How We Met: Chris Cox and Tim Minchin

'I get frustrated by how good he is, but it inspires me to do better'

Chris Cox, 28

A self-proclaimed mind-reader who can't read minds, Cox has been critically acclaimed for his live shows, which combine magic and comedy in equal measure. He lives in London

My big loves in life are comedy and musicals, and seeing Tim's first show during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2005, with that white piano on stage, ticked every box. I wanted to see everything he did.

From the beginning, his comedy felt like a magic trick. We even talk about how he constructs his songs like tricks; he saves bits to reveal later and just when you think you know what's coming, you get something different. I remember meeting Tim for a coffee during the Ealing Comedy Festival a few years ago. He was preparing for a gig and he played me his song "Prejudice" for the first time, and when that punch-line hit [the song revels in the lines, "A couple of Gs, an R and an E, an I and an N/ Just six little letters all jumbled together have caused damage that we may never mend" before Minchin reveals that he is singing about people with ginger hair], I spat out my drink all over the table. It was exactly the reaction I look to get with my tricks, and after hearing that song I went home and rewrote my latest trick, to give it that effect. I get frustrated by how good he is, but it inspires me to do better.

When he got the gig writing [the stage show] Matilda, we started going to see other shows together, and after each we would talk new ideas. We went to see [the musical] Billy Elliot together and at the interval we went for a drink at the bar when a guy came up and asked, "Do you know the score?" We both replied, in unison, "We're pretty sure it's Elton John's" and he went, "No, no, the football score!" Turns out it was the Champions' League Final that night and neither of us had any idea. I said to Tim, "OK, so in case anyone else asks, we watched the football together last night – we didn't see Billy Elliot."

We're very different as people, though: he wears way more make-up, doesn't wear shoes on stage. And he's much more of a perfectionist. We were in Vegas recently, where he was going to a comedy festival. I sat in on his soundcheck, as we were going to do lunch after, and it took him three hours – it was ridiculous.

Tim Minchin 36

After winning the Best Newcomer Perrier Award at his Edinburgh Fringe debut in 2005, the Australian comedian, musician, writer and actor gained a huge following with his blend of musical cabaret and most recently his adaptation of Roald Dahl's 'Matilda' as a musical. He lives in London

I can't put my finger on exactly how we met, as it was during Edinburgh several years ago – and like many moments there, it was one of the forgotten ones. But with Chris, once he decides he wants to be your friend, there's no going back.

He's a diplomatic genius; he seems to know everyone. I realised what a genius of social lubrication he is when we met up again in New York in 2007, where I was doing a series of gigs. He was friends with a load of models over there and before he returned to the UK he introduced them all to me. After each of my shows I'd have dinner with these tall, beautiful women, feeling like a rock star yet also knowing the only reason I knew them was this boy-magician who looked like a 12-year-old.

I constantly describe my comedy, rather pretentiously, as being like a magic trick; there's a long build-up towards the final reveal. So I love all his magic stuff – my heart soars when I watch his close-up work because I can't figure it out, though I would never ask him how he'd do it.

There aren't many David Copperfields around now, so live magic is mostly dismantled with comedy, which Chris is very good at. His magic connects us on a fundamental level, too. All performers understand how human psychology is vulnerable and unreliable. To be a magician you have to understand how easy people are to fool, so you can hardly be a magician these days without being an atheist, and as a matter of course we've both become critics of religion.

What's interesting about Chris, particularly as a straight man, is his love of musical theatre. I was in discussions about Matilda when he approached me about it; he seemed to know about it already, possibly through his telepathic abilities. He said, "I'm really good at getting free tickets, fancy going to see some other musicals?" So we went on a series of man-dates, and we'd analyse how other shows worked. After we'd seen, say, Sondheim's A Little Night Music, I'd feel overwhelmed by the task of writing a musical, but Chris was incredibly knowledgeable. And showing him my material, and getting his positive feedback, gave me a lot of confidence.

Tim Minchin is performing at festivals across the UK this summer; for details, see timminchin.com. Chris Cox will be performing his show Fatal Distraction at the Udderbelly Festival, London SE1, on 29 May and 19 June

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