Tim Minchin is returning to Aussie stages for the first time since 2012 with a comeback tour aptly titled Back. The long-haired, kohl-eyed musical comedian says he “can’t fuckin’ wait” for the mostly sold-out tour, which kicks off in March and runs until early May.
Back is billed as chockers with ‘Old Songs, New Songs, Fuck You Songs’, and PEDESTRIAN.TV asks him to elaborate on that last point: what exactly is a ‘Fuck you ‘ song? And who is the swear aimed at? To answer the question, Minchin draws on the themes of Matilda the Musical, which include being honest and rebelling against authority to make positive change.
“I’ve written a few ‘Fuck you’ songs in my time: that’s the [Matilda the Musical] ‘sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty’ side of things, and I do find swearing really nice.“
Still, Minchin is trying to figure out how exactly to get to positive change, speaking about what he sees as the failure of progressives to behave in a way that is entirely honest when coming up against the right’s repeated cries of “FAKE NEWS!“
Look, I haven’t finished writing what I’m gonna perform in Back but I have to figure out what I think, because I think we – progressives – are doing a pretty bad job, and we don’t wanna take the blame for the rise of the right because that’s like victim-blaming, But it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, our hysterical sureness, our righteous self-belief, pushes the right further right.
And righteous self-belief is one thing, but bullshit righteous self-belief, like passing on articles that are totally only telling one side of the story, or memes that are not true, we are lying as well, and progressives have to be true. If we’re not true, how do we pitch ourselves as the right way forward?
He again draws upon the moral framework of Matilda to explain why it’s so important for the intellectual left to operate honestly.
If Matilda is being a rebel by lying, then she can’t win. She’s got truth on her side, honesty on her side, always. At the moment I look at the right and the left, or progressives and conservatives, across the world, and I know which side I think is morally right, but in terms of who is being honest, they’re hard to discern.
So maybe I need to say ‘Fuck you’ to us a little bit more, hold us to account. Come on, we’re the educated fucking progressives. When the smoke clears on this weird period, we should be like ‘They were the ones who didn’t have to lie to sell their way of thinking.’
In terms of new songs, Minchin uploaded the first of what he hopes to be an album’s worth on New Years’ Eve, ‘15 Minutes‘, proselytising on the rise of public shaming, which he performed at the Sydney Opera House on the night as part of the ABC‘s live coverage.
The new songs he’s crafting are certainly a departure from what he’s spent much of the last ten years writing: the scores for musicals. While Matilda the Musical is still touring all over the world, Minchin seems most proud of his follow-up, his adaptation of 1993 classic, Groundhog Day: “It’s my favourite thing ever, Groundhog Day. I think it’s so epic.“
After catching it during its original two-month run at London‘s Old Vic in 2016, we want to know if there’s any intention of bringing the show to Australia. The production closed after just five months on Broadway in September 2017, before a planned US tour was cancelled in January 2018. Minchin says before Groundhog Day reaches Aussie audiences, he’s trying to mount it on London’s West End.
Minchin seems to struggle to articulate his relationship to the play, and in particular, its run in America. He admits he can “barely talk about it because it’s a very complicated story and it’s not a good one – it’s gross, it’s greedy, corrupt, fucked up“, of people “fucking” his and director Matthew Warchus’ work.
There was a big, big, big strong producer on it, who said, ‘We’re gonna go and we’re gonna win you a Tony.’ And we went ‘Ooh, you’re a bit of a cowboy, but okay.’ Because when Matilda went we didn’t have that power behind us, and so it didn’t do the business. It’s all biased and crap over there, you’ve gotta win Tonys to stay alive, and they never give Tonys to English people: Elton John and Lloyd Webber are the only people who have won.
Minchin notes that the production did receive a handful of Tonys for Matilda, but nothing compared to their success in the UK at the Oliviers, or even in Oz at the Helpmanns.
“We got some, but it was Best Supporting Actor, Best Design… I lost Best Score to Cyndi Lauper’s Kinky Boots. It’s just crazy. It’s a fine musical and Cyndi’s a legend, but there’s nowhere in the world that anyone would say that’s the case except America. So it’s a bit fucked.“
And the American run was troubled from the start, with the “big, strong producer” pulling out with only six weeks to go. But the team were committed to mounting it in the States, and now Minchin doesn’t know how the show would’ve played with audiences had things gone according to plan.
It’s quite an intellectual thing, and it’s intellectual in a way that people don’t even notice that it’s intellectual if they’re not listening hard, and if they’re listening hard they realise the whole thing’s a metaphor. And if they’re not they just go ‘That was fun.’ It’s an existential, bleak, dark comedy, so it’s very hard to know how it would’ve gone in America.
Still, Minchin is hopeful that the show will have another London run, he just knows “people get the wobbles when you close early on Broadway“. And from there, he just knows it’ll be produced, in some form or another, back in Australia.
Will it get here as a primary production or will it never really get up again the way it did at the Old Vic, and the STC do another version of it, and I play Phil? Is there a different life for it? I like it much better than Matilda. I think it’s got so much going on, but it’s so dense that, my wife’s even’s like, ‘The third time I saw it was the best.’ The irony of the Groundhog Day musical is if you see it over and over again, you get more and more and more out of it, which seems like a good way to sell tickets, but you’ve gotta get people through the first one first.