The Awkward Poet

3 April 2012 | 5:57 pm | Nick Jarvis

Tim Key returns to Melbourne International Comedy Festival with his new show, Masterslut. The Brit talks to Nick Jarvis about his personal take on comedy.

Tim Key is the master of the unnecessary detail and the non sequitur; his poems are veritable koans of the banal. Foolish behaviour, awkward exchanges, gluttonous bankers, and Deal Or No Deal – these are the subjects in his poet's palette. To give you an idea, here's an excerpt from his poem for the Guardian last year about Edinburgh during the Fringe:

The wretched comedian slumped against a poster of his own show on Nicholson Street (which comes off the Royal Mile).

In one hand – a flyerer.

In the other – a kebab and a member of his venue staff.

Our hero's arse slid down his grim portrait,

Peeling off favourable quotes which had been stuck on that afternoon.

“That scaven image is because I have a sordid, grimy relationship with the Edinburgh festival,” Key says. “I've been covered in rain and kebab for about ten years now and slot back into that horrifying lifestyle each August. Melbourne's much healthier. When I remember Melbourne I mainly remember sitting on some battered sofa in one of your bohemian cafés on Brunswick Street. Thoughtful, healthy, and optimistic.”

Boho-café dwelling isn't all Key likes to do in Melbourne, either – he's also (incongruously) a massive fan of AFL. “I saw a couple of games last time I was there and loved it,” he says. “I also watched an unhealthy amount in my hotel room. I started to know who the key players were. It was a disaster.”

Key works with Camden-based company The Invisible Dot, the team that's produced the more recent shows by Alex Horne, David O'Doherty, Simon Amstell, and Mark Watson, so you have an idea of what to expect: intelligent and wry humour, pathos, brilliant storytelling, and very few actual, proper, punchline jokes.

He started out in the early noughties with Stefan Golaszewski, Tom Basden, and Lloyd Woolf as four-man sketch troupe Cowards, who formed after meeting (like so many great comedy collaborations) at Cambridge Footlights (although Key was not an actual Cambridge student). Cowards' crowning glory was undoubtedly their brilliant three-part sketch series for BBC Four in 2010 (if you haven't seen it, track it down on YouTube). Will there be any more episodes in the offing?

“We really wanted to do more and were gutted to leave it at three. There's talk of marching in again after Melbourne,” he says. “The truth is they should have let us make another three at the time. We were really proud of those shows and were getting better at what we did. Given three more episodes we would have revolutionised television sketch comedy.”

Televisual regrets aside, Key's stand-up career is more than flourishing, with current show Masterslut collecting five-star reviews and gushing praise. Key says the show hasn't changed since it debuted at Edinburgh last year, “except there's maybe one extra witty comment I make about dinner parties.”

It involves a bath – but Key doesn't want to talk about that too much (for fear of spoiling the surprise) – although he will reveal that Masterslut has, “comedy, poetry, talking, and a bath in it. The bath is full of hot water and bubbles. There is a constant threat that someone will climb into the bath. There is also a black and white film about a man who gets muddled in a supermarket. Come!”