Features Q&A and Interviews Published 10 March 2014

King Slut

Award-winning writer, actor and poet Tim Key has in recent months performed opposite Daniel Kitson in two-hander Tree and unnerved audiences in the opening episode of the BBC's Inside No. 9. He's performing his new show, Single White Slut - developed as a 'work-in-slutgress' at last year's Edinburgh Fringe - at the Arcola throughout March.
Dan Hutton

Who is the Single White Slut?

Well, I think because it’s a one-man show, and because it says it next a big photo of me on the poster then it feels like it might be me. But I don’t think it is really. I’m more of a single white guy. But these days, my shows all have the word slut in there as a result of an unfortunate piece of accidental psuedo-branding that happened seven years ago. I just try and cope with it as best I can.

My first poetry recital was called The Slut In The Hut. I think because Slut rhymed with Hut and because the venue I was performing in (in Edinburgh) was called The Hut. My second show was then called The Slutcracker and after that all bets were off. I don’t mind it. I have a begrudging affection for these titles. My brother enjoys suggesting new ones. Utterly Slutterly came very close. That was his. My mum got involved once.  The Slut Whisperer. God knows why I didn’t use that. It’s magical.

When did you discover you could write poetry and say it in a funny way?

I started writing poetry maybe nine years ago but never showed anyone. I just scribbled them down in private on the tube and then, when they were done, I shoved them in a hole and wept. Then I got asked to do a stand-up gig. I didn’t like the sound of that (I had done that before and it had gone badly) so I said I’d read out some of these “poems”. Read ‘em out, the audience were very generous. And then I developed it into what would become my “act”. It’s a peculiar thing. People talk about finding your “voice”. Mine was destined, it seems, to involve reading out poems. Don’t mind it though.

Some critics might even say what you do isn’t ‘real’ poetry. What would you say to those critics?

Why would they say that? It’s very hurtful. I’m trying my hardest.

How do you define your shows – theatre, comedy, poetry, or a mix of all three? And does that affect your approach?

It’s difficult to talk about your own stuff without sounding like a bit of a cunt, but yes, I like to include all of the above. It kind of swings back and forth in terms of how much there is of each. I think in my first show there was a fair dollop of each, but maybe more poems on balance. These days there’s still a lot of poems, they’re still the framework, but there’s longer bits in between where there are none. At one stage I think I looked at it as the poems being a kind of a safety net. Once I was confident enough to do without them I would throw them down and flourish. But now I’m more relaxed about that. I like having the poems. I think they’re here to stay.

Do you find surrealism and absurdism useful tools for understanding and critiquing the world?

Mm. Not for understanding it. For coping with it.

You said a couple of years back that you haven’t had a good idea since 2009. Does that still stand?

Ha ha. I was probably having a bit of fun with the interviewer. I’m full of ideas.

How would you sell your show to the man on the street?

Well it’s not really for me to say. I mean I enjoy my stuff, but I’m kind of the target audience. I’d like this guy to go, but if he’s a bit worried about it, or wants to do something different, then it’s probably fine for him to leave it.

Tim Key’s Single White Slut is at the Arcola Tent, London, from 10th – 29th March 2014.

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Dan Hutton

Dan is a freelance critic and theatre-maker. He won the Howard Hobson Award for Theatre Criticism at NSDF in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and in 2013 was the runner-up for the Edinburgh Fringe Allen Wright Award for Arts Journalism. Dan is also a director and co-runs Barrel Organ Theatre.

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