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Tim Minchin on Quitting Comedy (theguardian.com)
246 points by cmsefton 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 79 comments

Mr Minchin is spot on. I was fortunate enough to realize the same thing at age 2. From then on, I steadfastly refused to become famous. It wasn't always easy, but when--as a toddler--you clearly see the devastation that fame can bring, it clears the mind and makes the required discipline bearable. It's bittersweet, but in the long run, I'm glad I have had a relatively normal life.

I had a similar realization at a similar time. Unfortunately, by that age, my novel "Little Winky" had already afforded me some acclaim.

Wow, I did not expect a reference to 'Synecdoche, New York' to crop up here on HN, even less in such a fitting context. For anyone else wondering what this is about, here is the scene from the film (the whole film is worth watching if you are into the sort of postmodern-surrealist stuff):

Caden Cotard : I wanted to ask you, how old are kids when they start to write?

Madeleine Gravis : Listen, there's an absolutely brilliant novel written by a four year old.

Caden Cotard : Really?

Madeleine Gravis : 'Little Winky" by Horace Azpiazu.

Caden Cotard : That's cute.

Madeleine Gravis : Hardly, Litty Winky is a virulent anti-Semite. The story follows his initiation into the klan, his immersion in the pornographic snuff industry, and his ultimate degradation at the hands of a black ex-convict named Eric Washington Jackson Jones Johnson...

Caden Cotard : -Written by a four year old?

Madeleine Gravis : -Jefferson.

Caden Cotard : Wow, written by a four year old.

Madeleine Gravis : Well Azpiazu killed himself when he was five.

Fantastic movie everyone here should watch. Supremely philosophical and funny.

I did dabble in writing. In junior high, my book, "Marvin, the Shy Elf," threatened to bring me fame not only amongst my classmates, but in the wider town of 1200 where I lived. At the last moment, I cleverly sabotaged the work by including many childish illustrations.

Nice to see so many self-made normallaires. My family has been non-famous for generations. One of my great-grandfathers or another was "Man In Hat" in a local theater, but managed to marry into stronger mediocrity.

Novel? Ho, ho, how quaint. If you'd made a dent in the hard sciences by then, I'd be impressed.

They say that scientists rarely get any real work done after they win a Nobel prize, because the prestige warps their self-expectations in a way that guides them away from things they could actually make progress on and towards heights that are too difficult to climb. Avoiding this has guided career my up until now and I can safely say I have been totally successful at eliminating even the slightest risk.

Wonderful comment. Thanks. Reminds of my brother-in-law who would often tell me that he had a great "break-even-quick scheme" to talk about.

I'm going to steal your brother-in-law's joke and tell it to my brother in law, who we are having over for bratwurst and beer for Octoberfest tonight. Please give him my regards. :)

You may have narrowly avoided becoming famous, but you certainly haven't quit comedy.

Likewise, except for me, it was at the age of 6 months. My father was a very successful and famous entertainer (I won't name him to protect my identity). He was also an alcoholic, and it destroyed his life. I remember, clear as day, I had an epiphany about him and what his status had done to our family. As he reached for his bottle of gin, I grabbed it from him, and uttered "No". He looked at me for a long minute, and then began to sob.

[OT] I 100% agree with your 'woke' post btw.

Oops, clarification! I was talking about keb_'s post on his blog, not his actual comment above!

At age 2 pah .... I realized it while inside and refused to come out at the end of term, they had to cut me out.

Pshh, inside? I realized when I was just a twinkle in my dad's eye.

If you’re a twinkle in your dads eye, he’s doing it wrong.

What's spot on about this comment is that it correctly characterizes the comedy PC critics on Twitter, Reddit, and other social media, as children.

...which they probably are in the literal sense as well. I think people forget how many teenagers are on these platforms.

Quoting for remarkable insight:

> “Fame” takes that internal camera we call the “self” and puts it on a massive selfie stick, so when you are in public a percentage of your brain is always occupied by observing yourself in the third person. And eventually you don’t know how to reel that camera back in, even when you’re at home with your partner and kids. You start to believe that you are an entity. You learn to like yourself as much as you are liked, which means, when the trolls come trolling, you tend to hate yourself as much as you are hated.

It's worth noting that this is not only true for fame but also more generally for power. Power literally corrupts the mind. So in a way, hierarchical power structures are a mental health crisis.

Tim Minchin seems like a very grounded individual, and very genuine. I really enjoyed his keynote speaker address to UWA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoEezZD71sc

Another great one is 'Storm': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhGuXCuDb1U

With all due respect, I like him best the times he's the least grounded :)

I've rarely heard a piano solo as badass this one, much less from a comedian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xQmJ_vxHB4

You might enjoy Hiromi Uehara playing I’ve got rhythm. Granted, she’s not a comedian, but boy can she play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CY5dTBhRxOA

There is also this nearly 5 minute music video that is one single shot, it is also a very beautiful song:


Not Perfect is quite something


The point he makes about eschewing fame to stay grounded could probably be applied to modern society and social media in general. I have only a passing familiarity with Tim Minchin from the past, but he seems like a thoughtful and introspective guy with a timely message.

A long time ago, I heard Bill Murray say something to the effect of, "If you want to be rich and famous, try 'rich' first. You will probably be happier."

Tim Ferris has a blog post underscoring this point quite forcefully: https://tim.blog/2020/02/02/reasons-to-not-become-famous/

This post is great. It made me realise that not only do I not want to be famous, but that I want to live as privately as possible. I'm now much more wary about (say) using my real name online or making it easy for strangers to find out where I live and work. What's the point? In the internet age, it's never been easier for a sociopath with a vendetta to destroy my reputation and career (or worse), no matter how little I did to deserve it.

That reminds me of another Bill Murray quote: "When you become famous, you've got like a year or two where you act like a real a**. You can't help yourself. It happens to everybody. You've got like two years to pull it together — or it's permanent."

If I remember correctly, this was in the context of Chevy Chase with the point being that Chevy never figured it out and has been an a$$ ever since.

Bill Murray has something of a reputation for drawing a clear line when he's becoming too much of a center of attention in public life (an instance I'm thinking of is him asking to be left alone while watching White Sox games from the stands), and that's probably helped his career, if not also his state of mind.

Bill Murray at White Sox games? Surely you mean the Cubs.

I could be wrong, but I remember it being Comiskey. I don't think anybody expects to keep score quietly at Wrigley.

I have seen Bill Murray wrestle with his brother in a sumo suit at a minor league baseball game in Butte, MT. All that being said, he had an affinity for owning minor league teams and would show up and be himself. Butte, America is a hard town to be loved in and he is/was.

Meh, I know plenty of miserable rich people.

Maybe it's easy to be miserable despite being rich, but it's even easier to be miserable because of being poor.

But also being famous could still make them even MORE miserable!

He's also talented and very funny.

I respect his reasons, but I'll miss his comedy.

He has not quitting. He's making a comeback. The title refers to the ten-year break he took. This is clear if you don't comment on just the headline but take the time to read literally the first sentence below it.

For mean one of the most appealing parts of his comedy is that he is very clear that it is one thing to be insightful and quite another to actually make the better choices. He plays with that dichotomy a lot.

Even here. An essay on the corrupting and addicting influence of fame that basically announces a return to seeking fame.

But he’s Back

The thing is, I assume that fame is somehow a need. Or a distorted bias on a real need. We all kinda want to be joy to others and receive their welcome too. A strong and warm connection to a lot of people is probably wired in our brains. There, fame would just be a pathologically high kind of bond both in count and intensity.

In 1993, a(nother) famous Australian, Clive James, provided us with Fame in the Twentieth Century [0]. Seemingly it's hard to find now, but my memory is one of poignancy, regret, squandered opportunities ... plus some brutal observations about the stark differences between US versus EU attitudes towards fame.

I have no doubt at all that it would be insanely difficult to cautiously back away from the promised lifestyle teasingly dangled in front of you, and so the utmost respect to Tim for doing so.

[0] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0128875/reference

Glad you mentionned that. I bought it at the time, read it, loved it, and decided to not become famous !

I absolutely adore Tim Minchin. Every now and then I'll go down a YouTube rabbit hole rewatching everything I can find of him. And despite clearly being a genius, he's not taking himself (or anything for that matter) all too seriously, and I very much appreciate that.

Here's a perfect example of that, also of his critical look on fame: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdtCuC5mLeQ

I really enjoyed that. He's a great writer. Says a lot, without getting prolix (unlike Yours Truly).

I sincerely wish him luck. He sounds like a really decent chap.

Unfortunately, today's culture doesn't reward "decent chaps." It never really has, but it seems much worse, today, than at any other time in my (admittedly, sketchy) memory.

I am not aware of his work, but that is something that I can change.

Funny enough I read this, and the article, and then looked him up. Found he was on tour in UK and passing through my city this weekend. I bought the last two tickets available to see him this Saturday.

I wonder how many engineers (and others) are “pigeon-holed” in their careers. Change is scary and exciting, rewarding and risky. Tim can be an inspiration, or an outlier we can enviously watch from our seats. The latter will at least be hella amusing.

It's a word I've used a lot when trying to explain to recruiters the sorts of jobs I'm looking for - trying not to pigeon hole myself into a particular technology/stack. I guess any single programming job is still a lot narrower than what Tim Minchin is referring to when he uses the term, but he's a genius.

There was an interesting episode or series on Freakanomics years ago about the virtues of “quitting”. Very thought provoking.

He said he quit because fame makes you a wanker. I'm not even famous and I'm pretty sure I'm ten times the wanker he ever was

He didn't say fame was the only way to become a wanker.

Fame is a fascinating thing. Tons of people desperately want it, those who get it are often destroyed by it.

Tangentially it’s also fascinating watching those in my age cohort slowly realizing that they’ll never be famous, not even “instagram famous”. Some of them settle into a more relaxed pattern, and others rage quit their social media of choice.

I think fame is on average a truly great thing, though it can of course also destroy you, in rare cases.

This is speculation, as I am not famous.

I live near a town where everybody is rich, but only some of them are famous. I've spoken with several people and they pretty much all agree with the Bill Murray quote that being rich without fame is, on average, nicer than being rich and famous.

On the other hand, it's also a place people move (at least partly) to get away from some of the negative side-effects of fame, so there may be some selection bias there.

Reminds me of Mark Hollis from a band called Talk Talk. He was riding a surging wave in the 80s and he simply stepped off, he did it for a normal, simple common life. He succeeded in it quite well.

[.] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cFH5JgyZK1I&t=24s

Tim wrote my favorite Christmas song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCNvZqpa-7Q

My favourite Minchin song is Prejudice


Stepping a bit away from the spotlight seems to only happen when people get famous for something other than what they wanted to get famous for. While Minchin definitely wrote songs for his acts, he was not famous for being a composer.

He stepped away from comedy to write music professionally (likely leveraging his comedy fame), which was what he wanted to do all along.

I read sometime ago that this is why voice actors enjoy their career-- they get the fame/money, but they can go into a bar and not be recognised.

Have you seen the movie In a World? It's pretty funny and about a bunch of voice actors. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuxApRnekWc

See also the drummer of Coldplay [0]

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXU2tsOWi6o&t=34s

I don't think they get much money though...

Some of them do - look up how much the voice actors on the Simpsons are paid.

Oh of course, but they're very much in the minority. Most voice actors earn very little - it's really just a side-gig for most.

Most voice actors are not working on shows anywhere near as successful as The Simpsons.

The woman that does the voice of Bart Simpson is frequently asked if she has ever met the guy that does the voice of Bart Simpson. How's that for not being famous?

Most actors aren't either.

But the top 5% take home millions

But its also hecause they don’t get too much of it that makes their life more balanced.

"‘There is a reason why famous people are often screwed up’"

If famous people seem screwed up wait until you see 'regular' people. The opioid addiction epidemic in America is not just limited to the wealthy, that is much is true

The book Everyone Loves You When You're Dead has some interesting thoughts about this. It's a collection of interviews with rockstars and other celebrities that the author did throughout his career at Rolling Stone. One of the common themes he points out is that fame and money seem to act as multipliers. People who were happy and well-adjusted before they got rich found that money made them happier. People who were miserable to start with found that money and fame only compounded their miseries.

Minchin is a genius. Here's a good starter song for anyone who is new to his work https://youtu.be/bTf3SqL81aE

I always wonder what its like to be the Messis and LeBrons and Ronaldos of the world. For a relatively short amount of time they get to be the best in the world at what they do but for the rest of their life they can't walk down a sidewalk in peace(obvious perks excluded).

"Our musical, Groundhog Day, despite awards and five-star reviews, took a bit of a battering on Broadway (I promise it will be back!)."

Definitely worth seeking out the soundtrack to this.

That was a great read, thanks for sharing it! I saw his Back tour in 2019 and it was amazing, would definitely recommend his live shows to anyone. He also wrote and starred in a 2019 TV show called Upright which I'd definitely also recommend. One of my favourite TV shows for sure.

Tim Minchin’s Back tours the UK 16 October to 28 November.

He's been all over Australia and NZ. Now going to the UK.

Maybe there's a streaming option for the US?

I saw one of Tim Minchin's performances once. I think he quit comedy quite a while ago.

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