The Australian pianist/comedian talks to Limelight about his upcoming national tour.

Your new show, in which you play with a full orchestra, has just kicked off in the UK. How’s it going so far?

I’ve just been playing to audiences of five to twelve thousand people in the UK. It really is a complete head-shock, but those spaces have influenced the way I’ve written the show. This comedians touring into arenas thing has been going on in the UK for years now and I always think they’re pretty crap. So, I set myself the task of making something that almost necessitates the huge space. And, so far, it’s certainly big – it’s absolutely massive.

So how do you fill a stadium?

Well, you get 55 musicians on-stage for starters. It’s sort of serendipitous, because the Australian orchestra idea happened at the same point where my promoters were encouraging me to try for arenas. So, I said “I have to write this orchestra show for Australia, so why don’t we do that?” Economically, it’s kind of stupid but, artistically, quite incredible.

How much new material is in the show?

It’s over half – well over half. We’ve got five old songs and eight new songs, or something like that. All the talk’s new, but the talk is less a part of it. I didn’t want the orchestra sitting around the whole time – I really wanted to make this a concert. Although, the audience is laughing as much as in other shows I’ve done.

How does having the orchestra add to the experience?

A lot of my comedy is taking the piss out of my own ostentation – comedy about ego, performance, stardom and rock-fame. So, when you’ve got this 55-piece orchestra behind you, you can imagine how far you can push that. I promise you, I doubt there’d be a dozen people in the arena who’ve ever heard anything as huge as my opening number. It’s just mega-nonsense. And, I’ve got a seven-and-a-half-minute song about cheese: having that 55-strong commitment to a song about cheese – it’s just absurd.

Obviously, by the time you’ve performed this material 400 times, you don’t find it funny anymore. So what do you get out of performing?

I think delivering a joke is just like playing a piece of music. You’re trying to find the best way to express each beat and each moment, in the hope of giving the the audience some delightful surprise.

There’s a very serious edge to your work. Do you think you’ll ever start writing serious material?

I don’t know. I’m writing for theatre again now and I love that and hope that becomes a big part of my future. So, I’m certainly not going to relentlessly pursue comedy as my career. I think that would drive me insane. I’d love to get to a point where I can do a solo show on my own terms – when I feel like it and when I feel that I’ve got something to say. I have come to terms with the fact that I seem to be better at writing comically or satirically or theatrically than anything else, and I’m very happy with that. My shows are more and more becoming what I want them to be. I guess I can’t imagine a time when comedy songs will not suit my age or stage or worldview. That doesn’t worry me – I want to continue to do what’s best for me and my audience in terms of expressing myself in a way that’s most natural to me at the time. At the moment, this is still really great fun so I’m not going to stop.

 

Tim Minchin plays with Australia’s major orchestras in Feb-March. www.timminchin.com