It’s hard to take anything that Tim Minchin says at face value. The charmingly idiosyncratic persona that this Australian-born singer/songwriter and comedian projects in his solo show at New World Stages is endearing precisely because you feel for the performer’s apparent awkwardness. And yet, it’s surely an act, as no one that insecure could present such a delightful evening of off-kilter songs and stories.
Minchin’s lyrics may or may not be autobiographical, but they do have a rawness to them that feels like truth even when they’re extremely parodic or self-mocking. This is particularly true of “Rock n Roll Nerd,” in which he sings, “There’s not much depth in what he’s singing / He’s a victim of his upper-middle class upbringing.” While the line generates laughter, there’s also the sense that he’s left himself quite vulnerable by exposing his own doubts about his work.
He treads the line between autobiographical performance and character comedy, using an ironic delivery for his seemingly personal stories. When he tells a tasteless joke about his wife, it’s simultaneously hilarious and appalling. Obviously, certain songs are exaggerated for effect, such as his love song to a blow-up doll, “Inflatable You.” But other tunes, such as his captivating encore, “Not Perfect,” demonstrate a seriousness behind his clever and amusing lyrics.
Between songs, Minchin engages in spontaneous interactive dialogue with audience members, tells some completely unrelated jokes, and even occasionally sets up his next song. For example, he talks about having a “relativist morality” that lets him “justify group sex while abhorring group prayer.” This leads into my favorite number in the entire show, “If You Open Your Mind Too Much, Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife),” which is a smart and funny critique of psychics, astrologers, homeopathy, and religion.
Minchin’s often catchy tunes — the majority of which he plays on piano — tend to be parodies of romantic ballads, with the occasional rock influences. He has a pleasant and somewhat quirky vocal style, which he uses to infuse each and every one of his songs with personality and a sense of humor. There are a few jokes that don’t work quite as well as Minchin might have hoped, but when that happens, all the artist has to do is to look at the audience with his comically haunted eyes and a confused and embarrassed expression, and they burst out laughing.
The program uses material from previous CDs and solo shows; however, since this is his first extended New York City engagement, most if not all of it will be new to local audiences. And for his existing fan base, this is the stuff that’s already won him deservedly wide acclaim.