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Tim Minchin, Hammersmith Apollo | reviews, news & interviews

Tim Minchin, Hammersmith Apollo

Tim Minchin, Hammersmith Apollo

Aussie misrules: evolution songs in the spirit of Lehrer

Of course there’ll be no certain way of knowing whether the ensuing rave is heartfelt. Four years ago Tim Minchin, fresh off the plane from Down Under, burst onto the Edinburgh Fringe to be greeted by a short sharp one-star crit from a Guardian reviewer who had possibly got out of the wrong side of the bed. Where a regular stand-up would look horribly petulant to bear such a public grudge, Minchin put his riposte in song, because he has that near-unique facility. Very amusing it is too, as well as a cast-iron insurance policy against further slatings. No journalist has any desire to be immortalised onstage as a “****ing ****”. So yes, marvellous show, **** all round.

There is an intriguing tension in Minchin’s live act. He is nominally a stand-up. People flock in increasing droves to his shows to laugh. But audiences tend not to laugh at stuff they’ve heard before. In comedy, the novelty of the pay-off is sacrosanct. It’s a reviewing convention that you don’t repeat the punchline, especially not before the DVD has hit the shops after which they drop all their old material and write some new stuff. None of that happens with Minchin. That’s the beauty and mystery of top-notch songwriting. People don't want to hear a joke told twice. They do if the joke is set to music. Minchin performs in the tradition of Tom Lehrer, or good old Kit and the Widow of more recent vintage: he is a satirist who thanks to concert-hall convention can rattle off the old favourites. When he announces a song, people cheer. In the encore they shout out requests. The songs remain the same, but the laughs keep coming. It is quite a conjuring trick.

This applies even to the songs which rely on a reveal. “Taboo” announces itself as a torchsong about an unsayable word. From the composition of its letters, you presume it’s the N word. But no, it’s the G word: “Only a ginger can call another ginger ginger”. Minchin performed it at the Secret Policeman’s Ball last year, which was broadcast on television and it’s now freely available on YouTube (see below). But such are the lyrics' Sondheimian dexterity with rhyme that you can listen to it more or less limitlessly.

You wonder if the same will apply to “Confessions”, a new song in which Minchin purports to wear his liberal politics on his sleeve. The (slightly boring) verses are knitted-brow thinkpieces on feminism and poverty and the environment. Then in each chorus he reverts hilariously to Neanderthal. Come the third chorus the audience knows what to expect, so Minchin plays cleverly with expectation by delaying the inevitable with a drinks break. Whether it’ll be requested in years to come remains to be seen.

It used to be said that comedy is the new rock’n’roll but with Minchin it has come specifically true. More than any other comedian who dabbles in music, he garbs his act in the apparel of the stadium rock show. He referred last night to the oddity of doing jokes in a rock venue but the grammar is all in situ: the flashing lights, the dry ice, the pounding muzak preceding the delayed entry. Eyeliner and guitar-hero hair complete the picture.

Tim Minchin performs 'Taboo'

But rock stars don't make you laugh, or quote Shakespeare, or discuss logic and philosophy in Latin. Or have a goblin's ultrabrite grin you can see from the back row of the Enormodome. Towards the end Minchin wondered out loud if there’d been a theme to the show. Obviously there’s the casually brilliant pianism, by turns exquisitely lyrical and manically sausage-fingered. And the passion for language: any middle-aged Cnuts who have been trying to hold back the misuse of “like” from now on need only quote Minchin’s “fuck like rabbits” routine.

But the overarching theme, the itch he keeps scratching, is intolerance of intolerance. Religion is Minchin’s beef; the deniers of evolution and the advance of science are the enemies in his sniper sights. “Storm”, his so-called “jazz-backed beat poem about critical thinking”, is an epic screed about alternative medicine which wonderfully showcases the militant anger lurking just the other side of Minchin’s ineffably sweet exterior. “I didn’t say that,” he says sheepishly after it’s all over. It’s another running joke of his that stuff just slips out. Don’t believe a word of it. No performer exerts more control over his material. Or his audience.

Religion is Minchin’s beef; the deniers of evolution and the advance of science are the enemies in his sniper sights

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Great review. Glad to see someone as eloquent and clever as Minchin writing on Minchin....

Made it to the Apollo 23/10/09 from miles and months away. Life is as near complete as it will ever be. Thank you Tim.

This has got to be one of the finest Tim Minchin reviews to date; perfectly capturing his often polemical, yet always outstanding brand of comedy. I saw him when he came to Cardiff and found myself singing along to almost every song (apart from the very new ones), then confessing to the woman sitting next to me that I had no idea I knew all those lyrics. His musical theatre background really helps to thrust his performances forward, and I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more from him in the near future.

exactly, he's a legend

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