Tim Minchin Talks Gingers, Religion, Ben Folds, Sperm Banks, Flight of the Concords, and More

Tim Minchin is a rather humble lad. Despite having millions of fans in his homeland of the UK, Australia, and here in the states (not to mention awards up the ying-yang) the 35-year-old piano-playing comedian and musician remains pretty modest about his success.

"I'm lucky to be doing what I'm doing," he says. "I could be doing something terrible, like you know, mining coal or prostituting my body."

It's more than just luck that's caused Minchin's success. Besides an innate skill for banging out piano-pop on the ebonies and ivories, the wild-eyed and wild-haired artist excels at crafting hilariously clever and inventive lyrical whirlwinds laced with satire about contentious subjects like sex ("Inflatable You"), racism ("Predjudice"), and religion ("Pope Song"). The result is a pastiche of Ben Folds and Flight of the Concords (with a little bit of Tom Lehrer mixed in).

Minchin, who will perform at Mesa Arts Center on Friday, recently spoke with Up on the Sun via telephone.


Up on the Sun: Do you consider yourself to be a pianist that makes funny songs or a comedian that plays the piano?

Tim Minchin: I'm a musician really, that's what I told the guys at customs when I came into your fine country this afternoon. As far as I'm concerned I'm just a song writer who is going through a silly phase.

So it's not so much like when Zach Galifinakis gets on a piano and starts doing bits.

Yeah. I saw a gig in Brooklyn a couple of years ago before he exploded where he was doing that, where we shared a table that was pretty funny. Again, that's very old school in a way, especially mine because musical comedies tended to be parodic in the Weird Al sort of thing.

There's always been people doing funny songs, but there's been a lot of parodies like Flight of the Conchords, so I think of geniuses doing that sort of thing are very funny. But my stuff is actually more old school in that it's much like Tom Lehrer. Or it's right back into Vaudeville where there are actually sort of songs for their own sake and then the content happens to be satirical, as opposed to trying to pretend I'm a hip-hop artist or whatever the parody is.

One of your funniest songs is "Prejudice," which is a response to ginger hatred. Why is there so much Ginger hate in the world, does it all stem from that South Park episode?

They're just ugly people, I don't know. I didn't know about the South Park episode, which really annoyed me because the "Ginger-vitis" gag was already taken when I started playing. And also the good thing about the South Park episode was it introduced you guys to the term ["gingers"] because I think it was such a part of your vernacular before that, was it?

Not so much.

Whereas in the UK it was well and truly established. The ginger song, as I'm sure you can sort of tell, was my skirting with the idea of taboo language. And it was finding a way to talk about language to those as close as a white middle class Australian bloke can get to talking about the "N-word" without saying it. Not that that's what it ends up being about once the joke breaks, once the anagram unscrambles and lands on the word "ginger" rather than the ["N-word"] the rest of the song is just stupid.

A ginger friend of mine wants to thank for helping fight ginger oppression.

That's funny actually because it is obviously is a silly song that has been taken very seriously. It's quite weird because I reckon if you went and looked at job interviews of people with equivalent qualifications, you would actually dig up plenty of data to support the idea that Gingers are discriminated against. Did you see the article lately about the sperm bank in Norway or Denmark, a sperm bank turning away Ginger donors?

Yes, I'd heard about that.

It's pretty funny. Apparently no one wants their sperm. Basically if you go and get some sperm from a sperm bank, you have to say whether you want a brunette, blond, redhead. And no one wants it. They've stopped taking the sperm. Apparently they have 70 liters of backup ginger sperm sitting in a vat. Just the thought of 70 liters of any color sperm is a little sickening, but 70 liters of ginger sperm?

That would be a cool band name or the title of your next song.

Yeah, like Russell Crowe's band, 70 Liters of Ginger Sperm. That same article quoted the guy from the Danish sperm bank saying, "In Ireland it sells like hotcakes." I like the image of sperm selling like hotcakes as well, especially ginger sperm.

So people in Ireland want to have ginger nuts dipped in their ginger tea, so to speak?

Yeah, ginger nuts. Ginger nuts are a cookie. You say your mind is filthy, then?

I can't help it, I've been listening to your songs for weeks.

You've become attuned to the petty double entendre.

Which you excel at if you don't mind me saying.

If in doubt, pun.

Have you had a lot of ginger groupies?

No. I'm married to the girl I lost my virginity to. Not sure if it's my Ginger pubic hair she likes or not.