Tim Minchin live review – sort of

Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Thoughts | 9 comments

Last night after some great pizza and wine, Hayley, her sister and I went to see Tim Minchin perform live at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda. It was great, by all accounts even if the only tickets I could get were in the upper, upper, upper, upper mezzanine, in row AA. I learned that the dress circle is not as glamourous as it sounds. The sound was a little lost by the time it had gone past fifty  rows of heads, and the air conditioning in the old building seemed to be non-existent. From our viewpoint Tim was a tiny dot on stage, but he was accompanied by the 57 piece Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, so he had no problem projecting his presence onto all of the 2800 people in attendance.

His songs varied from scathing attacks on the Pope, to his closing number, the favoured and tear-jerkingly sentimental piece about Christmas, “White Wine In The Sun”. His repertoire is wide ranging, but one of his favoured topics is one of organised religion and the role it has played in society, both historically and in the present day. Ha also launched into a song in which he omitted words on the first playing (he said his lyrics were partially covered), and which appeared to be a tirade of hate-speak against just about any minority or group you’d care to mention (such as “I really hate Jews. I really hate black people”). On second playing the lyrics revealed that the omitted words justified the dislike of certain people and their actions. At the end of this song, what appeared to be a quite drunken woman stood up and walked up to the stage saying things like “I can’t believe you, I’m so offended! Tim, but you have children!” While the woman was escorted from the, Tim , though a tad flustered and self aware, continued on is merry way, deriding the evil that is the institution of the Papacy, singing about cheese and red hair. Each song had its own brilliance to it, and Tim is an extraordinarily talented player. The highlight of the gig for me was his piece “Thank you God for fixing the cataracts of Sam’s Mum”, in which he juxtaposes the unlikelihood of a specific Church praying in a specific way at a specific time in to a specific god about a specific condition in a specific person being healed, rather than helping fix the masses of starving and impoverished in the world. Yes, thank you God.

One thing that stayed with me though, which I will explore here.

During the second act, Tim did a sketch piece where he was questioning what it is in people that makes them revere any holy books, be it The Koran, The Bible, The Hadith, comparing them to a Harry Potter novel. He premised it by talking  “that fuckwit” (his words) Pastor Terry Jones who I’ve spoken about before. If you don’t remember, he was the one who was threatening to burn copies of The Koran on the anniversary of 9/11, for no reason other than he thought it’s what God would want him to do.

His point was, according to him, that he was objecting to people telling him what to think or hold as sacred. That was his main point during this skit. Unfortunately I heard some people saying that THEY (the audience) objected to HIM preaching to them about what he thinks THEY should think. (Still with me?) The irony of this hit me like a brick, and it made me wonder. If anyone out there is a true freethinker, then they by definition should not be telling others how they see the world, right? Otherwise it’s just preaching, something which most freethinkers would object to. I’m not sure whether it’s because I read and hear a lot of freethinking books etc. that maybe I’m a bit desensitised to it, but I got his point straight away. Others thought he was being preachy.

The main point I want to make, or rather the main question I want to ask is this; “Can we assert our positions on the universe and existence without coming across as a know-it-all preacher? Will there always be room for alternate interpretations, even if what we are saying is essentially true?”

All in all though, the gig was sensational, and I can;t think of a better way to spend the last weekend of my 38th year than to go be a heathen amongst heathens, and have a good old chuckle while I’m at it. If you get a chance to see Tim Minchin perform, I’d highly recommend it.

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  1. It was wonderful show! We were marginally closer to the stage in Row V in the Dress Circle. My son forgot his glasses so he saw a very blurry and tiny Tim Minchin. It’s not called being in The Gods for nothing, which is rather ironic considering the performer :)
    I didn’t feel preached to at all. Wasn’t he saying that people have a right to hold their own things/beliefs sacred but that they have no right to foist their beliefs about sacredness on others? And that burning any book is wrong – as a librarian I have to agree with that! He was challenging the definition of the word sacred – it should be used in a personal context rather that a societal context.
    Re the woman in the muumuu – my 15 year old son said afterwards that she obviously hadn’t got the context of the song :)

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  2. I think it’s a bit rich going to a Tim Minchin concert and getting put out when he criticizes religion. It’s like going to Hillsong and being upset that Brian Houston is up on stage giving a sermon. I don’t see either as proselytising.

    In both cases, people have fair warning what to expect and if that’s not what they want to hear, no-one is making them go. It is when either philosophy is sprung upon the unwilling (or the immature) that it is an issue. It’s the relative who just won’t let it drop, it’s the chaplain who’s constantly looking for an excuse to talk to the non-converted, it’s the atheist who goes onto Christian websites and berates them. That’s proselytising.

    If you go to a Tim Minchin concert you know what to expect and he has every right to talk and sing about what he believes. If you find his views offensive, you have the right not to buy a ticket.

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  3. Nice post and review Marti, and an interesting question too. On balance I think it depends a lot on who is doing the asserting – anyone can sound like an conceited prick but I feel very strongly the speaker should not be held responsible for the perceptions of the listener. I’m gonna fall back on one of my tweets, “To those who don’t know much, one who knows much, sounds exactly like a know it all.”

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  4. I’m Jewish and didn’t find it offensive – nice irony going on though.

    I think it’s true that the woman was drunk, hence not getting the context. Which is more than I can say for my dad who also found it offensive and was not drunk. Or if she wasn’t drunk I guess she was on the same boat as him.

    Actually I didn’t think ‘Thank you God for fixing the cataracts of Sam’s Mum’ was the highlight – that was probably the most offensive of the songs. Yes I understood it doesn’t make sense that God would choose one specific case that’s far less severe than the starving children in Africa, but if Sam is actually a real person surely he’d be a bit offended.

    The highlight for me was ‘prejudice’ – being follically inclined to that colour myself I feel an affinity towards. Hope I kept that vague enough not to give away the punchline…

    And yeah it was a great show – he’s a very talented entertainer.

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  5. White Wine in the Sun is my favourite.

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  6. Some good points there. I often wonder myself whether I should hold my tongue and not sound preachy. But nah, can’t help myself. :)

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  7. I think the difference with Tim and other skeptics or atheists is that they tell tou you they believe which is OK BUT unlike the preachers they tell you to think for yourself and let everyone else be.
    I was asked why I hate Xtians (don’t really) but don’t bad mouth Buddhists?
    Well because a Buddhist isn’t shoveling their BS down my throat and trying to get their BS into common law which is something most Xtians do do!
    Preaching is not really bad but forcing it on others is disgusting.

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  8. Not at all actually!
    First of all, see the difference between holding things sacred and telling people how to think.
    What sacredness does is claiming ownership rights to things you do not own. Say someone else owns a piece of land, and wants to build something there. You object to that because it’s sacred ground. Then you claim the right to determine what gets built on that land even though you do not own it.
    Same with for example abortion. The claim is ‘every life is sacred’, and it gets then applied to the body of someone else. Now some part of this is correct. We have laws against murder. However a fertilized zygote is not protected by the law. Enter aforementioned sacredness.
    So holding things sacred outside of what is law is a no-go to me from the start. If you want to get a consensus for a new law based on what you think is sacred, go ahead. But before it’s a law, stop bothering other people about it.
    And then telling people what to think. To me, this in itself is not a problem. It depends on the way you are presenting your views. Say you tell people to think in a certain way or else they will be tortured for eternity. This is only ok if you have very good evidence of said torture. If not, then you’re a bullying scumbag.
    Or as alternative, tell people that you think a certain way and why you do that. Then say others should think so as well or else you’d like to know their reasons why they don’t. This is ok, even if there are people who then follow this blindly. Sure I’d like people to think through everything they believe. I’d also like a world of never ending happiness. I know I’m not going to get either.

    A freethinker is someone who gathered lots of information from different sources and compiled a worldview out of that. Should he be convinced this worldview is a better one that is commonly accepted, of course he can then start to preach.
    But even though he can give his sources, what he is preaching is mainly the result of freethinking. For anyone he is preaching to, he becomes just another source. It is dependent on the listener to gather more information from other sources to become a freethinker himself.
    And it is not even clear to me that he’d want everyone to be a freethinker all the time. Sure, you’d want to have an amount of people who regularly check more than one source for the things they believe. But I think it’s simply impossible to have the whole population do that. And we already have lots of problems with people trying to freethink, making errors in it, posting their results and polluting the searchresults for everyone else. This is the antivax movement for instance.

    So conclusion: I want to see freethinkers preaching their worldviews, complete with how and why they got to that view. And I don’t mind people blindly following the freethinkers. So what is the difference between a freethinker and a pastor terry jones? I can follow the freethinkers line of thought without coming to a stop amidst logical fallacies. Note that I don’t expect not to find one or two of them. But I expect a freethinker to be open to discussion and present the best view he has come to so far.

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  9. If you want to get a consensus for a new law based on what you think is sacred, go ahead. But before it’s a law, stop bothering other people about it.

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