Tim Key - the Masterslut performance poet
By Charlie Mcbride
AWARD-WINNING comic performance poet Tim Key brings his unique brand of hilarious deadpan versifying to Galway for the Bulmer’s Galway Comedy Festival with his current show, Masterslut in An Taibhdhearc.
“Once you have seen this show, ordinary stand-up will seem disappointingly bland” enthused The Observer while Chortle.co.uk described it as “an ever-shifting landscape full of delightful surprises and wryly funny moments.” The Guardian perceptively noted that “Key often seems to do to poetry what Tommy Cooper did to magic, and with comparably hilarious results.”
Indeed, like Cooper, Key exudes a somewhat shambolic presence while his poems often have the same ramshackle feel as Cooper’s magic routines, but there is a sharp comic savviness at play throughout, and the results are undeniably hilarious.
Speaking with Key ahead of his forthcoming Galway visit I asked him if, when he started out doing stand-up routines based on poetry, he had any misgivings about whether he could find a successful niche with such offbeat material.
“Not really because I started off doing it in a very low-key setting, at a friend’s house in their lounge,” he tells me. “They had invited some people around to do this comedy night and so the first time I ever did it I climbed through their lounge window with some poems and a can of lager and did them in front of these people sat on the floor.
“It doesn’t get much less pressurised a situation than that and they quite enjoyed it and it all went from there. I then started doing it in proper places and it always seemed to work. There is a sort of strangeness about it but I think that kind of works because I am doing this poetry in a comedy context so it feels somewhere between exotic and...wrong. Usually it kind of works out so I’ve been quite lucky that I’ve automatically been that bit different from the person I’m going on just before or after on the bill.”
Masterslut marks the culmination of Key’s so-called ‘slutty trilogy’, with the word ‘slut’ forming part of each of his last three show titles.
“I retained the word because I started to really enjoy it,” he replies with a gleeful cackle. “I got a feel for it! The first time I used it was just a fluke because the venue I was performing in was called The Hut so it seemed to make sense to call it The Slut In The Hut and the second time I thought I should capitalise on that stroke of fortune, so I decided to call the next show The Slutcracker and after that the genie wouldn’t go back in the bottle and I’d inadvertently branded myself a slut. It takes the pain out of having to think of a title for a show each year because they just suggested themselves.”
Is Key one of those performers whose show changes from one night to the next?
“It’s deliberately made in such a way that it’s very flexible and there’s lots of room for it to change each evening,” he explains. “It’s sort of a cross between this really choreographed-I-know-exactly-what-I’m-doing stuff and also has that space for me to have fun. The building blocks all stay the same; I don’t change any poems because I kind of feel that’s the basic show and I want to keep it as the show I made up in the first place. If I write new poems and things like that they go somewhere else and just wait for a potential fourth show in this so-called trilogy.”
If Key’s poems seem off the cuff that’s largely because they are.
“I spend between one and five minutes working on a poem, not a great deal. That’s the thing, I write a lot of them and I get rid of the ones that are rubbish, in my opinion, and keep the ones that are OK. I quite like them to feel very throwaway and off-the-cuff. Hopefully because I write so many the overall quality should stay and when it’s working they should feel – not as if they’ve been slavishly constructed, just that they’re these little throwaway moments.”
As well as his solo shows, Key has also done straight acting, worked as part of the Cowards comic troupe and collaborated with Steve Coogan. How does he compare the working on his own to doing stuff with others?
“They’re two very different things,” he declares. “I’ve collaborate da lot with The Cowards and with Alex Horn and I enjoy that but it’s nice to have a balance when you’re with other people. It can be more fun but there are also more discussions because you don’t all have exactly the same view about how it should be.
“There are pros and cons with each. With stuff on your own you have complete choice as to what you do but then there is probably a higher chance you choose wrongly, and also there you don’t have that safety in numbers so if it goes wrong you suffer on your own and if it goes right you’re still sort of just standing there. With people it’s probably more fun but it’s nice to have both because on your own you can challenge yourself more and go in very specific directions where you don’t have people saying ‘That’s a stupid idea.’”
Recent years have also seen Key present work on TV and radio and have his writing published so does he envisage that stand-up will remain an important part of what he does?
“I’m definitely trapped in it,” he answers, wryly. “I’ll always try other stuff and other writing and other projects and stretch myself in different ways but, although I could imagine myself leaving the life for a bit, I equally imagine I would come back to it almost immediately because, for all its stresses and problems, it is kind of like a drug – that instant thing of performing in front of a live audience. When you’ve done it for a while you get used to it and kind of require it, it’s nice to have, so I don’t think I’ll ever drop this entirely.”
Tim Key plays An Taibhdhearc on Saturday October 28 at 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale through www.bulmersgalwaycomedyfestival.com and www.Roisindubh.net, as well as in Xtra-Vision stores, OMG on Shop Street, and most venues.