Q&A: Tim Minchin
As he prepares for his first ever arena tour, we catch up with rising rationalist star Tim Minchin
From “Storm”, Tim Minchin’s 9-minute beat poem
The debate briefly abates
As our hosts collects plates
but as they return with desserts
Storm pertly asserts,
“Shakespeare said it first:
There are more things in heaven and earth
Than exist in your philosophy…
Science is just how we’re trained
to look at reality,
It can’t explain love or spirituality.
How does science explain psychics?
Auras; the afterlife; the power of prayer?”
I’m becoming aware
That I’m staring,
I’m like a rabbit suddenly trapped
In the blinding headlights of vacuous crap.
Maybe it’s the Hamlet she just misquothed
Or the eighth glass of wine I just quaffed
But my diplomacy dyke groans
And the arsehole held back by its stones
Can be held back no more…
Did you always want to be a musical comedian when you grew up?
I’m not quite sure how I ended up here. I certainly had no idea I would be a comedian until I was sort of doing it in my late 20s. I’m really just a writer of tricksy songs. It’s just that I used to do it for bands and for theatre, and now I do it for solo shows. When I was young, I wanted to be an architect maybe, or a farmer.
When will you grow up?
Wednesday, next week.
In your beat poem “Storm” you get increasingly frustrated with a hippy spouting New Age nonsense. Is it based on a true story?
There was a dinner party around which it’s based, but it wasn’t much like the poem. The hostess was indeed an actress, a friend of ours from home. And “Storm” was from Perth like us. They were actually very nice people.But just as we were about to head home, I made a comment about homeopathy (I think we were talking – for some fucking reason – about the NHS) and she regaled me with her anecdotes. In real life my diplomacy dyke is pretty fucking thick, so I just smiled and nodded and back-pedaled so that nobody would get upset. Then went home and turned the poor lass into beat poetry’s biggest straw-woman ... and proceeded to set her on fire. To jazz.
Have you always been irritated by pseudoscience?
It’s a relatively recent thing. I’ve always been an atheist, but didn’t start getting pissed off at other stuff until my 30s. The pressure to write comedy forces you to look for shit to be annoyed at and pseudoscience suits my rationalist brain type.
Your Wikipedia page describes you as a ‘skeptic’. We all know it should be spelled ‘sceptic’, don’t we?
I don’t particularly like being described as a sceptic or a skeptic (sic). Even though I admit that by definition I am one. I don’t know why I don’t like it. I don’t like being called a musical comedian either, so it’s more an aversion to pigeons and their holes. If I have a specific issue with skepticism (sic) as a “movement”, perhaps it is its tendency to shy away from religion. I find it intellectually absurd to claim to be a sceptic and to turn a blind eye to the area of irrationality which is most widespread and has arguably the greatest ramifications. Scepticism’s remit should be, in my opinion, to fight against magical thinking where such thinking causes harm. To me it is morally wrong to challenge the beliefs of others when there is no moral issue with their belief; irrationality should only be challenged to a degree equivalent to its potential to do damage. And surely religion’s potential to cause damage is high. (Even though I think the majority of religious belief, although incorrect, is benign and even perhaps positive ... the problem being the minority nevertheless represents a fuck-load of bad.)
Why did you get involved with the Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People shows, and why have you said that they shouldn’t be allowed to happen unless you are performing?
a) Because Robin Ince told me to. (And because it’s a wonderful, perfect, lovely idea.) b) Because nothing fun should ever be allowed to happen if I can’t be there.
You recently wrote a song dedicated to the Pope. Do you have a thing for men in dresses?
I don’t have a thing for all men in dresses. It’s just Benny – I find him so alluring. That way he allows his fantasies to overwhelm his human morality just gives me a stiffy.
How do you feel about playing the Knebworth festival alongside Iron Maiden?
Hold on, I thought Iron Maiden were playing alongside me.
Tim Minchin plays the Sonisphere festival at Knebworth Park 30 July-1 August. Tickets are now on sale for his nationwide solo arena tour, with a full orchestra, which runs from 8-18 December 2010 and 18-19 April 2011. Full details are on his website.