Tim Minchin was always a problem to record executives. With his original songs of satire, anarchy, biting lyrics and serious pop, he was a square peg trying to fit in the industry’s round role. How could he be marketed with such an eclectic style? Now, as a celebrated performer on the international comedy and cabaret circuit, he has inherited himself and audiences are in raptures.
But life wasn’t always so easy. Years after graduating from the WA Academy of Performing Arts’ musical theatre course, Minchin was still doing it tough. Eventually, he mounted his own show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival – an already crowded juggernaut. Amazingly, his friend Rhian Skirving started documenting the tale, and in Rock + Roll Nerd: The Tim Minchin Story, we are privvy to his deep fears and uncertainty in a “do or die” bid for success.
The result is a fascinating behind the scenes essay on the risks and rewards in becoming a contemporary cabaret star. In scenes at home with expectant wife Sarah, Minchin composes his material, frets over the risk of hiring a venue and worries about paying the bills.
Thankfully, talent always outs. His first show isn’t just a sell out, he wins Comedy Festival awards and is spied by UK producer Karen Koren who bankrolls his debut at the Edinburgh Fringe. At the world’s biggest arts festival (Edinburgh has 2000 shows a day) the stakes are much, much higher. Again he is lauded by critics in sell out shows. Suddenly the world is his oyster. Here is where Skirving’s film hits its dramatic strides: Koren, who was initially a knight in shining armour is put on the back foot, realising she has to fight to retain representation of Minchin in the UK. It is a fascinating turning of tables.
As a performer, Minchin is probably less rock and roll nerd and more cabaret animal. He looks like he has strayed off the set of Dark City. Barefoot, he plays a mean grand piano, with songs that amuse or provoke a challenged audience. With his Edward Scissorhands-hair and thick, black eyeliner, he cuts a bohemian presence which, like his pal Eddie Perfect, pushes cabaret away from showtunes and onto a cool, contemporary stage. Bravo!
Rock + Roll Nerd: The Tim Minchin Story airs 8.30pm Thursday, April 30 on ABC1.