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Tim Key, the superstar standup poet, on fishcakes, Footlights and the fringe

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Tim Key was a standup going nowhere fast until one day he took out a notepad and poetry spilled out of him. Now he’s one of the hottest comics around. As his show Work in Slutgress hits Edinburgh, he talks about fooling Footlights, dying on stage – and the power of late-night fishcakes.

• Plus, below, four new Tim Key poems and a footnote

No sooner have I arrived at Tim Key’s house than he’s gone. The actor, comedian and poet has to pop out to get milk and Jaffa Cakes, leaving me alone amid all his clutter. There’s a backscratcher on his kitchen counter, tangled up with headphones; a discarded script, partially burnt, on a windowsill; and a gym hula-hoop hanging in his office, among Post-its scrawled with words like “fusspot”, “barbara” and “35 friends babysitting”. Then there’s the Athena Tennis Girl poster in his living room, and the reindeer rug splayed across his bedroom floor. Most evocative, however, is the bathtub full of untouched water. The sign of a busy man. Or one who needs a wash.

Ten minutes later, he returns, and we sit on the balcony of his north London home, where he lives alone. Key explains that he was up till 3am, after previewing the show – Work in Slutgress – he is taking to Edinburgh. He spent the early hours eating fishcakes and watching Taskmaster, the new panel show on Dave in which Key, Frank Skinner, Roisin Conaty, Romesh Ranganathan and Josh Widdicombe perform such tasks as drawing a horse while riding one. “It was a lot of fun,” he says.

Related: Tim Key’s Late Night Poetry Programme review: ‘The atmosphere he creates is spellbinding’

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