughter and she’s passionate about autistic girls being diagnosed, when so often they’re not, so she’s happy for me to talk about it.

I tell these personal stories because the experience of being someone like me who gets to tour around the world, dressing in nice clothes and having my photo taken, is not very distant from the experience of everyone, and COVID was an amazing force for reminding us of the commonality of our sh-t show, you know? [laughs]

You could write a song about that – Commonality of our Sh-t Show!
Yeah it sounds like a lyric doesn’t it? It sounds like a me lyric!

Yeah it does! While you’re in the NT, anything you’re keen to check out while you’re here?
My beautiful brother – who I don’t see enough, he lives in Perth – is taking some time off and is checking out the gig in Darwin. I’m going to try and grab a few extra days and we’ll head out to Litchfield. I wanna see some sh-t! Deep down I’m a bit of an outdoorsy bloke, so we’ll try and get out amongst it.

I’m just so excited to see Darwin. Last time I was in Darwin was with my brother as well, when I was playing hockey representing University West Australia in the Intervarsity Games, in ’95. We won! ’95? That’s 27 years ago, so time for a visit.

I was told by Darwin Festival that the most tickets ever sold was at the Amphitheatre and it was Kenny Rogers. I wanna beat his record, which is tough because I’m not Kenny Rogers, but I promised that if we sell as many tickets that we’ll play a Kenny Rogers song. I’m hereby committing to ‘The Gambler’ if we beat his record. I also don’t think we will, so we’ll probably play it anyway [laughs].

Tim Minchin
WHEN SAT 13 AUG | 6.30PM
COST $91-$95

Photo: Damian Bennett

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