Tim Minchin: “I’m aware I’m putting ideas into the world”

Comedian and actor Tim Minchin talks Hollywood dinner parties, GM foods - and the real enemy of science

Famous for his scalpel-like scepticism, Australian actor and comedian Tim Minchin, who also composed the hit West End adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, has added another line to his CV after becoming the hero of his own comic book. Storm is his glorious rant against irrationality, hypocrisy and faith – set around an after-dinner discussion that spirals out of control…

Do you see it as your job to deliver messages?

Any artist’s job is to look at the world and say something about it. Storm is a fairly preachy piece but the other side have preachers. I certainly take the responsibility of having an audience reasonably seriously. With every lyric I write I’m aware I’m putting ideas into the world.

Are people scared to talk to you at dinner parties in case you go off on another diatribe?

Certainly my wife tries to do everything she can to steer any conversation away from anything to do with science or religion. I think it’s obvious that Storm is a fantasy. It’s esprit de l’escalier which drives all comedians. All comedians are nerds getting up on stage saying things they wish they’d had the balls and the fleet-footedness to say in the moment. But in general, peace at dinner parties is much more important than having your say. I live now in LA where people don’t really know me so it’s nice.

But is not LA the centre of mumbo-jumbo beliefs?

In LA no one balks at the stuff I do criticising religious bigots – everyone’s so fucking left and liberal – but if you start talking about their sacred cows: the temple of the body, the nonsense of alternative medicine and vaccines… Funny I’d forgotten this, I was at dinner the other night sitting next to a very well-known American actress, who I won’t name. We got onto the vaccine thing. Conversations about pharmaceuticals are very complicated but I’m passionately anti-anti-vaxxers. LA is now the centre of the non-uptake of the MMR vaccines so we’re getting mumps outbreaks because very educated, wealthy people have been sold this idea that the real religion is the self and all you need to do is eat organic and have a cleanse.

This person was saying the vaccine schedule is just huge companies lobbying the government so they can sell their drugs. I mean, there is an element of financial pressure but it’s like GM foods, it’s just conspiracy. I regaled her with the fact that a huge study has just come out studying millions of animals and trillions of meals showing not a blip of health ramifications. People just can’t handle the idea that GM foods are actually fine. They just fucking are. Until there’s some data showing that they’re not, which there isn’t.

Is the internet to blame?

No matter what you believe you can find someone who agrees with you. The internet makes me so sad. The thing that makes it brilliant is democratised information but there is no authority. That’s meant to be the good thing, right? That the Encyclopaedia Britannica doesn’t get to have the final say on shit any more so you don’t have a patriarchal old white guy deciding what information is right or wrong – but what happens if no information is valued higher than any other, if ‘expert’ is always put in inverted commas? Science is meant to be a system by which we get rid of confirmation bias but the internet is like a confirmation bias-generating machine. If you think something, everything about the internet will help you think it harder. I don’t believe information is relative. There is good information and bad information, the hardest thing to do is figure out which is which.

You are working on a musical version of Groundhog Day. Is that not just the same song over and over?

It’s actually the opposite of that – that’s the key. We’ve done one workshop and I’ve got a couple more songs to write. It’s probably 18 months away from the stage.

Matilda has triumphed on the West End at a time many other high-profile productions have failed. What’s the secret?

It’s a very hard thing to get right. A lot of factors have to come together and you just don’t know if the audience is there. I personally think if you try to make a beautiful piece of work rather than try to make something that will sell tickets, if you fail then you’ve still made a beautiful piece of work.

Storm by Tim Minchin is published October 16 (Orion, £12.99)