As is the tradition at ShellsuitZombie magazine, we like to interview our stars while playing a minor sport. First it was pool, then darts. For this issue we invited multi-award winning comedian and poet Tim Key to join us in a round of ten pin bowling. Except, as is tradition, it’s all a lie. Well, unless he was emailing me from Hollywood Bowl in North Finchley. Which would be an extraordinary coincidence.
After much trash talk, Tim Key (35, Famous poet,comedian and star of Mid Morning Matters) and I finally agree to meet up at Hollywood bowl in North Finchley. By the time we are through the shoe swap Tim is already complaining about Hygeine standards and I’m starting to wonder whether this interview will be a shambles.
Tim’s reputation as the supposed kingpin of the north London comedian’s bowling circuit obviously precedes him, as both the manager of Burger King and several of the slot machine regulars give him knowing nods. I suspect that Tim Key is about to wipe the floor with me. But I don’t care. I just want a chat.
Having entered his name somewhat intimidatingly as just ‘KEY’, Tim strolls up to the lane and unzips his custom ball bag, revealing the orb within.
Do you like ten pin bowling?
Yeah I do, so this is perfect for me. I play at Rowans in Finsbury Park whenever I can. My ball naturally curls to the right so I have to start it off left and then watch it arc back and into the front pin. Once I got 3 pins down with one ball.
It was to only be the two pins this time. Happy with this, he sits back, smugly cracking open a diet coke.
When we first met I showed you creepy pictures on my phone outside the British Library. How did you feel about that?
I didn’t feel great, obviously. I’m a busy man and I already had my cycle helmet on, then I have you in my face swishing through photos. I kept looking at my watch and shifting from one foot to the other. And yet still you swished.
A recurring theme in your poetry is the everyman - this comes across most in the names you choose for your characters. Whats the best name you’ve ever come up with? Is there someone you wish you could just put into every poem? I.e. Rob Pacey, Mark Davenport, Andy Waugh and Mike Abbot the peacocks.
Tim whips another ball down the alley before replying, nailing one pin without touching any of the others in an impressive feat of accuracy.
There are some names I keep going back to. Rod Wilde is one. Also Chris White. When I wrote my last book I had to do a search for Chris’s and change a few out. For some reason I’m really attracted to that name. If someone’s burning an umbrella or eating a chive in one of my poems, it will usually turn out that he’s called Chris.
Hmm ok. It’s definitely Mike Davenport for me. So what came first, the poems or the comedy? I read somewhere that you said poems seemed like an obvious next step after finding stand-up tough. Any truth in that? Or did I just make it up in my head?
That’s come right out of your head. What’s wrong with you? No, the deadened months after I knocked stand-up on the head were filled with writing a one- man play. I then started working comprehensively with gap-toothed comic Alex Horne on his Edinburgh shows. Gradually I started writing verse to fill up tube journeys. Before I knew where I was I had a whole notepad full. At this stage my momentum took me back onto stage. Armed with this shield of Having seen two out of your three slut-based shows poems I was able to face down my audiences more effectively.
You’ve sort of created yourself a new genre somewhere between comedy and poetry. Is there anyone who has influenced you, any heroes? Or maybe not, you fucking maverick.
I’m a fucking maverick. I’ve never even seen any other comedy or read any poetry. I just tend to bowl and when I’m tired I retire to the tastefully done out bar next to the lanes and write some verse.
But I suppose Coogan must be up there, eh Sidekick Simon. Go on, he’ll be annoyed if you don’t mention him.
Oh yeah, I’m a big fan of Steve Coogan. I used to listen to his radio show when I was at sixth form college. We used to quote Knowing Me Knowing You a great deal. I don’t think it did me much good socially, but I guess it was all part of growing up. “Who were the bishops?”
Tim’s fifth round is a corker. Using the barriers to his advantage he deflects the ball off left, right then left again, judging the speed perfectly to stop the ball against the front pin. He sends another ball down to finish off the first.
So you’re a poet right? Tell me about ‘The Incomplete’ - sounds a bit ruddy serious.
Supposed to be. I just needed to pull them together. At that point they were just drifting round my flat on pieces of napkin and foil. It was time to catalogue them in a proper hardback. I tried to make it as ruddy serious as possible. At times I let it slip but generally I was pleased that I’d created an anthology that made you smile but also made you think and weep.
That makes me pleased also. So does this mark a permanent shift in your comedy or do you just have several strings to your bow? Are you looking for your first serious hollywood role?
I cannot get such a role because my skills aren’t strong enough. I think I will try and sneak into Hollywood through the back door in about ten years time. The most likely routes are (a) writing a role for myself, (b) starting as a runner and working my way up, or (c) screwing someone like Winona Rider or the lawyer out of “A Time To Kill” and hoping for the best.
Are you excited about the Olympics? I know you’ve got tickets. Maybe you could be an olympic ten pin bowler?
I’ve watched the skittles on Sky Sports 3 and those guys are immense. The Finns and The Americans are different class. They’ll make it swing way out wide and then banana back in fiercely. All the skittles fall down. I’ve seen it where a skittle has appeared to explode as the ball hits it. I’ve seen it where skittles have gone flying into the crowd and spectators have been knocked out or killed. I’ve had friends round and shown them this stuff on Sky Plus. It’s breathtaking.
Tim is in his stride now, approaching a fifty percent hit rate as he breaks the 40 barrier with ball number 12.
Having seen two out of your three slut-based shows (I missed slut in the hut unfortunately) and watched a bit of Cowards, I get the impression you’re a fan of ‘short film’ as a comedy medium. Any plans to continue down that road?
I think we’re going to go shorter. I’ve got a plan to film something on the top of a building. A fifteen second piece, me and a girl. The wind causing havoc.
That sounds dramatic. Having seen Edinburgh favourites like We Are Klang struggle with the telly, would you ever consider your own sketch/poetry show?
I’d always consider that. I’m constantly standing back and looking at my live stuff and trying to work out what it is. Whether it could work on Telly. What I’d have to lose, what I’d have to add in, how much money I would stand to make, whether I would sing my own theme tune.
Tims final round sees him emit a yelp and spill his coke a bit as he achieves a spare. It seems to be a career best for the young poet. After a victory lap and a high five with the manager of Burger King I manage to sit him back down.
How do you deal with your burgeoning fame while ‘on the street’, signing peoples appendages and being accosted and whatnot. Is this what you imagined?
More or less. Sometimes you have to be quite demanding about the appendage-signing. There are people who want your signature on a bit of paper or in a book. At that point you just have to be strict, and sometimes actually physically wrestle their appendages out and onto a desk so you can do a proper autograph.
You famously won a fringe comedy award back in the day with a Cambridge footlights show that you should never have been a part of, not being at the university an’ all. A bit of a theme for this issue is ‘strapping on a pair’ and that clearly worked for you. Any regrets or would you encourage future stars to do the same?
No, no regrets. I think if you’ve got a pair then occasionally I think you have to strap them on or you’ll get nowhere. I know for a fact if I hadn’t strapped mine on I would have ended up doing one piece of amateur dramatics before moving to Eastern Europe and trying to find work teaching lawyers before marrying some poor lamb in Kiev. It doesn’t sound that bad now I think about it. Maybe there’s still time.
Go on, write us a poem mate. Just a little one.
I’m not very good at writing poems on command. I once wrote one to a girl but that’s because I’d promised her one if she let me touch her hair.
Fair enough. Thanks for all the words and the wonderful game Tim.
No worries. It broke up my morning nicely.
Tim zips up and polishes off his diet coke, seemingly satisfied with a job well done. You can visit his website at www.timkey.co.uk or follow him on twitter at @timkeyperson.
This article was originally posted in ShellsuitZombie magazine issue 4 in June 2013, which you can see here.
At the time (mid 2013) he was pretty famous but last week I saw him on ITV’s Saturday Morning Kitchen, so worldwide superstardom is surely only a half step away.