Tim's just funny that way

CONSIDERING he is an actor, musician, writer and comedian, it's very difficult to pigeonhole Tim Minchin – and that suits the 32-year-old Aussie just fine.

"It doesn't really matter what I call myself, it turns out I'm a comedian these days," says Minchin, who performs at the Queen's Hall tonight.

"I try to create a funny, interesting, theatrical exper-ience. I'm not the kind of guy who wanders around with a microphone telling jokes. Probably the thing that distinguishes me, although I'm not saying it necessarily makes me better, is that it's a funny cabaret show.

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"I don't use music as parody. I see myself as a songwriter primarily, the lyrics just happen to be funny.

"The show is about 65 per cent music, but that leaves plenty of time for chatting as well. My subjects are a bit more ethereal than urban. I sing more about sex and death and God."

But whether he likes it or not, the world regards Minchin as a comedian, a perception probably enforced by his appearance on stage, where he sits at his piano sporting wild hair, heavy eye makeup and bare feet.

And, last year, he scooped the award for Best Alternative Comedian at the HBO US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen.

"I've been writing music, I've been in bands, I've done theatre and all sorts of other stuff –I've had a fun little career in Australia," continues Minchin, who now lives in London with his wife Sarah and baby daughter Violet.

"There's a whole world of people who are just working actors that people haven't heard of. They're not on the streets but they're not rich either. As far as I'm concerned that's who I am. But as far as the industry's concerned I'm a comedian – and I'm fine with that.

"I remember I used to think 'I'm not funny' and then suddenly I'm doing two-hour shows all over the world.

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"I didn't just discover a magic formula one day. It just so happened that the stuff I had been writing was more exploitable as comedy than as music."

Having achieved an Advanced Diploma in Contemporary Music at the Conservatorium of Western Australia – part of the WA Academy of Performing Arts – in 1998, Minchin moved from his native Perth to Melbourne in 2002.

It was here he began to develop his unique style, performing regularly at The Butterfly Club in the south of the city, before producing his breakout show, Dark Side, at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2005.

Not only did Dark Side win the inaugural Festival Directors' Award, but it caught the eye of Karen Koren, artistic director of Edinburgh's Gilded Balloon. Koren offered Minchin a run at the Debating Hall in Bristo Square – something that has had a profound effect on his career.

"I was very new to comedy and I thought that Edinburgh would be a good place to go but I didn't think I would be able to because I had no money," says Minchin.

"But Karen saw me in April 2005 and landed on it pretty hard. She made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Not financially, but in terms of the opportunity at a big venue. It was the best judgment I've ever made in my career.

"She's the type of person that's willing to take risks and she certainly did that with me. It was an amazing time in Edinburgh.

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"It was pretty full-on, pretty hard work. I had never done that many shows in such a short space of time. I was scared that, because I was singing like a rock star for an hour every night, my voice wasn't going to last. I was going to bed after the show each night and not really going out and enjoying myself.

"But then I started to get good reviews and then one or two people started being a bit bitchy. It was like living a whole career in the space of a month.

"I had all the positive stuff and then there was a bit of a backlash. Edinburgh during the Festival is like a microcosm – it's hard to relax."

But Minchin's hard work paid off. His sell-out show saw him become one of the Fringe's most successful debut acts and he was duly awarded the 2005 Perrier Award for Best Newcomer.

Minchin, whose compositions include Inflatable You, Rock 'n' Roll Nerd, Peace Anthem For Palestine and Canvas Bags, is relishing the opportunity to see the Capital when things are less frantic.

"I'm really looking forward to it," he says. "I've never been to Edinburgh outside of Festival time. I'm looking forward to performing to Scottish people rather than the Australians who usually come to see me during the Festival."

As if to reinforce his Renaissance man credentials, Minchin has recently returned from Australia, where he has been making his big screen debut as a musician in boxing flick Two Fists, One Heart.

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Shortly after his gig in Edinburgh, he will head out to America for a six-week tour, with the hope of landing some more acting work.

"I would like to get into more acting and America is probably the best place to do it," he says.

But, for the moment, Minchin in focused on raising the Queen's Hall rafters.

"I have a desire to write lyrics that have punch and meaning to them," he says. "My desire probably comes from the bands I used to listen to, like The Kinks, The Beatles and Queen. I was particularly attracted to people who used lyrics that are satirical.

"I had never heard of musical comedians like Victoria Wood and Bill Bailey before I came to Britain. I just happened to write satirical lyrics.

"I had never even seen a stand-up gig before I started doing it myself. In the UK comedy's very big, but in Australia you can easily go your whole life without seeing a comedy show."

• Tim Minchin, Queen's Hall, Clerk Street, today, 8pm, 15 (14), 0131-668 2019