Interview with Tim Key

LIAM WILLIAMS samples TIM KEY’s view of comedy: ‘It does make you happy. It doesn’t destroy your personal relationships. That’s what I’ve found.’

BAFTA Cowards Edinburgh Fringe Footlights Fry Great North Run Laurie Mark Watson Melbourne Perrier Screenwipe Slutcracker Sophie Winkleman Thompson Tim Key Tom Basden We Need Answers Wolfson Howler

Tim Key is one of the most successful and innovate Footlights Alumnus of his generation, and a comedian who has had an unparalleled influence on the current crop of Cambridge Comedians. Local boy Key lied about being a member of the university to get a place in the 2001 Tour Show ‘Far Too Happy’, which also starred Mark Watson and Sophie Winkleman.

It won the Perrier Best New Comedy Award at the Fringe that year – the first time a Footlights show has achieved such recognition since the 1981 show starring Fry, Laurie and Thompson. After Cambridge, key formed the sketch-group Cowards with Tom Basden, Stefan Golaszewski and Lloyd Woolf, enjoying two BBC Radio 4 Series and a BBC 3 series with the group. 

Last year, he won the Edinburgh Comedy Award (formerly the Perrier) for his show ‘The Slutcracker’, which featured his famously sparse poetry, some elegant short films, Kronenburg and one of the most inspired pieces of physical comedy I’ve ever witnessed.  Key has also published two books, been nominated for a BAFTA, and is perhaps best known as ‘the poet off of Screenwipe’.

I interviewed him ahead of his Howler on May 10th, (tomorrow if you’re reading this on the 9th) to find out what he’s been up…



What have you been up to since you spoke to Varsity, in March?

The main thing is I went to Australia. I did “The Slutcracker” (my poetical stageshow) in Melbourne and then took advantage of Iceland’s volcanoes to stay there an extra week largely phoning Qantas and “getting into lawn bowls”.

How did the preparation for the London Marathon go? 

It went tits up. My legs became ragged and I had to stop. I’m going to do the Great North Run instead. That’s more my type of thing. It’s a shorter race and there’s more of a Geordie theme going on.

Have you enjoyed the election?

Yup, got quite into it once I got back. And my polling station was in the same building that I live in. I voted in my slippers.

Did winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award last year make comedy-life easier?

Better. Not easier particularly. You have to work hard otherwise the whole thing falls apart. But it did make things possible that wouldn’t have been possible before – primarily in terms of doing my own show. I get to go around the world with it a bit. It’s mainly just nice to be on that list of comedians. It’s mind-blowing to be fair.

And what have you got planned for Edinburgh 2010?

I’m just going up for a couple of weeks. My longtime colleague Alex Horne (an affable gap-toothed joker) is doing a show with a live band called The Horne Section. I’m going to do some poems for that. I’m also going to do a short run of The Slutcracker. It will be after midnight so I imagine there’ll be a bit of work needed to get drunkards down with my poems. I’m also going to launch an album and do a lot of running. That’s the current plan.

Do audiences ever not 'get' you?


What other projects do you have in the pipeline?

Writing a film (with Tom Basden) and starting to construct my new stage show. I want to make more Cowards and We Need Answers but currently the BBC aren’t so sure.

Were you delighted with your second book (Instructions, guidelines, tutelage, suggestions, other suggestions and examples etc. An attempted book by Tim Key. (And descriptions/conversations/a piece about a moth))? 

I have no idea what to think about that book. I think it looks beautiful but it’s a pretty specific type of a book really. I just wrote each piece so quickly that it’s quite all over the place. That was deliberate. But I’ll be interested to see what I think of it a few years down the line.

Can you imagine performing and writing as an old man?

Yeah, definitely. I hope at that stage I’ll be writing some quite wise things and everyone will think it’s ideal.

Were you involved with Footlights other than the tour show? As an outsider, what was your impression of Footlights as a society? 

Yeah I did the Pantomime and I did the Spring Revue. As an outsider I got muddled and thought you had to do all of them in order to be eligible to do the tour show. That’s not the case, I learnt. I never saw Footlights as anything other than a positive thing but I guess I had a pretty nice ride through it.  The tour show itself was pretty dreamy. You know straight away that there’s a bit of talent in the room. 

Was directing the Footlights Tour Show rewarding?

It was. It was hard work though. I read Mike Brearley’s book about captaincy before I started it because I had no idea how to lead a group of people. And I’m not sure how well I did it. But it was great working with Mark (Watson) and evidently I loved the cast. Three of them went on to become Cowards with me and I was best man to one of the other ones. 

That said, I preferred the one when I was in it. Just because you can take more responsibility during the performance. It’s not the done thing for a director to shout instructions. 

Does a career in comedy make you happy/destroy your personal relationships?

It does make you happy. It doesn’t destroy your personal relationships. That’s what I’ve found.

Have you been back to Cambridge to perform since Footlights days? 

I went back a few years ago and no one turned up so we cancelled the show… I think we’ll come and bring our shows again sometime soon but this time put up more posters and tweet about it to right that wrong.


Tim Key will be appearing at the Wolfson Howler on Monday 10th May. For more information visit the Facebook page or email [email protected]