Tim Minchin, the wild-haired musician, comedian and actor whose intelligent and highly irreverent humour has delighted audiences all over the world, is the first to admit he didn't make the most of his educational opportunities at UWA.
You'd be way off the mark, however, if you thought that meant he had learned nothing from his University years.
On the contrary, Tim credits much of his approach to performing now to the things that did stick during the arts degree he completed in 1996: the ability to read, articulate ideas, structure thoughts, and think.
"My arts degree and that couple of years of philosophy, a whole lot of text analysis, the psych stuff - it's absolutely embedded in everything I make," says Tim.
"In fact there's probably no comedian in the world now doing material that reads more like an arts degree, about dissonance and fallacies of causation and correlation.
"I'm basically a logic nerd and although I didn't exploit UWA to its fullest at the time, it got me started. It taught me to read and it taught me how to articulate ideas and how to separate bad ideas from good ideas. In all my material what I'm really advocating is education and critical thinking."
Even though, when asked about his University years, Tim often comes back with a characteristically tongue-in-cheek answer, the more he thinks about it, the deeper and more meaningful the memories become. In the year following his degree, when he decided to try acting and writing music for theatre for a while, he continued to frequent the University via its theatre scene.
"When someone says ‘What was UWA like?' I feel like saying ‘I just had burgers and I had sex'," he says. "But of course once you start unpacking it, it's profoundly, profoundly, life altering. My time at UWA was defined by all sorts of stuff, not least of all, I met my wife. And the reason I talk about it in terms of Sarah is because Sarah is the part that's still there.
"But also I have such a connection to the theatres there especially, because of the profound impact of that year where I wasn't actually at the uni but was still exploiting the uni. And not just UWA but His Majesty's and the theatre at Christchurch and all that. I now get to travel around rocking into theatres all over the world and - I Just. Love. Theatres. I love the personalities and the sorts of smells of them.
"We worked at the Dolphin 14 hours a day when we were doing stuff there and I remember sleeping in the grid above the fly tower and doing things we shouldn't be doing ... They were halcyon days.
"The distance between me and that time definitely romanticises it - and I'm also not a very past-focused person - so when I do go back to visit UWA it does sort of come crashing in. I had my first beer there, I told my girlfriend (who I'm now married to) that I loved her, in the ‘tav' - the first time I said that to anyone. I played gigs on the Oak Lawn, played songs that I wrote when that same girl dropped me and it made me angry. I had a band and we played songs on the Oak Lawn while some of the people those songs were criticising were sitting in front of me."
In that post-degree year or two, Tim appeared at The Dolphin and The New Fortune theatres in productions including The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, Don't Smoke in the Evening Without Yul Brynner and, notably, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead with Toby Schmitz. Schmitz is now a leading light with the Sydney Theatre Company and in August this year, the old friends will reprise their roles in a considerably more high-profile version of the Tom Stoppard play.
When he first agreed to do the play, Tim was a little unsure of whether his acting skills - more or less abandoned years ago in favour of his comic musical style - were up for it.
Since then, however, he's blazed a highly successful trail with a rave-review performance in the vocally challenging role of Judas in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new production of Jesus Christ Superstar (with Melanie C, formerly of the Spice Girls, and Ben Forster) and a recurring role in the risqué US television series, Californication.
He has also turned Roald Dahl's famous children's book Matilda into a West End musical which became a runaway success and won seven Olivier Awards last year. Matilda The Musical opens on Broadway in April.
"I guess I'm aware of how lucky I am to have been able to exploit my good fortune in one field and shift sideways into other fields," Tim says. "But that doesn't mean I'm a complete narcissist! I don't I think I can do everything just because people are happy to watch me play piano and sing stupid songs. I'm reasonably balanced with my ambition versus my fear."
Tim, who lives in London with Sarah and their two children, says wistfully he'd love to live in Perth again. However, he knows his career has been defined by being in the right place at the right time, and that he needs to be ready for whenever opportunity comes knocking.
He comes back whenever he can, though. If his schedule allows, he's likely to pay Perth - and UWA - a visit next month. And when he does, it's likely those memories will, once again, come crashing back in.
Published in Uniview Vol. 32 No. 1 Summer 2013
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