This is currently my favourite bus shelter poster advertisement. “What’s your favourite colour?” it asks, with a row of, let’s face it, wussy-coloured Nissan Micras depicted. The word ‘Micra’ is in aqua; the first Micra is that colour. The next is a kind of pink that I guess would be somewhere between mauve and what apparently is called ‘opera mauve’, followed by an even wussier shade that seems to be between grey and light mauve. Only the blue and red cars exist in strong colours. And what a shade of red. It’s lipstick red.
So what’s this ad actually communicating?
Is it saying, ‘our cars come in great colours to mix and match with your accessories; just like make-up’? Maybe it’s an attempt to make a pissy little car seem trendy.
But the pissy little car is a positive feature, in this modern, globally warming world in dire need of reduced carbon footprints. I assume they’re pissy little cars – the model name is ‘Micra’, after all. Like ‘Micro’, only more effeminate.
So is this a chick’s car? Is that why it’s being advertised as lipstick?
Well yes, that’s probably part of it. But look at the shade of lipstick: it’s a hot, provocative shade. As if to say, it might be a little car, it might be a sensible car, but it’s not a ‘girl-next-door’ car. It’s a ‘racy’ car; it’s a ‘saucy’ car; a ‘sexy’ car that ‘goes off like a firecracker’; a car that ‘bangs like a dunny door in a windstorm’. Or words to that effect.
But there’s another layer to this ad.
Sports cars have long been looked upon as phallic symbols, penis substitutes…. There’s always been that connection between ‘fast women and hot cars’. And there’s no mistaking the lipstick as a phallic symbol in this ad.
So what if you are an environmentally aware male driver, opting for a smaller car? Or a driver who can’t afford or can’t handle a bigger, stronger, environmentally inconsiderate car? This is what the ad is saying to you:
“There’s no need to feel totally emasculated by having a tiny dick-car. Your car is still phallic because it equals lipstick. So, even if you’re so clever that you can no longer kid yourself about the big dick-car’s damage to the earth, or that your car will get you laid, even if you won’t be burning much rubber (so to speak) this heremicrapenis car will still get you the odd spot of… lip service….”
My friend Cristina writes, “This is definitely a chick car – one of its major selling points is
that it has a spare shoe compartment under the passenger seat…”. Since I don’t actually drive, I don’t know stuff like that exists. Instead, I get annoyed by stupid posters at bus stops.
I awoke to news that Oasis are almost definitely maybe splitting
up. Again. I haven’t bought an album of theirs in ages, but for a time
they were my favourite band. Although, to hear they may be calling it a day…
or not… doesn’t upset me at all – even though I was a mad fan back in the day.
I remember anticipating
each release – sneaking out of the office for an extended lunch break
to pick up a newly arrived copy of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
(on the same day, if I’m to be honest, as Blur’sThe Great Escape – which came with a
t-shirt!)… buying a second copy of …Morning Glory? a year later because,
for whatever reason, Sony’s latest supply were Japanese picture disc pressings… blowing entire pay packets on boxed sets of singles… securing
copies of my favourite mags with additional glee when the sparring
brothers Gallagher were appearing on the cover again.
Part of the attraction of Oasis was that they were clearly kids who liked the Beatles and who wanted to grow up to be rock stars, and then did. Beatles references abound in their music, and Noel Gallagher has said, “If you’re not in it to be bigger than the Beatles, it’s just a hobby”. Maybe I did only like them because they were the world’s most successful tribute band… the point at which their hobby intersects with my hobby.
I stopped listening pretty much after Be Here Now (which shares its
title with a solo period George Harrison song, by the way – itself inspired, most likely, by a book about spirituality). I don’t
know if I’ve even listened all the way through that album. I did like
the collection of B-sides, The Masterplan. I persevered with the
singles for a while longer – ‘Lyla’ was my last one – picking up the odd album secondhand or in those
ten-dollar shops that sprang up, helped cripple retail stores, and then
disappeared again when migration to downloading well and truly killed
all but the strongest retailers.
So, yesterday (or a few hours ago? It’s Saturday morning in Australia as I write this, so it’s still Friday night in the UK…) their website carried an announcement from Noel Gallagher:
“It’s with some sadness and great relief to tell you that I quit Oasis
tonight. People will write and say what they like, but I simply could
not go on working with Liam a day longer.
“Apologies to all the people who bought tickets for the shows in Paris, Konstanz and Milan.”
This contradicts his wife, former All Saints singer Natalie Appleton’s statement from the day before, insisting “Oasis will die before they split up”. That was no doubt damage control following rumours of a split, after the band cancelled their headline gig at V Festival Chelmsfordthe previous week due to Liam’s ‘illness’. “The rumours are absolute rubbish,” Appleton insisted.
“Even in his sick bed, Liam was vowing to get back on stage.”
Liam had himself gone into damage control a couple of days earlier on the official Oasis website:
“The voice may of disappeared but I'm still here.1st things first V
I’m gutted your gutted, I’m sorry what can I say f*ck all at the moment.
“Secondly, respect to those bands who covered Oasis last night, even though I might of given some of you shit in the past...
“Finally reports in smartarses column about Oasis last british gig
ever. The kids talking out his arse, I mean rkids, bware of darkness.
There can be no Oasis without that two-headed beast, the brothers united. Surely any attempt to carry on will result in Faux-asis. Although – with Noel’s departure comes a vacancy for a vocalist and guitarist. While Zak ‘son of Ringo’ Starkey recently vacated a drum seat, perhaps ‘not-quite-Beatles’ cred may be regained by recruiting Dhani ‘son of George’ Harrison in Noel’s place. Considering all the comings and goings of band members over the years, this is the opportunity to take the hobby tribute band one step closer…
Yet, whatever happens, I realise I’m not really going to miss Oasis. What I mourn most, now, is the passing of my cashed-up
20s, when I not only wanted to own every release and see every gig by
every band I loved, but could actually afford the financial outlay to
(The fantastic caricature is the work of Nick O’Sullivan – who,
incidentally, is also responsible for the ‘Stand & Deliver!’ logo.)
I had the pleasure chatting to Eddy Brimson early into his two-week run at the Comedy Store, and had put a truncated Q&A up on a page that now just directs traffic. Here’s the story in full.
“My father gave me two bits of advice,” Eddy Brimson
informs me. “One: Don’t work for anybody else. And two: If a woman says
‘no’, she means ‘no’. However, if you’re both naked just tell her
you’re an orphan and start crying. They’re the only two bits of advice
he ever gave me and they’ve both stood me in very good stead over the
years. The second one got me laid more times than I ever deserved to
Hearing Papa Brimson’s advice in Eddy’s cockney
accent – reminiscent of Michael Caine’s “work a fiddle; don’t be greedy”
advice in Alfie – is making for an excellent afternoon of
conversation, and I’m not in the least bit surprised. I was, somewhat,
when I first met Eddy Brimson, having only just seen him live for the
first time. Because onstage, bald pate and ‘do what you muppet I’ll cut
ya’ cockney geezer accent, coupled with the publicity info that he is a
‘former football hooligan’, you can’t help considering him a bit of a Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels-type
villain. Intelligent and uncompromising, Brimson is a loud, shouty,
brash lad on stage. But he’s hilarious, even at his most shocking.
Initially, you expect jokes to stand over you and demand laughter with
menaces. Instead, laughter flows effortlessly because each story has
you seeing the world through his eyes. But he’s less boisterous in real
life if you meet him backstage after a performance, his eyes shining as
a truly sweet, soft-spoken and sincere bloke shakes your hand with both
of his. You can’t help but wonder how he was ever a football hooligan.
“People always say the same thing,” Eddy confesses: “‘You’re a totally
different person offstage to what you are onstage.’”
“football stuff” was just “normal, angry young lad” behaviour from a
long time ago, he insists. “I was a bit of an idiot, as most people are
at that age. I’ve calmed down a lot since then. I’m a lot more soft
spoken. I’m quite shy in a lot of ways.” Yeah. So. How was this man
ever a football hooligan? Well, Eddy’s been lots of things: graphic
designer, publicist for an anti-fox hunting collective, actor,
television presenter, major suspect in a terrorism investigation. And
with all that under his belt, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s also
Soccer to ’em
“I usually get very
bored, so I ended up writing seven books – four with my brother,
and then three on my own about following England abroad – not about the
football, but about the fans, because any sports fan will tell you:
it’s not just about the game, it’s about everything that goes on with
it.” However, as good as being a sports fan can be – going to brilliant
places, being in great situations, having great fun – Eddy still
managed to burn himself out and need a change of career. “I’m one of
these guys who can’t work for anybody else,” he says, in keeping with
his father’s advice.
Growing up watching football from the
late ’70s, Eddy was in the thick of it in the late ’70s and early ’80s
when being into football in England was very different to what it is
now. There was a lot of “trouble”, which he likens to the ‘mods versus
rockers’ clashes of the early ’60s youth subcultures: “lads” needing to
join gangs, flex muscles and discover manhood. “Young lads like to
belong to something so it’s very easy to get drawn into that kind of
thing. And when you’re a lad, it’s exciting.” But it got stupid when
people started carrying knives. And then there were tragedies at Heysel
(39 dead, over 600 injured after Liverpool supporters attacked Juventus
supporters) and Hillsborough (96 dead, 766 injured from a human crush
as too many fans tried to fit in too small a space).
wasn’t to do with football violence, as such, but it kind of made
people sit up and we felt at the time that something needed to be done,
because they didn’t really understand the problem,” Eddy says. “There
was a stereotypical image of what a football fan or a football hooligan
was like and the reality of it was very different. I had my own
business doing graphic design, and my brother, who was also involved in
it, was a sergeant in the RAF. People who got involved in it weren’t
Eddy and brother Dougie not only learnt from their experiences of hooliganism, they wrote books about them. Their first effort, Everywhere We Go,
“blew the lid on what football is really about in the UK,” outlining
just how organised football violence was. They also suggested ways in
which the violence could be brought to an end. “Most of the stuff we
suggested has been implemented,” Eddy reports. “We had meetings with
people high up and said what would have stopped us, and it worked.”
Eddy’s later solo efforts – books like Tear Gas And Ticket Touts and God Save The Team
– were tour diaries of his following England abroad. “They’re funny,
because following football is funny. That’s why blokes do it: to have a
laugh.” Literary success led Eddy to the telly, with the documentary Teargas and Tantrums.
“The media have their own agendas before they set out,” he insists, so
he took the opportunity of 1998 World Cup final in France to tell the
real story. It became a top-selling release and led to other
TV-presenting gigs. By this stage, Eddy had also established himself as
an actor, having played a Hare Krishna devotee in Alas Smith And Jones and a proper scary villain on EastEnders with sundry appearances in Absolutely Fabulous, The Thin Blue Line, Hale & Pace, The Bill and Silent Witness.
Although he scoffs at the term ‘actor’. “I’ve only ever played three
things: a thug, a gay guy or a Hare Krishna,” Eddy begins, anticipating
my next foolish question: “Not all three at the same time!”
made a promise to himself early on: “As soon as someone says, ‘you’ve
got a bald patch at the back,’ it’s coming off.” And so it did. It was
the late ’80s and Eddy was 23 when he started shaving his head, “before
Right Said Fred and all that malarky”. At that time, hardly anyone had
a shaved head. So when Eddy, a martial arts enthusiast, started getting
work as an extra, baldness and fitness set him up for thuggery, fight
scenes and subsequent typecasting. But before the roles grew in
significance to the point where he’d actually consider calling himself
an actor, Eddy got bored with it, and with presenting. And then, he
says, “stand-up comedy came around – by mistake.”
Gotta be joking
never in a million years thought I would be a stand-up comedian,” Eddy
Brimson insists. “I’m not actually a genuinely funny guy.” I beg to
differ, but I’m willing to hear him out. Brimson reckons when he told
his mates he was gonna do stand-up, their response was, “Ed, you ain’t
funny!” Even when he’d gotten good enough to invite his martial arts
dojo to come watch, the response of the dojo master was, “I’ve seen
Eddy before and he’s nothing like the person you see in here; he’s
actually funny onstage”. Anyone who actually does it will tell you:
being a stand-up comic is very different to being the funny guy down at
the pub. Eddy Brimson knows this. But he’s not afraid of an audience –
as a former musician (bass player with The Morgans, one of the many
mid-’90s English indie ‘bands most likely to’) he’d had a lot of stage
experience. And Eddy’s dad was a folk-singer who kept company with the
likes of Jasper Carrott and Billy Connolly, so Eddy had been able to
pick up the finer points of telling a good story and imbuing
between-song patter with gags. Still, he insists, he’s not a naturally
funny guy. “I’ve got some very, very funny mates. When we’re in the
pub, they’re the ones telling the stories. I’m listening.” And yet, a
situation arose that get him interested enough to consider it:
“Caroline, a friend of mine, had a leaflet she picked up at a local
arts centre for a comedy course. One day in the pub, she said, ‘Oh, you
think you’re funny!’ and gave it to me as a joke. And I thought, ‘I’ll
take that!’ and slipped it into my back pocket, and managed to get onto
The comedy course, taught by a ‘resting’ stand-up,
essentially demonstrated a process and discipline to create humour out
of everyday life. “It taught me to sit down and start scripting comedy,
to get the most out of the situation – which is why I like to do
stories rather than ‘gag, gag, gag’.” Lesson one was “write down ten
topics that you find funny, whatever they are – farting, old people,
kids – and then just write down why they’re funny.” Lesson two was “now
stand up in front of the other ten people in the class and tell them.”
That was the turning point: “actually being up there”. That’s how
stand-up comedy is essentially different to “being funny with your
mates in the pub”: being able to make strangers laugh. “When they’re
not your mates, they might not get it”.
At the end of the
course, the class performed before an audience of family and friends.
“We all did a five-minute slot and it went really well. All of a sudden
I’m the new King of Comedy: go out and do some more gigs.” Many who’ve
actually done it will tell you – if they’re honest – the first gig is
usually successful. You get through on fear and adrenalin. The
audience, reminded by the MC that it’s the comic’s ‘first time’, go
easy on you. You cane it, and you’re over the moon. Quite possibly, you
convince yourself it’s a doddle and you relax before your next gig.
Which is when you’re brought back down to earth. That’s certainly how
it happened for Eddy. “Second gig, in a little pub in Islington in
London, audience of eight people, four of them with their back to you,
not caring at all. I totally died in the arse.”
give up at this point. Not Eddy. He was adamant that he had to prove to
himself that he could make people he didn’t know laugh. And he did.
“And then once it gets hold of you, that’s it. You’ve had it.”
(In)famous for 15 minutes
“You’ve had it,” I assume Eddy means he’s utterly addicted to the
‘high’ of having an audience laugh at things you’re saying to them.
It’s pretty addictive. But no, that’s not the case for Eddy. “This is
quite a weird one for me,” he confesses, “because I don’t think I see
it in the same way as most people. It’s a fantastic feeling, but for me
it’s more a relief feeling that I’ve done what these people have paid
to come and see. Don’t get me wrong – it’s the best thing I’ve ever
done. I was driving around this morning, thinking, ‘This is mental: I’m
on the other side of the world talking to people and I’m getting paid.’
This is how I earn my living. I still don’t understand how that
I reckon it’s from the years of football
hooliganism – the ‘rush’ of surging energy of crowds united with a
common mindset – that diminishes the buzz of live performance. And
perhaps the addictive aspect of performing, for Eddy, is more like the
addictive aspect of, say, carnival rides like the rollercoaster: it is
truly scary, and what people who ‘enjoy’ those rides actually ‘enjoy’
is the cessation of fear. They are addicted to having survived it.
Because Eddy admits to having nerves before every performance: “I pace
up and down and, without being too crass about it, go to the toilet
quite a bit before a gig. It really scares me!” But he won’t relax
during a performance, even if, he says, he knows he’s “got the crowd by
the nuts”. Instead, he’s every vigilant because the gig “could go
tits-up at any moment”. It’s only after he’s come off stage that he can
heave a sigh of relief, relax, and have a drink.
matter how nervous beforehand, no matter how horrible the gig during,
Eddy Brimson will deliver. He proved this not just to himself by
enduring the most horrible gig he’s ever had, at the most significant
point of his career. It was in front of 360 people at a big club in
England. The MC had just announced him. He came on stage. “I hadn’t
even got to the mic and someone shouted out, ‘You’re gonna be shit!’”
Somehow, the entire audience like the sound of this and managed to
reach consensus in next to no time at all joining in with the chant. “I
hadn’t even started,” Eddy says, “and I had to stay up there for 15
minutes cos I thought, ‘I can’t walk off; I’ll never get a gig with
that promoter’.” After he’d finished his set, Eddy walked straight out
The gig was for one of the Jongleurs venues –
Jongleurs being a chain of comedy clubs that still thrives in Britain.
At the time, they were also a management company. So of course there
were Very Important People in the audience. And Eddy wanted to impress
them. Instead he clung tenaciously while an audience hated him for a
quarter of an hour that seemed to last an eternity. “That’s a big kick
in the nuts for the career before it’s even started,” Eddy says. “I
thought, ‘I’m never gonna work for them again, ever’.” Two weeks later,
they called him into a meeting and said, “we’ve seen you; we know
you’ve got potential and jokes, but if you can stay up for 15 minutes
in front of that, then you’ve got the balls to go with it. We’d like to
“That was it,” Eddy smiles. “Career take-off.”
Shock of the nude
Jongleurs gig might have been the most horrible, but it wasn’t the
scariest gig Eddy’s ever faced. Surprisingly – given the man’s
pre-performance nerves – Eddy’s most challenging gig, instigated by a
group from Boston at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, was a
performance undertaken “stark bollock naked,” according to Brimson.
Eddy was in Edinburgh doing his own show, but this mob were inviting
different performers to take part in their showcase-type revue. “They
were struggling to get people to do it, for obvious reasons.” That Eddy
was willing to bare all before a Guilded Balloon audience of 260 people
“surprised an awful lot of people”, but his thinking was, “if I can do
this, I can do anything”.
So how did it turn out? “None of
them were naked,” Eddy says, a little disappointed to discover the
female performers not only wore clown wigs, they also hid their nipples
behind boas (perhaps this prevented him from being able to cry and
declare himself an orphan?) What was more likely to reduce him to tears
was the realisation that he’d be the only performer actually 100
percent totally nude. Still, he got through his ten-minute set,
somehow, even if it remains “the most surreal experience I ever had in
my life.” Not least of all because the 260-seater venue contained an
audience of merely six. With only a couple of them laughing
bloke was quite obviously a pervert,” Eddie recalls. “This old boy,
must have been about 65 years old, cravat and smoking jacket, with his
legs crossed, sitting all on his own at the front. The first thing I
said to him was, ‘Mate, there is no one within eight rows of you. Did
you know people were going to be naked?’ He looked right back at me and
said, ‘Oh yes!’ A proper perve! He’d just come to have a look. Fair
play to him!”
Not everyone was as keen as the 65-year-old perv
in the smoking jacket and cravat, though. Eddy’s wife, back in London,
for example, did not take the news well. “When she realised I was
serious, she really was not happy. But she was so far away that there
was nothing she could do about it.” Apart from his missus, Eddy only
told the people he was sharing a house with that he was taking the gig.
Other people were disappointed when they found out, saying, “Why didn’t
you tell us you were doing it? We would have come! We thought nobody
was going to do that gig, otherwise we would have been there.” Eddy’s
response? “That’s exactly why I didn’t bloody tell you! I didn’t want
you lot coming around, seeing what I ain’t got!” But he’s glad he did
it. “It’s one of those things. It’s a life experience, isn’t it!”
the experience, and the 15 minutes of Jongleurs hell, there are,
surprisingly, still aspects of performance that faze Eddy Brimson. He’s
not so keen on getting heckled, for example. It doesn’t happen often,
though – probably given Eddy’s physique, demeanour, subject matter and
manner. But when it does get rowdy, he’s got an amazingly effective
though very unorthodox ‘comeback’: “I usually go, ‘Shhhh – let’s all be
quiet, then we can listen and get on with it’.” It works very well,
Brimson insists: “It’s the best heckle put-down I’ve ever heard because
all of a sudden everyone goes, ‘Oh, okay, what have you got to say,
The reason it works, the reason Eddy doesn’t get
heckled, is because Eddy is in control, and he lets the audience know
that. That don’t necessarily consciously realise this – but the fact
that potential discomfort is dispelled leaves them able to continue
enjoying the show rather than interrupting it or ignoring it. Here’s an
example: the first night I see Eddy Brimson, he opens with a simple
statement. “I’m a rude comic,” he says. “We’re all adults, you don’t
mind a bit of rude stuff.” This is to prepare a cold or unfamiliar
audience for a hard-hitting joke that may well be a little hard to take
early on. “Then if they go, ‘oooh!’ the get-out is very simple: ‘You
said you didn’t mind rude stuff!’ And everyone will laugh, because it
takes the blame off me. All of a sudden, the doors open and you’re in.
It sets the tone and at the same time says, ‘this is a comedy club;
these are jokes; let’s not take it too seriously. But you’ve let me in,
so here we go.’ You’re away because everyone’s comfortable.”
all of that, how can anything ever go wrong on stage? This is comedy.
There’s always something. “You know what it’s like,” Eddy concurs.
“Every comic will tell you this: you can make 260 people laugh, but if
there’s one sour-faced bastard sitting in the corner you’ll come off
stage and say, ‘Did you see that geezer who wasn’t laughing…?’ Forget
about the other 259. ‘Did you see that geezer…? Cheeky sod!’ And that’s
the one you walk away thinking about. Forget the rest. We must all be
depressives; there must be something wrong with us to do this.”
wasn’t anything wrong the night I saw Brimson. And if there was one
geezer not laughing in the Comedy Store that night, I didn’t spot him.
Eddy took the stage confidently, asked us if we could handle his
rudeness, did the gag, shocked us, pointed out that he’d warned us,
made us laugh, won us over and took us on that journey, sharing his
disdain for kids and the way they ruin parents’ lives, regretting you
can no longer punch them – yours or someone else’s. A later routine had
him jumping out of the bushes in a gimp mask in order to scare kids –
his re-enactment involving him striking a pose somewhere between Steven
Berkoff’s impersonation of a skinhead and Berkoff’s impersonation of a
skinhead’s Rottweiler. Later still, he confessed his own shock,
surprise and disappointment about having to come to terms with aging
because – although you won’t believe it to look at him – he reckons
he’s now 45 years old and feeling every year of it.
great jokes. Hilarious. The funny thing is, there is so much truth to
them. Hard to believe, but Eddy really is 45. The story of him leaping
out of the bushes in a gimp mask to frighten the kids, is also true.
What he exaggerates, to a degree, is how much he dislikes kids. He
doesn’t hate them. He just doesn’t want any.
happily married. I’ve been married for 13 years now and my wife and I
have always been in a position that we’ve never wanted kids. But I get
on really well with kids: I come from a big family and all that. It’s
just a decision we’ve taken, and we get a lot of pressure about it,
because we’re happy together and well set-up.”
about hating kids came as a reaction to comics who have kids and end up
doing material about it. “I thought, ‘no, hang on, let’s have a go at
this from the other angle’,” Eddy explains of his material about not
having kids. “The weird thing is the amount of parents that get it.
It’s not an anti-kid thing, it’s an anti-parenthood thing. So many
parents come up to me at the end of gigs and say, ‘that stuff’s
spot-on; you must have kids to know that stuff’, and it’s like, ‘no, I
just observe how bad your life can be at times’. That’s where that all
Kids “wind up” Eddy “something rotten” – but it’s
mostly down to “bad parenting”, he reckons. “I see so much of it
around. It’s there in front of you and it’s what a lot of people are
thinking. Even parents think about it. Of course you can’t punch kids,
but even parents get annoyed at other people’s kids.” Eddy
liken kids to farts – “your own ones are great” – but he actually gets
on fine with them. “People think if you haven’t got kids you can’t have
a relationship with children When my goddaughter tells me she loves me,
my heart strings go. But ten minutes later, if she starts playing up
with her mum, I can just go, ‘You know what, Anita? I’m gonna shoot
down to the pub, have a beer and leave you to it!’”
Telling it how he sees it
Of course Eddy has an entire show about “the joys of not having children”. It’s called Kids! I Couldn’t Eat A Whole One and he hopes to tour it in Australia next year. But there's more: Kids!… was a recent London show. Back in 2005 his debut Edinburgh Fringe show was called Up the Anti, and would also like to bring that show to Australia.
about a true thing that happened to me – I was raided by the police at
home once, because I was very politically active. It’s about MI-5,
being under surveillance for over a year, and all the stuff that went
on behind that. I was actually arrested on suspicion of terrorism. That
was the charge. Obviously, I didn’t do it…”
I have a
theory as to why Eddy Brimson was under suspicion: with bushier
eyebrows, he’d be a dead ringer for ‘The Hood’ – the bald villain that
features in so many episodes of The Thunderbirds.
“Could be,” Eddy says. “I’m certainly not an Osama Bin Laden look-alike.”
the’re the two shows he’d most like to tour, it still is only the tip
of iceberg, according to Eddy, who has “a lot more stories to tell”.
That, he says, is why he’s a storytelling comic rather than I think
that’s why I’m a storyteller rather than “a gag-merchant”: because “a
lot of stuff happened”. Clearly, Eddy always has been a teller of funny
stories – from his books about his life as a football hooligan, to the
stand-up comedy about his life. As far as he’s concerned, his material
is forever revealing itself to him. “It’s all happening in front of
you. If you open your eyes, all of a sudden you see it.”
I met the comic Tom Ward briefly, years ago, while sharing a flat with his mate, another up-and-coming comic at the time, called Josh Thomas. It was during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and they were two wide-eyed young comedians on the make, all of – I don’t know – about 18 years old, give or take. They were as keen about comedy as I was at their age, only, there was no internet or Raw Comedy or podcasts or anything other than television, videos and libraries requiring dedicated diligence and perseverance in order to make the most of them, when I was 18. It was harder to ‘know about’ a lot of stuff, is all I’m saying. Still, I was impressed that Tom knew about an old film I’d just purchased on DVD. I’d picked up a cheap copy of Tommy Cooper’sThe Plank.
“You’ve heard of this?” I marvelled.
“Yeah,” Tom said. “My grandad told me about it”.
I was, at best, only twice their age. I may have had friends with kids nearly as old as them. But being compared to the grandad made me feel even older. Yet both kids clearly did know about comedy. And still do.
It’s been on-line for a few days and, as all memes do, has reproduced itself all over the place: a new Radiohead song, apparently. Leaked. On YouTube. Not a film clip – just a still accompanying the music. But there are a multitude of stills accompanying the same soundfile, entitled ‘These Are My Twisted Words’, all over the internet now.
I don’t quite know what to make of this newest, leaked song. The first few seconds sound like a different song entirely – different drum beat, different music – until a disco beat – not unlike John Paul Young’s‘Love Is In The Air’ – barges in over the top. (Okay, what’s happening is the drummer is ‘counting the band in’ just after the tape’s started rolling, guitars already strummed – maybe with a bit of whammy bar action; that’s what it sounds like. The [programmed?] disco beat was probably added later.)
At about 2 minutes 13 seconds in, the bass line is suddenly Frank Zappa’s‘Ya Hozna’ from Them Or Us. About midway through the track, just when you want to start singing ‘National Anthem’ from Kid A over the top, the lyrics kick in. By this time, the drums don’t sound so obtrusive.
‘These Are My Twisted Words’ apparently first appeared as an MP3 file, embedded with the following info (courtesy of ateaseweb – I’m not sure if that’s ‘at ease web’ or ‘a tease web’ – via stereogum):
iiiiiii radiohead - these are my twisted words iiiiiii
iiii artist.......radiohead iiii
iiii title........these are my twisted words iiii
iiii label........?????????? iiii
iiii cat.nr.......????????? iiii
iiii style........'dificult' iiii
iiii nr of tracks.1 iiii
iiii total length..5.32 iiii
iiii audio source.CD Advance iiii
iiii encoder......LAME 3.93 iiii
iiii quality......320kbps/44.1kHz/Joint Stereo iiii
iiii size.........12,70 MB iiii
iiii ripper.......sca[GG]er iiii
iiii rls.date.....2009-08-17 iiii
iiii i just wanted to reassure readers iiii
iiii that following representations iiii
iiii seeking confirmation iiii
iiii that before your very eyes iiii
iiii behind the wall of ice iiii
iiii that the box is not under threat iiii
iiii however they are set to remove iiii
iiii other boxes iiii
iiii in fact i have the list in front of me iiii
iiii i went to a briefing on their plans iiii
iiii and challenged them to tell me iiii
iiiii exactly what the cost would be iiiiiii
iiiiiii they spoke in broad terms iiiiiiiiii
iiiiiiiiiii we're looking for: talented puppeteers iiiiiiiiiii
iiiiiiiiii worms, disgruntled executives, sacked flies iiiiiiiiii
iiiiiiii genres: doomcore, folktronica, ukf iiiiiiii
I hope it leads to a new album. I also hope this is a work-in-progress, that the finished version is different to this, making this one special. That’s if it’s authentic. I think it is: despite all the things the different bits remind me of, together they make a song that sounds like bona fide Radiohead to me. Judge for yourself.
“We did about ten shows and all the shows were great – standing ovations and good stuff like that. But at one of the shows, there was a person there who didn’t like my show, and they complained to the comedy club in London and they fired me for the next two weeks.”
What? How does that work?
“Exactly. That’s what I said. ‘How does that work?’ Someone in Dubai saw me, didn’t like my show – even though after the show I was signin’ autographs and taking pictures with the punters – she called London and these people just fired me, no questions asked. They didn’t say, ‘Hey, did you do this, did you do that?’ Nothin’! I was like, ‘Oh, wow. Welcome to America. Wait – I’m not in America!’”
I’m talking to Tony Woods long distance from the United States. He’s a comedian I’ve never met, nor seen live, but I know he’s good because when he was in Australia for the Cracker Comedy Festival earlier this year – appearing both in the Gala and on Good News Week – there was a buzz among other comics. There are clips, just in case you didn’t see him either and didn’t have other comics talking him up to you.
Tony’s in the middle of telling me a story about a Dubai gig that got him sacked, and I’m annoyed on his behalf. Firstly, the whole point of comedy is that the comedian tells ‘jokes’ – that is, they are effectively ‘pretend’ or ‘make-believe’ compared to ‘facts’ or ‘news’ or ‘reality’. Secondly, comedy is the one place where you are supposed to be allowed to explore taboo topics – to say things in jest that you could never have enough courage or insensitivity or permission to say in all seriousness.
“Well, first of all,” Tony insists, “I didn’t say what she accused me of saying, anyway. So… oh well.”
We’re still talking hypothetically, to a degree. Tony hasn’t divulged what he was accused of saying. I’m not gonna ask him. It shouldn’t matter. Comedy should be one place where you’re able to ‘push the envelope’ if you want to – and Tony reckons he wasn’t even doing that.
“Didn’t even push ’em. I don’t know what the hell she heard. She was drinkin’. Or somethin’. I don’t know. Oh well. She ruined my summer vacation. I was supposed to go to The Bahamas for a vacation, me ’n’ my family, but with two weeks of work fallin’ out of the pocket like that, you can’t just up and go on a vacation. So I don’t really wish the best for her at all.”
Well you wouldn’t, would you. No, if you were a comic in Tony’s position, the best outcome would be to enable everyone to laugh at this turn of events by turning this story into a comedy routine.
“Yeah,” Tony says. “I will. Heh, heh, heh, heh.”
Ah, the Tony Woods laugh. I love that laugh. People claim Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones, has the dirtiest laugh since Sid James. Tony’s laugh is different to that: it is cool and conspiratorial. It has probably gotten Tony into as much trouble as it has gotten him out of. No doubt it’s gotten him laid.
You can hear the laugh on that YouTube clip where Paul McDermott grills Tony on the Good News Week couch. (‘Couch Potato, the interrogation game of comfort and joy’.) Although one question that doesn’t immediately elicit the laugh is when McDermott asks Woods why he applied for Dental School. “How’d you know that?” Tony says, taken aback. Eventually he replies “Man, I was 18; I just wanted… girls.”
When I ask him, Woods explains that he gained his first experience as “what they call a ‘dental technician/dental assistant’” in the navy. After advancing to ‘surgical assistant’ he decided he might actually pursue dentistry as a career. “But then,” he says, adopting a conspiratorial whisper, “I started doing comedy…”.
There’s a pause. Followed by the signature laugh.
“Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh… you know…”.
It’s a low sound that emanates from deep within, detached and yet cheeky. It’s the sort of laugh that implies a shared knowledge we both know better than dare admit out loud. Although, in this instance, all I really ‘know’ is that things don’t always go to plan. The full story of how and why comedy usurped dentistry is something only Tony knows – but the encouragement to draw my own conclusion coupled with that laugh makes me want to assume the worst, something unspeakably shameful. That’s what that laugh does. On stage, the laugh causes the audience similarly to reach unspeakable conclusions, enabling the material to become as funny as our own imaginations allow. It means that Tony can create ‘off-colour’ material without actually delivering it. Audiences titillate themselves at his prompting.
I bet that’s what happened in Dubai: Tony didn’t say whatever the woman claimed he said. He left it open to interpretation, and then delivered that laugh. It must have made her feel funny and think dirty, in a manner she’d probably not had the pleasure of for some time. Good comedy can do that to you.
But I’m more intent on pinning the comic down than drawing my own conclusions – unspeakable or otherwise – so I press on. Was there a master-plan to ultimately ditch vocational studies for comedy, or did it happen accidentally? According to Woods, it was “very accidental”:
“I just happened to fall into it, man.” Tony’s buddies insisted he was funny, that he should “try out” as a comic. “I went touring on those ‘open mic’ deals,” he explains, “and… BANG! There you go! Ever since then, there’s no turning back.”
In addition to being able to leave the audience to do some of the work for themselves, Tony’s style involves turning real experiences into material by re-telling it in a ‘bewildered’ manner. Rather than a smug, arrogant or angry comic, Tony Woods is surprised. It’s as though events are still taking him by surprise in the re-telling. According to Tony, that's his style: “Last to know”:
“Even though I’m telling the story, it’s still taking me by surprise. I’m the last to know.”
The beauty of it is that it renders all of Tony’s material ‘universal’. He’s experiencing Australia for the first time and he’s telling us, more-or-less, as it happens to him::
“There’s freaky stuff happening. There’s a lot of animals…. I mean like, animals that I never…”
At this point, you suppose it’s gonna be every visiting comic’s monologue about Australia’s deadly fauna: spiders, snakes, sea creatures…. But no.
There was this dog on the couch, and I said to my Australian friend, ‘I ain’t never seen a dog like that. What kind of do is that?’
Funny to watch him tell it, bewildered, to Australian audiences – but it’s no doubt just as funny when he tells it, bewildered, to the folk back home. Or to any other audiences he plays to around the world. Tony Woods has been standing-up on the world stage for – well, at least a decade. There are clips on YouTube from Holland that are ten years old. Tony can’t quite remember when he made the transition from open mic-er to world class comic. “I just kind of adapt to my surroundings and make it happen,” is how he explains it. “It’s a shame that it seems I can get more work overseas than I can in America.”
That is a shame, but so is having people fail to ‘get it’ as far afield as Dubai. Although the Dubai experience doesn’t necessarily rate as Tony’s worst on the road. He explains that because of his “very laid-back” on-stage demeanour, early on, audiences would assume he was a stoner. “Now everyone claims to smoke pot,” he observes. “I wasn’t smokin’ pot. I just had a very daydreamy style, so it looked as though I was stoned on stage.” Although, it turns out, this was one of Ms Disappointed of Dubai’s grievances: “She says that I was drunk, that I was stoned. But she didn’t know what she was talkin’ about.”
If I wasn’t so comedy-savvy, I’d have my suspicions, as I tell Tony: he does have a lot of material about… But I have to correct myself before I finish saying “getting stoned’. By ‘a lot’, what I actually mean is, of the few clips of his work I have seen on-line, one’s about going to Jamaica; another one recorded in Holland talks about… but Woods interrupts me.
“What it is,” he explains, “is a covert way of tellin’ people to not do drugs; showin’ people the misadventures and misfortunes you can have when you do that.”
The example I’ll go with at this point is Gonzo journalistHunter S. Thompson, whose written work is riddled with drug references. If he was a medicated as he claims to be, on the substances he claims to have ingested, I doubt he’d have had the time to have written as much as he did. I don’t know many people who spend their entire waking lives stoned who have the memory or the motivation – let alone the talent – to turn their experiences into a career of stand-up comedy.
“Exactly!” Tony agrees. “You should call that woman and tell her that!”
Given that Woods is based in Washington, DC when he is in fact in the US, I would have expected a bit of a political bent to his work. But there doesn’t seem to be any.
“No, there’s not,” he confirms. “Not at all.” The political comics, Woods explains, are “the people who move to DC”, not the ones that live there. “It’s like the people who live in Los Angeles aren’t into show business,” he continues. “It’s the people who move to Los Angeles. They’re into show business.” As ever: the converts are the zealots. The life-long believers just go about their business as they always have.
Speaking of material and show business, there’s a great routine of which I’m very fond – Tony’s re-telling of the Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fairy tales.
“That’s older stuff,” he says. “It’s about my introduction to kindergarten. I’d been at home watching soap operas and then I get there and they’d give me happy, sweet stories. I go, ‘no, there’s gotta be a covert mission behind these’.”
Little Red Riding Hood is a horrifying story. It is. It’s supposed to be like a kid’s story but you think about it.
First, Little Red Riding Hood: she’s like a trick, cos she wears little hot pants and stuff. You know, a big push-up bra and a little hood like a superhero stripper or something.
Remember, she’s skippin’ through the woods, teasing all the woodsmen: “Hi, woodsmen…”.
And they’re like, “Wassup, bitch?”
Okay, she didn’t hear them say that, but I want women here to know, that’s what men are always sayin’ to you when you talk to them from a distance.
What I love about these stories is that you could build a cute animation around the pre-existing routine. Perfect for vodcasting, or as a DVD extra or for… whatever, really. Woods likes the idea. “You should be my agent, man, so you can come to Los Angeles and tell these people.”
The way Tony sees it, “if you’re not doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, they don’t want to try it. Everyone says, ‘why don’t you do something like…’. I don’t want to do anything like that person did or this person did. If you think about it, in Hollywood, the film genres stay the same until one person – and it has to be someone of notoriety – goes the different way. Then they all go that way. Like, now it’s all superheroes, you know?”
Hmm. Sounds like Woods has beaten his head against a showbiz brick wall. While general trends are evident in comedy, there are least as many ways to approach the same topic as there are original comedians. But what has Woods got his eye on – television or film?
“I want to do film. I’m still trying to be an action hero but I think I’m getting old.”
Maybe. But in the meantime, make the Little Red Riding Hood animation about the superhero stripper, I reckon. That sort of thing shouldn’t be too far away from Tony’s own current interests, really. He already has his own DVD to flog after shows. “It’s an hour of different television clips of my television appearances from all around the world,” he says.
The important question is, do they include clips that we can’t sort of stumble upon for free on YouTube?
“Yes,” Tony says. “It’s un-stumble-upon-able.”
Nice. I think we’re done. I thank Tony for his time.
“No problem,” he says.
I tell him I’m looking forward to seeing him live.
“Okey-dokey,” he says.
Which makes me wanna ask one last question. I’m wondering if ‘okey-dokey’ is something he picked up on his last visit here. “Do you say ‘okey-dokey’ in your country?” I ask.
“Not everybody,” Tony reports. “I say it. It’s just one of those things. Maybe I say it from my travels, I don’t know. People say it.”
Hmm. Awkward. Let me explain. There’s one bit of routine – from the 2009 Cracker Comedy Festival Gala – where Tony imitates the Aussie accent and some of the words typical to our usage of English that aren’t in as common usage in the United States – like ‘indigenous’, ‘marsupial’ and ‘pouch’. As he continues into a an anecdote, as part of the routine, the word ‘motherf*cker’ come up a fair bit.
“Some of your material is about communicating those differences, in culture,” I offer, “and translating words. Like you say, ‘“motherf*cker” means “bloke” to me’.”
“Yeah. Heh, heh, heh, yeah,” Tony Woods says, laughing again. “It just means ‘bloke’.”
“I like that,” I offer. “Mate, you’re a good bloke!”
“Awright,” Tony says. “And you’re a good motherf*cker yourself!”
For a limited time, if you really want it, you can download a free MP3 file of the song ‘Great Day’ from the Paul McCartney album Flaming Pie, now scoring the title sequence of the new Adam Sandler film Funny People. All it’ll cost you is being added to a Paul McCartney mailing list.
Okay, maybe you think a free Paul McCartney song isn’t the coolest thing to have, or to admit to having (you’re not quite wrong; it’s not the coolest thing, but it’s certainly not the most uncool – although you’re welcome to think that if you must). And perhaps being on the receiving end of regular Paul McCartney info updates is too big a price to pay to have it. But rest assured, the most uncool Beatles-related thing is not a Paul McCartney song. Not even – as so many people seem to want to cite as evidence for the prosecution – the one about Rupert Bear (‘We All Stand Together’). Nor the other one about Rupert Bear (T’ropic Island Hum’)!
While a multitude of comics are tense with the opening of the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it’s worth noting that Sydney’s just scored itself another comedy festival.
I know what you’re thinking, as you tick them off – those Sydney Comedy Festivals of 1998 and 1999, the Cracker Comedy Festival, the Sydney Comedy Festival that was really just Cracker under a different name, the Big Laugh Festival that used to run parallel to Cracker once Cracker was up-and-running… not to mention attempts at Sydney Fringe festivals, Bondi festivals, cabaret festivals, all giving a home to comedy… as well as festivals established or in development for the Central Coast and Bowral – pretty soon there’ll be enough for each and every comedian in New South Wales to have his or her very own festival.
Indeed, the Prime Minister got wind of it and has threatened to take comedy festivals over from the state governments, in order to ensure each adheres to a national standard of comedy. Here’s his National Address on Comedy:
Of course, in this instance, the role of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been played by comedian Anthony Ackroyd. It’s a little eerie how much he looks, having donned KRudd hair, like the bastard offspring of Graham Kennedy and Charles Firth. Kind of fitting that the Prime Minister is a cross between those two, I guess.
All righty, the important question is, what sets this new Sydney Comedy Festival apart from all the others?
For starters, World’s Funniest Island boasts “one ticket, two big days, 18 venues, 200 shows” because it is built on the rock festival template. That is to say, it’s built on a carnival template. With good reason: one of the people behind it is John Pinder, who has a long history in comedy and a great love of circus.
When Pinder was first pointed out to me at a taping of a comedy show, for which he was executive producer, he was described as ‘the Godfather of Australian Comedy’, a description he has forbidden me to use since it fails to acknowledge any of the people who broke comedy ground in this country before him. When I’d finally met him, Pinder was Director of the Big Laugh Festival. I wrote an article about him at the time. I present it here with a portrait of him, painted by Bill Leak.
John Pinder has been involved in comedy, as well as music and theatre, pretty much throughout his life. In addition to managing acts, owning venues and touring talent, he has had a hand in the founding of such important institutions as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Comedy Channel. Sounds like he’s just the man to be launching a new comedy festival.
“Comedy’s a bit like pop,” Pinder explains. “If pop didn’t re-invent itself, nobody would ever write another good four-chord pop song. It’s the same with comedy. It becomes very easy after a long time to say, ‘I’ve heard that before’. You have to bite your tongue because it’s important that people actually do explore and experiment.” In addition to not wanting to over-analyse what should remain in and of its moment, John Pinder is loathe to talk about comedy because, he says, “comedy ought to be funny” and as far as he is concerned, he is not. He also eschews memorabilia. “There’s no point in keeping it; somebody has to re-invent it all again and if you collect all that shit they’ll look at it and go, ‘it’s been done it before’.” And yet, get him started, and he is a wealth of humorous anecdotes, a store of imaginative memorabilia housed in his own museum of recollection.
One of John’s tricks is to date you by the kind of comedy you first started listening to. If your first love is Monty Python’s Flying Circus, you’re in your mid- to late-30s; if it’s The Goodies you’re about 40 to 45. The Goon Show means you’re old enough to lie about your age if you don’t want to confess to being in your late-50s. “You get your comedy chops about the same age as you first start listening to music,” John explains. The Goon Show began when he was just hitting puberty. For a kid whose family didn’t have a television, hearing The Goons on radio was very ‘rock’n’roll’. “My father liked funny shit on the radio and we listened to it as a family because at seven o’clock on Sunday night we used to turn the radio on like people turn on the television. The Goon Show came along and my parents hated it.” Which succeeded in making John like it all the more – just like rock’n’roll!
Of course, John’s anecdotes and knowledge betray a much broader love of comedy. For starters, his favourite act at the recent Adelaide Fringe was, essentially, a juggler. “I’m really tired of people who say, ‘not another fucking juggler’. There’s something really astonishing about someone who hasn’t even opened his mouth and you’re wetting yourself laughing.” All the great stand-up comics, he points out, incorporate some sort of physicality in their mode of performance. A lot more “would benefit” from being able to mime or juggle. And, logically, “a lot of jugglers would benefit from having some jokes.” Pinder’s love of this other form of comedy also dates back to his childhood, when his family lived next door to a circus lot where Ashton’s and Bullen’s would set up their circuses when they were in town. “I wanted to run away with the circus from the time I was very young,” he says. Fact is, he pretty much has.
“That whole period with the Tampa, I was almost ashamed,” comedian Anh Do admits. “I didn’t want to tell anyone I was a refugee because refugees were ‘baddies’, you know?”
The so-called ‘Tampa affair’ – involving the ship that rescued refugees who were alleged, by the Australian government, to have been throwing babies overboard – proved a turning point for Anh Do. He is now embracing his background in his comedy, talking about his own life as part of a refugee family who made it to Australia, and who – against some odds, but with hard work and determination – made good thereafter.
It’s common for comedians to explore the disjunction between how life is universally accepted to be, and how they experience it; for second generation Australians, it’s often about how their necessarily different family values and experiences – informed by the ‘old country’ – set them apart from their friends and peers. Not so for Anh Do, however. As a stand-up comic – well, to be honest, ‘all-round entertainer’ is more accurate, since Do acts, makes films, hosts game shows, speaks inspriationally and dances to boot – Anh Do has never really played up his
Vietnamese origins for humour. A lot of his comedy could be performed by anyone with his talent, irrespective of racial background. Admittedly, this is in part because a lot of the early stuff was prop-based. But even the personal stories were universal: driving the clapped-out car that matched his favourite mode of dress: ‘flanno’; a clapped-out car that was still able to outrun the cops, until they got into their car.
Occasionally, Anh would land a non-comedy role on the strength of his exotic background – you’d catch him wielding a samurai sword in the Cornetto ad, in order to slice the confection open to prove there were no boring bits; or turning up unexpectedly as an enigmatic, initially distrusted outsider in an episode of SeaChange…
These parallel career elements would coalesce deliciously when he appeared on stage as part of an all-star show featuring other ‘wog’ (read, if that word is offensive in your culture: ‘non-Anglo Australian’) comics, called Show Us Your Roots. The irony was particularly golden: the guy who happens to be of foreign extraction who doesn’t actually do comedy about being of foreign extraction, cast in a show featuring a bunch of comics of foreign extraction, but still not doing material about being of foreign extraction in that show! In fact, his comedy was possibly more ‘Aussie’ than anyone’s, since it didn’t speak of the non-Anglo Australian experience at all.
“That’s something I do consciously,” Anh said at the time. “People see me on stage and expect to hear the old ‘eating the dogs’, this, that and the other.” Anh’s comedy wasn’t going to be about playing to racial stereotypes, he explained. “I go looking for material elsewhere. In writing comedy, I go back to my personal experiences. Most of my experiences are just of a kid growing up in a working class background, rather than being Vietnamese as such.”
Anh Do is currently performing at the Sydney Opera House, and nowadays, his comedy is a lot more autobiographical. While audiences are still laughing, they’re also quite moved by some of the stories. Like the one about how Anh and his family came to Australia by boat. “It quite a harrowing journey,” Anh says. “There were 40 refugees on an eight-and-a-half-metre fishing boat. We were shot at by communists, we ran out of food and water, we were attacked by pirates twice. And then we were finally rescued by a German merchant ship.”
Understandably, Anh explains, his parents are grateful to this day and continue to have a great regard for Germans and German culture. “My mum’s got a recipe for sweat’n’sour schnitzel,” he adds, insisting that “that’s not even a joke, man. It’s delicious!”
The Do family’s life in Australia after arrival wasn’t easy. There wasn’t a lot of money, he says, “especially after Dad left when I was 13 years old. Mum was looking after three kids on about six bucks an hour…” Still, this experience is the source of humour, not despair – as it always has been. “I mine my life for laughs,” Anh reminds me, “growing up in the suburbs and what it was like as a bogan kid and, furthermore, a Vietnamese bogan kid. I mean, I was the only Vietnamese kid with a mullet – I looked pretty funny!”
So here it is: non-Anglo Australian comic Anh Do, whose material thus far has been about being an Aussie that happens to be from elsewhere, is now talking about the ‘being from elsewhere’. Anh maintains that he’s still avoiding the broad generalisations of his racial background. “I’m talking about my life as a Vietnamese refugee, which is quite different from just looking for Asian stereotypes,” he says.
Not that deriving humour from stereotypes is evil – that’s where a lot of comics begin. Experience, sophistication and the need to be less like other comics leads to the refinement of telling their own, individual stories. “It’s something I wrestled with for some time,” Anh admits. It was the Tampa incident that proved a watershed.
“I remember being at a dinner for John Howard,” the comic recalls. “This table was bagging refugees and someone asked me, ‘Anh, so, you’re not a refugee, are you?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not; I’m… I’m a migrant.’ I lied through my teeth. And felt very bad about it afterwards. But at the time, I just wanted to… you know, I wanted to… they just slagged refugees and I just didn’t want to… you know…”
The comic finds it uncomfortable, remembering that moment when he wasn’t prepared to take on the table, or indeed, the room, as the single voice of dissent. It was easier to lie and fit in.
Anh’s faced similar situations before, and been able to deal with them as a comic. There was a Diggers’ reunion, he once told me, where he had to play to old soldiers who’d fought in Vietnam, Korea and World War II against the Japanese.
“I walked up on stage, looking like guys who these old guys have shot. I struggled for the first five minutes, but then after ten minutes they realised, ‘He’s just a Westie kid, really; he’s just a lad’. I went all right, and after the gig, an old guy came up to me and said, ‘Mate, you’re quite funny for a slopehead; do you want me to buy you a beer?’”
Anh’s material at the time would have demonstrated that he was indeed a Westie kid – your typical young Aussie – who just happened to be born in another country. And he wasn’t selling himself short by accepting the beer rather than taking offence at the ‘slopehead’ remark. But that’s different to having to lie about something so fundamental to your life as how you came to survive and live and thrive in another country. Although, to be brutally honest – and totally theoretical – it’s the plight of most comics: it’s an underlying need for acceptance and love – to ‘fit in’ – that leads them, in the first place, to the stage, where they get to bend the perception of reality and prove that there is a world view – their own – that recreates a world in which they are successful, in control and loved. When they do it well enough, it becomes a reality that exists beyond the stage and into their everyday lives.
But bringing it back to a practical level, being confronted, at a dinner for a Prime Minister who was exploiting racial insecurities, and feeling the need to fabricate a biography, was a wakeup call: it was time for Anh to be true to himself. This is what his new material is about. “It’s me saying, ‘this is my life; I’m refugee, I grew up poor; judge me if you will, but that’s who I am’.”
Not that this diminishes Anh’s earlier work. It doesn’t make his older jokes less funny. As Anh explains, this new phase of his career is about “maturing as a comic”. Earlier on, playing pubs and clubs, it was all about “having to get quick and cheap laughs before the bikies start throwing stuff at ya”. Nowadays, he’s playing the Opera House, “where you can actually tell a tale and have meaning and depth and all the rest of it”. It’s all about developing the artistry of entertainment. “But it’s not just about being a refugee,” Anh adds. “It’s also about other things… like being on Dancing with the Stars…”
Yes, of course. Beyond his stand-up career with appearances on The Footy Show helping make him known to people who wouldn’t necessarily see live comedy, Anh Do has had numerous television appearances as an actor and as himself on the small and big screen. Anh made it all the way to the grand final on Dancing with the Stars.
“I was doing eight hours of training a day for six days a week,” Anh says of the experience. “I lost 13 kilos. None of my clothes fit anymore. I was rockin’ up to Channel 7 Studios in my Year 10 school pants, the only things I could wear that wouldn’t just fall off. So I went and gave all my fat clothes to St Vinnie’s and I bought a new wardrobe at my skinny weight. Of course, as soon as Dancing with the Stars finished, I packed the 13 kilos back on within a month.” Anh returned to “Hornsby St Vinnie’s” to relocate his clothes, but they’d been sold. “I couldn’t find a single item,” he says. “There’s a dude out there with all my stuff; if I see him, I will mug him to get my stuff back!”
“Growing up, all I wanted to do was play football. I wanted to play Origin for New South Wales,” Anh says. “That was my dream.” Part of the reason lies with a very basic lesson Anh learnt very early on: “You get picked on for being different, but as soon as you’re good at sport, all of a sudden you’re one of the guys. I became a pretty decent footballer. I trialled for the Parramatta Eels and the Sydney Roosters in the Under 19s. I didn’t make it – my talent only took me so far. But that was my dream.”
According to Anh, his love of “Aussies and sport” is down to the fact that “we’re always the underdog, but we get in there and we give it a bloody red-hot go”. He offers the Olympics as the best example – a perfect segue for a joke.
“My favourite Olympic sport is Synchronised Swimming,” he says. “I love watching it. I’m always hanging for one of the four girls to get a cramp and start sinking to the bottom because I want to see the other three having to synchronise with her.”
The underdog making good, of course, is as much of a draw in comedy as it is in sport. The comic has to come out to a cold audience that doesn’t know him, that will have fun watching him die if they don’t have fun watching him succeed. But that moment a comic can point out a truth that an audience wasn’t even aware that it knew – that is golden. Anh agrees. He was on a panel of people brought together for Channel 7’s Sunrise program, to discuss The Chaser when it was in the doghouse for its touchy ‘terminally ill kids’ sketch.
“I don’t agree with the sketch,” Anh explains, “but everyone was saying that no one is allowed to make jokes about sick kids. I brought up the point that no one is allowed to make jokes about sick kids… other than sick kids.” Anh does a lot of corporate and charity events as MC and keynote speaker, and, he relates, there was one charity gig at which a father, who had lost a son to cancer, made some jokes about his son and his son’s symptoms. “This room was laughing in empathy with the father,” Anh says. “Other parents, who had kids who were sick, were empathising with laughter. That’s the power of comedy. It can be healing. It can be a great tool for breaking down barriers. It’s powerful.”
Anh Do is proof of the power of comedy – having faced the danger of treacherous seas and pirates as one of several refugees on a tiny fishing boat, now starring in television shows and films and appearing in theatres and even the Opera House. But when Anh couldn’t make it as a footy player and first decided to turn to comedy, was it with one eye on the stardom of film, television and theatre? Or was it just the love of doing comedy itself? According to Anh, it wasn’t either, really.
“I discovered that I just enjoy telling stories,” Anh says. “Within a couple of years of doing comedy, there was a part of me that wanted to tell stories that weren’t funny as well. So I started writing a film, which was made. Now I’m also writing a book – my autobiography. And I’ll continue to tell stories, whether it be in the form of funny stories, as a comedian, or in the form of books or movies. I just like telling yarns.”
‘Anh’ is pronounced to rhyme with ‘barn’; ‘Do’ is like ‘doe’, the female deer.