What Tim Key does is hard to describe in a nutshell, as is often required in short introductions to interviews with people. He is a poet and a comedian, delivering short verse that somehow manages to be simultaneously mundane and larger than life. Currently touring his new show Single White Slut, alongside writing and planning […]

What Tim Key does is hard to describe in a nutshell, as is often required in short introductions to interviews with people. He is a poet and a comedian, delivering short verse that somehow manages to be simultaneously mundane and larger than life. Currently touring his new show Single White Slut, alongside writing and planning the new series of Late Night Poetry for Radio 4 with his friend and adversary Lord, Tim came to Sheffield at the end of September. We spoke beforehand.

How do you describe what you do to strangers?

Well, poetry, certainly. Then a bit of shouting – if we’re talking about my live show – then a bit of chatting to some audience members. In my one I also have a large bed which is plonked next to me and just sort of sits there. But then it kind of comes into its own after about half an hour. Not as in I go and have a sleep. I mean something happens. But I won’t go into that, because there’s an element of surprise also at play.

Tell us about the new show. Who is the Single White Slut of the title?

Yes. Interesting. I don’t know. I guess it’s me, or the incarnation of me at the centre of my show. But it’s misleading. That guy is a very misfiring Single White Slut. In an ideal world I think he’d be talking about ‘conquests’. In the end he has to make do with recounting ‘failures’. But he’s okay with it I think. He keeps his chin up.

How has Sarah Dowling been involved?

Well, that would be telling. She’s a choreographer and I very much enjoyed working with her. That’s all I’m saying about Sarah Dowling.

I get the impression you’re quite prolific. What percentage of your writing makes it into your shows and what happens to the rest?

[Laughs] Yup, that’s very insightful. I have quite a disposable writing process. I write poems all the time and then try most of them on stage or on Instagram or somewhere. I have a remarkable tolerance for them, but I know some are better than others. So I probably chose 10-15 for this show out of hundreds of possibilities. Theoretically this means they are the cream, but I doubt that’s the case. It’s fairly arbitrary. These ones have just been lucky to survive. The others collect dust in a humungous file on my computer and in little notebooks dotted around my flat.

You came to uni in Sheffield. How did you spend your time up here? Did Sheffield inspire you, poetically?

I loved Sheffield, yes. I was a very hard-working little boy, plunging myself into my studies. I took Russian, so it was a bit too difficult and I had to drink coffee way into the night and learn how to say things in Russian. I did some plays when I was up there though, and played some low-level football at Goodwin. In terms of inspiration, I wasn’t writing then but I’m sure the damp beauty of Sheffield and its environs was all being logged somewhere, and now drives me on.

How genuine is your rivalry with Lord? And what’s the story behind his nickname?

Mm. No, not very genuine. If it was I’d be in a bit of trouble. He is wildly successful. He has a wife and keeps getting nominated for BAFTAs. If I didn’t like him, I’d hate him. The Lord nickname has two origins: (1) he used to be my landlord, which is neat but it wasn’t really the reason, and (2) he once claimed he had a lift in his family home, which is the reason but which isn’t very neat because it’s confusing.

Will there be more Late Night Poetry Shows? Do you have any themes planned out yet?

Yes there will. I’m writing them now. Themes this year will include space, sleep and potentially dating. I love writing them. I am fortunate to have Lord on tap, so can make his character into a right plonker. But he usually wins anyway. I think we’re recording them in the new year.

How has your style of performance and delivery has changed over the years?

It definitely has somehow. I think when I started doing it I was more of a character type thing. I played it drunk and kind of staggered about wearing an ill-fitting suit covered in Grolsch. When I did my second show, Lord’s wife said she liked it more when I was more charming. And that’s the way it went then. He’s more like a normal person (but a dangerous one). It means I can get away with talking about sordid stuff I think.

What’s the best way to overcome writer’s block?

For me, writing horseshit little poems. I know they won’t see the light of day, so I can just knock them out until they become funny to me again. The other way is probably just to leave it for a bit. Go and have a run or a walk or stand still, but nowhere near your work.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write loads. All that stuff about 10,000 hours is really true I think. The more you do it, the more you work out what works for you. Hopefully aspiring writers like to write though. It’s hard to do it when it feels like a slog. The best stuff comes when you’re enjoying writing it. That might be all wrong. But it feels like maybe it’s not.

Sam Walby