Tim Key: I wouldn't say I've travelled the world to listen to karaoke, but...


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The Independent Online

My God. I love karaoke. Not doing it, obviously. But watching it. Or, more accurately, listening to it. I'm in the thrall of some now. Sat by a temple, in a deckchair, guzzling Perrier and beholding some real grade-A stuff. The sun's beating down, the air is full to the brim of amateur vocals and I am a pig in shit.

I'm in Taiwan and this is one serious karaoke session.

Today, my friend Nuggets and I have hired bikes to have a snoop around a lake. We dined on Taiwanese pasta on a jetty and we were just riding back round to the cycle shop when this curious warbling drifted into our path. As if hypnotised by Taiwanese sirens we found ourselves locking our bikes and walking hand-in-hand to the source of these glorious notes. And now here we are, watching a Taiwanese man in a Hawaiian shirt pumping out Chinese songs like his life depends on it. It's 3pm for heaven's sake. And he's performing with the energy and commitment of a young Mick Hucknall.

I've always loved karaoke. Especially abroad. I wouldn't say I've travelled the world to listen to it. But I certainly have found that it's whilst travelling that I've enjoyed it most. Maybe it's because in England it's too closely associated with drunkenness and there's slightly too high a risk that I'll join in. I know I shouldn't sing, but sometimes karaoke can be a bit overwhelming and I find myself up there and the whole thing's ruined. I'm the same with dancing and cooking, I know I shouldn't do them, but sometimes I'm at a wedding or I'm in my kitchen and BANG! It's happening. I know I have that in me with karaoke. I once sang "All That She Wants (Is Another Baby)" in Newquay.

The Hawaiian shirt has already asked us if we want to sing. It felt fairly easy to say no. I don't understand Chinese characters and I couldn't even explain that to him, so the chances of me getting through their equivalent of "My Way" must be ever so slim. And so we watch.

We order a couple of beers and we watch. We're at the bottom of a totally whacko temple, and the sun's bouncing off that so the whole thing feels magical. It's like the 1992 Olympic diving, when they popped it outside, with a load of Barcelona behind it. Iconic. And in years to come, when I think about karaoke, it will be this session I think about. We've been here about 45 minutes now. Nuggets is filming bits of it for his travelogue. Catching snatches of elderly folk flicking through song bibles, middle-aged men, on their way home from work, belting one out before their tea; a spicy gentleman dressed in green and drinking juice through a straw, dancing like a madman. And, at its epicentre, the Hawaiian. Bossing it.

The song bible's been passed to us again and there's a bit more enthusiasm for us to get up and give it a go. It looks impenetrable though. It would be complete guesswork. Nuggets is saying the same. If anything he looks less likely to crack than me. I leaf through.

I do sometimes think that, with belief, anything can be achieved. Especially on holiday. I once ate monkey brain for a dare and another time, in France, I jumped from a high rock into a river. Mind over matter. I wonder whether, with the right attitude, I could maybe do a passable rendition of one of the more simple Taiwanese anthems. Mmm…

The Hawaian shirt's a born performer. He's gesturing from the stage now. Trying to whip the other Taiwanese guys into a frenzy, get some momentum. He really wants us to get up and sing. Nuggets rules himself out again. But I'm up. Who cares? I drain my beer and make my way to the stage. It's a language barrier, not a language wall. I can hop over. This'll be fine.

Tim Key will be performing 'Single White Slut' at the Edinburgh Fringe, Aug 13-25