This is currently my favourite bus shelter poster advertisement. âWhatâs your favourite colour?â it asks, with a row of, letâs face it, wussy-coloured Nissan Micras depicted. The word âMicraâ 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 âopera mauveâ, 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. Itâs lipstick red.
So whatâs this ad actually communicating?
Is it saying, âour cars come in great colours to mix and match with your accessories; just like make-upâ? Maybe itâs 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 theyâre pissy little cars â the model name is âMicraâ, after all. Like âMicroâ, only more effeminate.
So is this a chickâs car? Is that why itâs being advertised as lipstick?
Well yes, thatâs probably part of it. But look at the shade of lipstick: itâs a hot, provocative shade. As if to say, it might be a little car, it might be a sensible car, but itâs not a âgirl-next-doorâ car. Itâs a âracyâ car; itâs a âsaucyâ car; a âsexyâ car that âgoes off like a firecrackerâ; a car that âbangs like a dunny door in a windstormâ. Or words to that effect.
But thereâs another layer to this ad.
Sports cars have long been looked upon as phallic symbols, penis substitutesâ¦. Thereâs always been that connection between âfast women and hot carsâ. And thereâs 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 canât afford or canât handle a bigger, stronger, environmentally inconsiderate car? This is what the ad is saying to you:
âThereâs no need to feel totally emasculated by having a tiny dick-car. Your car is still phallic because it equals lipstick. So, even if youâre so clever that you can no longer kid yourself about the big dick-carâs damage to the earth, or that your car will get you laid, even if you wonât be burning much rubber (so to speak) this heremicrapenis car will still get you the odd spot ofâ¦ lip serviceâ¦.â
My friend Cristina writes, âThis is definitely a chick car â one of its major selling points is
that it has a spare shoe compartment under the passenger seatâ¦â. Since I donât actually drive, I donât 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 havenât 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 dayâ¦
or notâ¦ doesnât upset me at all â even though I was a mad fan back in the day.
I remember anticipating
each release â sneaking out of the office for an extended lunch break
to pick up a newly arrived copy of (Whatâs The Story) Morning Glory?
(on the same day, if Iâm to be honest, as BlurâsThe Great Escape â which came with a
t-shirt!)â¦ buying a second copy of â¦Morning Glory? a year later because,
for whatever reason, Sonyâs latest supply were Japanese picture disc pressingsâ¦ blowing entire pay packets on boxed sets of singlesâ¦ 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, âIf youâre not in it to be bigger than the Beatles, itâs just a hobbyâ. Maybe I did only like them because they were the worldâs most successful tribute bandâ¦ 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 â itself inspired, most likely, by a book about spirituality). I donât
know if Iâve 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 â âLylaâ was my last one â 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? Itâs Saturday morning in Australia as I write this, so itâs still Friday night in the UKâ¦) their website carried an announcement from Noel Gallagher:
âItâs 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.
âApologies to all the people who bought tickets for the shows in Paris, Konstanz and Milan.â
This contradicts his wife, former All Saints singer Natalie Appletonâs statement from the day before, insisting âOasis will die before they split upâ. 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 Liamâs âillnessâ. âThe rumours are absolute rubbish,â Appleton insisted.
âEven in his sick bed, Liam was vowing to get back on stage.â
Liam had himself gone into damage control a couple of days earlier on the official Oasis website:
âThe voice may of disappeared but I'm still here.1st things first V
Iâm gutted your gutted, Iâm sorry what can I say f*ck all at the moment.
âSecondly, respect to those bands who covered Oasis last night, even though I might of given some of you shit in the past...
âFinally 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 â with Noelâs departure comes a vacancy for a vocalist and guitarist. While Zak âson of Ringoâ Starkey recently vacated a drum seat, perhaps ânot-quite-Beatlesâ cred may be regained by recruiting Dhani âson of Georgeâ Harrison in Noelâs 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 closerâ¦
Yet, whatever happens, I realise Iâm 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 OâSullivan â who,
incidentally, is also responsible for the âStand & Deliver!â 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. Hereâs the story in full.
âMy father gave me two bits of advice,â Eddy Brimson
informs me. âOne: Donât work for anybody else. And two: If a woman says
ânoâ, she means ânoâ. However, if youâre both naked just tell her
youâre an orphan and start crying. Theyâre the only two bits of advice
he ever gave me and theyâve 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 Brimsonâs advice in Eddyâs cockney
accent â reminiscent of Michael Caineâs âwork a fiddle; donât be greedyâ
advice in Alfie â is making for an excellent afternoon of
conversation, and Iâm 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 âdo what you muppet Iâll cut
yaâ cockney geezer accent, coupled with the publicity info that he is a
âformer football hooliganâ, you canât 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 heâs 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 heâs 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 canât help but wonder how he was ever a football hooligan.
âPeople always say the same thing,â Eddy confesses: ââYouâre a totally
different person offstage to what you are onstage.ââ
âfootball stuffâ was just ânormal, angry young ladâ behaviour from a
long time ago, he insists. âI was a bit of an idiot, as most people are
at that age. Iâve calmed down a lot since then. Iâm a lot more soft
spoken. Iâm quite shy in a lot of ways.â Yeah. So. How was this man
ever a football hooligan? Well, Eddyâs 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 shouldnât be a surprise that heâs also
Soccer to âem
âI usually get very
bored, so I ended up writing seven books â four with my brother,
and then three on my own about following England abroad â not about the
football, but about the fans, because any sports fan will tell you:
itâs not just about the game, itâs about everything that goes on with
it.â However, as good as being a sports fan can be â going to brilliant
places, being in great situations, having great fun â Eddy still
managed to burn himself out and need a change of career. âIâm one of
these guys who canât work for anybody else,â he says, in keeping with
his fatherâs advice.
Growing up watching football from the
late â70s, Eddy was in the thick of it in the late â70s and early â80s
when being into football in England was very different to what it is
now. There was a lot of âtroubleâ, which he likens to the âmods versus
rockersâ clashes of the early â60s youth subcultures: âladsâ needing to
join gangs, flex muscles and discover manhood. âYoung lads like to
belong to something so itâs very easy to get drawn into that kind of
thing. And when youâre a lad, itâs exciting.â 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).
wasnât 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 didnât really understand the problem,â Eddy says. âThere
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 werenât
Eddy and brother Dougie not only learnt from their experiences of hooliganism, they wrote books about them. Their first effort, Everywhere We Go,
âblew the lid on what football is really about in the UK,â outlining
just how organised football violence was. They also suggested ways in
which the violence could be brought to an end. âMost of the stuff we
suggested has been implemented,â Eddy reports. âWe had meetings with
people high up and said what would have stopped us, and it worked.â
Eddyâs later solo efforts â books like Tear Gas And Ticket Touts and God Save The Team
â were tour diaries of his following England abroad. âTheyâre funny,
because following football is funny. Thatâs why blokes do it: to have a
laugh.â Literary success led Eddy to the telly, with the documentary Teargas and Tantrums.
âThe media have their own agendas before they set out,â 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 âactorâ. âIâve only ever played three
things: a thug, a gay guy or a Hare Krishna,â Eddy begins, anticipating
my next foolish question: âNot all three at the same time!â
made a promise to himself early on: âAs soon as someone says, âyouâve
got a bald patch at the back,â itâs coming off.â And so it did. It was
the late â80s and Eddy was 23 when he started shaving his head, âbefore
Right Said Fred and all that malarkyâ. 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 heâd actually consider calling himself
an actor, Eddy got bored with it, and with presenting. And then, he
says, âstand-up comedy came around â by mistake.â
Gotta be joking
never in a million years thought I would be a stand-up comedian,â Eddy
Brimson insists. âIâm not actually a genuinely funny guy.â I beg to
differ, but Iâm willing to hear him out. Brimson reckons when he told
his mates he was gonna do stand-up, their response was, âEd, you ainât
funny!â Even when heâd gotten good enough to invite his martial arts
dojo to come watch, the response of the dojo master was, âIâve seen
Eddy before and heâs nothing like the person you see in here; heâs
actually funny onstageâ. 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 heâs not afraid of an audience â
as a former musician (bass player with The Morgans, one of the many
mid-â90s English indie âbands most likely toâ) heâd had a lot of stage
experience. And Eddyâs 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, heâs not a naturally
funny guy. âIâve got some very, very funny mates. When weâre in the
pub, theyâre the ones telling the stories. Iâm listening.â And yet, a
situation arose that get him interested enough to consider it:
âCaroline, 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, âOh, you
think youâre funny!â and gave it to me as a joke. And I thought, âIâll
take that!â and slipped it into my back pocket, and managed to get onto
The comedy course, taught by a ârestingâ stand-up,
essentially demonstrated a process and discipline to create humour out
of everyday life. âIt taught me to sit down and start scripting comedy,
to get the most out of the situation â which is why I like to do
stories rather than âgag, gag, gagâ.â Lesson one was âwrite down ten
topics that you find funny, whatever they are â farting, old people,
kids â and then just write down why theyâre funny.â Lesson two was ânow
stand up in front of the other ten people in the class and tell them.â
That was the turning point: âactually being up thereâ. Thatâs how
stand-up comedy is essentially different to âbeing funny with your
mates in the pubâ: being able to make strangers laugh. âWhen theyâre
not your mates, they might not get itâ.
At the end of the
course, the class performed before an audience of family and friends.
âWe all did a five-minute slot and it went really well. All of a sudden
Iâm the new King of Comedy: go out and do some more gigs.â Many whoâve
actually done it will tell you â if theyâre honest â the first gig is
usually successful. You get through on fear and adrenalin. The
audience, reminded by the MC that itâs the comicâs âfirst timeâ, go
easy on you. You cane it, and youâre over the moon. Quite possibly, you
convince yourself itâs a doddle and you relax before your next gig.
Which is when youâre brought back down to earth. Thatâs certainly how
it happened for Eddy. âSecond 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.â
give up at this point. Not Eddy. He was adamant that he had to prove to
himself that he could make people he didnât know laugh. And he did.
âAnd then once it gets hold of you, thatâs it. Youâve had it.â
(In)famous for 15 minutes
âYouâve had it,â I assume Eddy means heâs utterly addicted to the
âhighâ of having an audience laugh at things youâre saying to them.
Itâs pretty addictive. But no, thatâs not the case for Eddy. âThis is
quite a weird one for me,â he confesses, âbecause I donât think I see
it in the same way as most people. Itâs a fantastic feeling, but for me
itâs more a relief feeling that Iâve done what these people have paid
to come and see. Donât get me wrong â itâs the best thing Iâve ever
done. I was driving around this morning, thinking, âThis is mental: Iâm
on the other side of the world talking to people and Iâm getting paid.â
This is how I earn my living. I still donât understand how that
I reckon itâs from the years of football
hooliganism â the ârushâ of surging energy of crowds united with a
common mindset â 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 âenjoyâ those rides actually âenjoyâ
is the cessation of fear. They are addicted to having survived it.
Because Eddy admits to having nerves before every performance: âI 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!â But he wonât relax
during a performance, even if, he says, he knows heâs âgot the crowd by
the nutsâ. Instead, heâs every vigilant because the gig âcould go
tits-up at any momentâ. Itâs only after heâs 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 heâs 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. âI hadnât
even got to the mic and someone shouted out, âYouâre gonna be shit!ââ
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. âI
hadnât even started,â Eddy says, âand I had to stay up there for 15
minutes cos I thought, âI canât walk off; Iâll never get a gig with
that promoterâ.â After heâd finished his set, Eddy walked straight out
The gig was for one of the Jongleurs venues â
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. âThatâs a big kick
in the nuts for the career before itâs even started,â Eddy says. âI
thought, âIâm never gonna work for them again, everâ.â Two weeks later,
they called him into a meeting and said, âweâve seen you; we know
youâve got potential and jokes, but if you can stay up for 15 minutes
in front of that, then youâve got the balls to go with it. Weâd like to
âThat was it,â Eddy smiles. âCareer take-off.â
Shock of the nude
Jongleurs gig might have been the most horrible, but it wasnât the
scariest gig Eddyâs ever faced. Surprisingly â given the manâs
pre-performance nerves â Eddyâs most challenging gig, instigated by a
group from Boston at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, was a
performance undertaken âstark bollock naked,â 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. âThey
were struggling to get people to do it, for obvious reasons.â That Eddy
was willing to bare all before a Guilded Balloon audience of 260 people
âsurprised an awful lot of peopleâ, but his thinking was, âif I can do
this, I can do anythingâ.
So how did it turn out? âNone of
them were naked,â 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 heâd be the only performer actually 100
percent totally nude. Still, he got through his ten-minute set,
somehow, even if it remains âthe most surreal experience I ever had in
my life.â 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,â Eddie recalls. âThis 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, âMate, there is no one within eight rows of you. Did
you know people were going to be naked?â He looked right back at me and
said, âOh yes!â A proper perve! Heâd just come to have a look. Fair
play to him!â
Not everyone was as keen as the 65-year-old perv
in the smoking jacket and cravat, though. Eddyâs wife, back in London,
for example, did not take the news well. âWhen 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.â 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, âWhy didnât
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.â Eddyâs
response? âThatâs exactly why I didnât bloody tell you! I didnât want
you lot coming around, seeing what I ainât got!â But heâs glad he did
it. âItâs one of those things. Itâs a life experience, isnât it!â
the experience, and the 15 minutes of Jongleurs hell, there are,
surprisingly, still aspects of performance that faze Eddy Brimson. Heâs
not so keen on getting heckled, for example. It doesnât happen often,
though â probably given Eddyâs physique, demeanour, subject matter and
manner. But when it does get rowdy, heâs got an amazingly effective
though very unorthodox âcomebackâ: âI usually go, âShhhh â letâs all be
quiet, then we can listen and get on with itâ.â It works very well,
Brimson insists: âItâs the best heckle put-down Iâve ever heard because
all of a sudden everyone goes, âOh, okay, what have you got to say,
The reason it works, the reason Eddy doesnât get
heckled, is because Eddy is in control, and he lets the audience know
that. That donât necessarily consciously realise this â but the fact
that potential discomfort is dispelled leaves them able to continue
enjoying the show rather than interrupting it or ignoring it. Hereâs an
example: the first night I see Eddy Brimson, he opens with a simple
statement. âIâm a rude comic,â he says. âWeâre all adults, you donât
mind a bit of rude stuff.â 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. âThen if they go, âoooh!â the get-out is very simple: âYou
said you didnât mind rude stuff!â And everyone will laugh, because it
takes the blame off me. All of a sudden, the doors open and youâre in.
It sets the tone and at the same time says, âthis is a comedy club;
these are jokes; letâs not take it too seriously. But youâve let me in,
so here we go.â Youâre away because everyoneâs comfortable.â
all of that, how can anything ever go wrong on stage? This is comedy.
Thereâs always something. âYou know what itâs like,â Eddy concurs.
âEvery comic will tell you this: you can make 260 people laugh, but if
thereâs one sour-faced bastard sitting in the corner youâll come off
stage and say, âDid you see that geezer who wasnât laughingâ¦?â Forget
about the other 259. âDid you see that geezerâ¦? Cheeky sod!â And thatâs
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.â
wasnât anything wrong the night I saw Brimson. And if there was one
geezer not laughing in the Comedy Store that night, I didnât spot him.
Eddy took the stage confidently, asked us if we could handle his
rudeness, did the gag, shocked us, pointed out that heâd warned us,
made us laugh, won us over and took us on that journey, sharing his
disdain for kids and the way they ruin parentsâ lives, regretting you
can no longer punch them â yours or someone elseâs. A later routine had
him jumping out of the bushes in a gimp mask in order to scare kids â
his re-enactment involving him striking a pose somewhere between Steven
Berkoffâs impersonation of a skinhead and Berkoffâs impersonation of a
skinheadâs Rottweiler. Later still, he confessed his own shock,
surprise and disappointment about having to come to terms with aging
because â although you wonât believe it to look at him â he reckons
heâs 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
doesnât hate them. He just doesnât want any.
happily married. Iâve been married for 13 years now and my wife and I
have always been in a position that weâve never wanted kids. But I get
on really well with kids: I come from a big family and all that. Itâs
just a decision weâve taken, and we get a lot of pressure about it,
because weâre happy together and well set-up.â
about hating kids came as a reaction to comics who have kids and end up
doing material about it. âI thought, âno, hang on, letâs have a go at
this from the other angleâ,â Eddy explains of his material about not
having kids. âThe weird thing is the amount of parents that get it.
Itâs not an anti-kid thing, itâs an anti-parenthood thing. So many
parents come up to me at the end of gigs and say, âthat stuffâs
spot-on; you must have kids to know that stuffâ, and itâs like, âno, I
just observe how bad your life can be at timesâ. Thatâs where that all
Kids âwind upâ Eddy âsomething rottenâ â but itâs
mostly down to âbad parentingâ, he reckons. âI see so much of it
around. Itâs there in front of you and itâs what a lot of people are
thinking. Even parents think about it. Of course you canât punch kids,
but even parents get annoyed at other peopleâs kids.â Eddy
liken kids to farts â âyour own ones are greatâ â but he actually gets
on fine with them. âPeople think if you havenât got kids you canât 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, âYou know what, Anita? Iâm gonna shoot
down to the pub, have a beer and leave you to it!ââ
Telling it how he sees it
Of course Eddy has an entire show about âthe joys of not having childrenâ. Itâs called Kids! I Couldnât Eat A Whole One and he hopes to tour it in Australia next year. But there's more: Kids!â¦ 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 â I was raided by the police at
home once, because I was very politically active. Itâs 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 didnât do itâ¦â
I have a
theory as to why Eddy Brimson was under suspicion: with bushier
eyebrows, heâd be a dead ringer for âThe Hoodâ â the bald villain that
features in so many episodes of The Thunderbirds.
âCould be,â Eddy says. âIâm certainly not an Osama Bin Laden look-alike.â
theâre the two shows heâd most like to tour, it still is only the tip
of iceberg, according to Eddy, who has âa lot more stories to tellâ.
That, he says, is why heâs a storytelling comic rather than I think
thatâs why Iâm a storyteller rather than âa gag-merchantâ: because âa
lot of stuff happenedâ. Clearly, Eddy always has been a teller of funny
stories â from his books about his life as a football hooligan, to the
stand-up comedy about his life. As far as heâs concerned, his material
is forever revealing itself to him. âItâs all happening in front of
you. If you open your eyes, all of a sudden you see it.â
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 â I donât know â 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 âknow aboutâ a lot of stuff, is all Iâm saying. Still, I was impressed that Tom knew about an old film Iâd just purchased on DVD. Iâd picked up a cheap copy of Tommy CooperâsThe Plank.
âYouâve heard of this?â I marvelled.
âYeah,â Tom said. âMy grandad told me about itâ.
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.
Itâs 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 â just a still accompanying the music. But there are a multitude of stills accompanying the same soundfile, entitled âThese Are My Twisted Wordsâ, all over the internet now.
I donât quite know what to make of this newest, leaked song. The first few seconds sound like a different song entirely â different drum beat, different music â until a disco beat â not unlike John Paul YoungâsâLove Is In The Airâ â barges in over the top. (Okay, whatâs happening is the drummer is âcounting the band inâ just after the tapeâs started rolling, guitars already strummed â maybe with a bit of whammy bar action; thatâs what it sounds like. The [programmed?] disco beat was probably added later.)
âThese Are My Twisted Wordsâ apparently first appeared as an MP3 file, embedded with the following info (courtesy of ateaseweb â Iâm not sure if thatâs âat ease webâ or âa tease webâ â 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. Thatâs if itâs 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.
âWe did about ten shows and all the shows were great â standing ovations and good stuff like that. But at one of the shows, there was a person there who didnât like my show, and they complained to the comedy club in London and they fired me for the next two weeks.â
What? How does that work?
âExactly. Thatâs what I said. âHow does that work?â Someone in Dubai saw me, didnât like my show â even though after the show I was signinâ autographs and taking pictures with the punters â she called London and these people just fired me, no questions asked. They didnât say, âHey, did you do this, did you do that?â Nothinâ! I was like, âOh, wow. Welcome to America. Wait â Iâm not in America!ââ
Iâm talking to Tony Woods long distance from the United States. Heâs a comedian Iâve never met, nor seen live, but I know heâs good because when he was in Australia for the Cracker Comedy Festival earlier this year â appearing both in the Gala and on Good News Week â there was a buzz among other comics. There are clips, just in case you didnât see him either and didnât have other comics talking him up to you.
Tonyâs in the middle of telling me a story about a Dubai gig that got him sacked, and Iâm annoyed on his behalf. Firstly, the whole point of comedy is that the comedian tells âjokesâ â that is, they are effectively âpretendâ or âmake-believeâ compared to âfactsâ or ânewsâ or ârealityâ. Secondly, comedy is the one place where you are supposed to be allowed to explore taboo topics â to say things in jest that you could never have enough courage or insensitivity or permission to say in all seriousness.
âWell, first of all,â Tony insists, âI didnât say what she accused me of saying, anyway. Soâ¦ oh well.â
Weâre still talking hypothetically, to a degree. Tony hasnât divulged what he was accused of saying. Iâm not gonna ask him. It shouldnât matter. Comedy should be one place where youâre able to âpush the envelopeâ if you want to â and Tony reckons he wasnât even doing that.
âDidnât even push âem. I donât know what the hell she heard. She was drinkinâ. Or somethinâ. I donât know. Oh well. She ruined my summer vacation. I was supposed to go to The Bahamas for a vacation, me ânâ my family, but with two weeks of work fallinâ out of the pocket like that, you canât just up and go on a vacation. So I donât really wish the best for her at all.â
Well you wouldnât, would you. No, if you were a comic in Tonyâs position, the best outcome would be to enable everyone to laugh at this turn of events by turning this story into a comedy routine.
âYeah,â Tony says. âI will. Heh, heh, heh, heh.â
Ah, the Tony Woods laugh. I love that laugh. People claim Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones, has the dirtiest laugh since Sid James. Tonyâs 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 itâs gotten him laid.
You can hear the laugh on that YouTube clip where Paul McDermott grills Tony on the Good News Week couch. (âCouch Potato, the interrogation game of comfort and joyâ.) Although one question that doesnât immediately elicit the laugh is when McDermott asks Woods why he applied for Dental School. âHowâd you know that?â Tony says, taken aback. Eventually he replies âMan, I was 18; I just wantedâ¦ girls.â
When I ask him, Woods explains that he gained his first experience as âwhat they call a âdental technician/dental assistantââ in the navy. After advancing to âsurgical assistantâ he decided he might actually pursue dentistry as a career. âBut then,â he says, adopting a conspiratorial whisper, âI started doing comedyâ¦â.
Thereâs a pause. Followed by the signature laugh.
âHeh, heh, heh, heh, hehâ¦ you knowâ¦â.
Itâs a low sound that emanates from deep within, detached and yet cheeky. Itâs 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 âknowâ is that things donât always go to plan. The full story of how and why comedy usurped dentistry is something only Tony knows â but the encouragement to draw my own conclusion coupled with that laugh makes me want to assume the worst, something unspeakably shameful. Thatâs 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 âoff-colourâ material without actually delivering it. Audiences titillate themselves at his prompting.
I bet thatâs what happened in Dubai: Tony didnât 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 sheâd probably not had the pleasure of for some time. Good comedy can do that to you.
But Iâm more intent on pinning the comic down than drawing my own conclusions â unspeakable or otherwise â 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 âvery accidentalâ:
âI just happened to fall into it, man.â Tonyâs buddies insisted he was funny, that he should âtry outâ as a comic. âI went touring on those âopen micâ deals,â he explains, âandâ¦ BANG! There you go! Ever since then, thereâs no turning back.â
In addition to being able to leave the audience to do some of the work for themselves, Tonyâs style involves turning real experiences into material by re-telling it in a âbewilderedâ manner. Rather than a smug, arrogant or angry comic, Tony Woods is surprised. Itâs as though events are still taking him by surprise in the re-telling. According to Tony, that's his style: âLast to knowâ:
âEven though Iâm telling the story, itâs still taking me by surprise. Iâm the last to know.â
The beauty of it is that it renders all of Tonyâs material âuniversalâ. Heâs experiencing Australia for the first time and heâs telling us, more-or-less, as it happens to him::
âThereâs freaky stuff happening. Thereâs a lot of animalsâ¦. I mean like, animals that I neverâ¦â
At this point, you suppose itâs gonna be every visiting comicâs monologue about Australiaâs deadly fauna: spiders, snakes, sea creaturesâ¦. But no.
There was this dog on the couch, and I said to my Australian friend, âI ainât never seen a dog like that. What kind of do is that?â
And Iâm thinking, âWhat the f*ck do all the animals in Australia need with a f*cken pocket? They ainât carryinâ no wallet or nothinâ like that. What the f*ck you doinâ with a pocket, man?â
Funny to watch him tell it, bewildered, to Australian audiences â but itâs 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 â well, at least a decade. There are clips on YouTube from Holland that are ten years old. Tony canât quite remember when he made the transition from open mic-er to world class comic. âI just kind of adapt to my surroundings and make it happen,â is how he explains it. âItâs a shame that it seems I can get more work overseas than I can in America.â
That is a shame, but so is having people fail to âget itâ as far afield as Dubai. Although the Dubai experience doesnât necessarily rate as Tonyâs worst on the road. He explains that because of his âvery laid-backâ on-stage demeanour, early on, audiences would assume he was a stoner. âNow everyone claims to smoke pot,â he observes. âI wasnât smokinâ pot. I just had a very daydreamy style, so it looked as though I was stoned on stage.â Although, it turns out, this was one of Ms Disappointed of Dubaiâs grievances: âShe says that I was drunk, that I was stoned. But she didnât know what she was talkinâ about.â
If I wasnât so comedy-savvy, Iâd have my suspicions, as I tell Tony: he does have a lot of material aboutâ¦ But I have to correct myself before I finish saying âgetting stonedâ. By âa lotâ, what I actually mean is, of the few clips of his work I have seen on-line, oneâs about going to Jamaica; another one recorded in Holland talks aboutâ¦ but Woods interrupts me.
âWhat it is,â he explains, âis a covert way of tellinâ people to not do drugs; showinâ people the misadventures and misfortunes you can have when you do that.â
The example Iâll 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 heâd have had the time to have written as much as he did. I donât know many people who spend their entire waking lives stoned who have the memory or the motivation â let alone the talent â to turn their experiences into a career of stand-up comedy.
âExactly!â Tony agrees. âYou should call that woman and tell her that!â
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 doesnât seem to be any.
âNo, thereâs not,â he confirms. âNot at all.â The political comics, Woods explains, are âthe people who move to DCâ, not the ones that live there. âItâs like the people who live in Los Angeles arenât into show business,â he continues. âItâs the people who move to Los Angeles. Theyâre into show business.â 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, thereâs a great routine of which Iâm very fond â Tonyâs re-telling of the Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fairy tales.
âThatâs older stuff,â he says. âItâs about my introduction to kindergarten. Iâd been at home watching soap operas and then I get there and theyâd give me happy, sweet stories. I go, âno, thereâs gotta be a covert mission behind theseâ.â
Little Red Riding Hood is a horrifying story. It is. Itâs supposed to be like a kidâs story but you think about it.
First, Little Red Riding Hood: sheâs 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, sheâs skippinâ through the woods, teasing all the woodsmen: âHi, woodsmenâ¦â.
And theyâre like, âWassup, bitch?â
Okay, she didnât hear them say that, but I want women here to know, thatâs what men are always sayinâ 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 forâ¦ whatever, really. Woods likes the idea. âYou should be my agent, man, so you can come to Los Angeles and tell these people.â
The way Tony sees it, âif youâre not doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, they donât want to try it. Everyone says, âwhy donât you do something likeâ¦â. I donât 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 â and it has to be someone of notoriety â goes the different way. Then they all go that way. Like, now itâs all superheroes, you know?â
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 â television or film?
âI want to do film. Iâm still trying to be an action hero but I think Iâm getting old.â
Maybe. But in the meantime, make the Little Red Riding Hood animation about the superhero stripper, I reckon. That sort of thing shouldnât be too far away from Tonyâs own current interests, really. He already has his own DVD to flog after shows. âItâs an hour of different television clips of my television appearances from all around the world,â he says.
The important question is, do they include clips that we canât sort of stumble upon for free on YouTube?
âYes,â Tony says. âItâs un-stumble-upon-able.â
Nice. I think weâre done. I thank Tony for his time.
âNo problem,â he says.
I tell him Iâm looking forward to seeing him live.
âOkey-dokey,â he says.
Which makes me wanna ask one last question. Iâm wondering if âokey-dokeyâ is something he picked up on his last visit here. âDo you say âokey-dokeyâ in your country?â I ask.
âNot everybody,â Tony reports. âI say it. Itâs just one of those things. Maybe I say it from my travels, I donât know. People say it.â
Hmm. Awkward. Let me explain. Thereâs one bit of routine â from the 2009 Cracker Comedy Festival Gala â where Tony imitates the Aussie accent and some of the words typical to our usage of English that arenât in as common usage in the United States â like âindigenousâ, âmarsupialâ and âpouchâ. As he continues into a an anecdote, as part of the routine, the word âmotherf*ckerâ come up a fair bit.
âSome of your material is about communicating those differences, in culture,â I offer, âand translating words. Like you say, ââmotherf*ckerâ means âblokeâ to meâ.â
âYeah. Heh, heh, heh, yeah,â Tony Woods says, laughing again. âIt just means âblokeâ.â
âI like that,â I offer. âMate, youâre a good bloke!â
âAwright,â Tony says. âAnd youâre a good motherf*cker yourself!â
For a limited time, if you really want it, you can download a free MP3 file of the song âGreat Dayâ from the Paul McCartney album Flaming Pie, now scoring the title sequence of the new Adam Sandler film Funny People. All itâll cost you is being added to a Paul McCartney mailing list.
Okay, maybe you think a free Paul McCartney song isnât the coolest thing to have, or to admit to having (youâre not quite wrong; itâs not the coolest thing, but itâs certainly not the most uncool â although youâre 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 â as so many people seem to want to cite as evidence for the prosecution â the one about Rupert Bear (âWe All Stand Togetherâ). Nor the other one about Rupert Bear (Târopic Island Humâ)!
While a multitude of comics are tense with the opening of the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, itâs worth noting that Sydneyâs just scored itself another comedy festival.
I know what youâre thinking, as you tick them off â 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-runningâ¦ not to mention attempts at Sydney Fringe festivals, Bondi festivals, cabaret festivals, all giving a home to comedyâ¦ as well as festivals established or in development for the Central Coast and Bowral â pretty soon thereâll 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. Hereâs his National Address on Comedy:
Of course, in this instance, the role of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been played by comedian Anthony Ackroyd. Itâs 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, Worldâs Funniest Island boasts âone ticket, two big days, 18 venues, 200 showsâ because it is built on the rock festival template. That is to say, itâs 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 âthe Godfather of Australian Comedyâ, 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 Iâd 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 heâs just the man to be launching a new comedy festival.
âComedyâs a bit like pop,â Pinder explains. âIf pop didnât re-invent itself, nobody would ever write another good four-chord pop song. Itâs the same with comedy. It becomes very easy after a long time to say, âIâve heard that beforeâ. You have to bite your tongue because itâs important that people actually do explore and experiment.â 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, âcomedy ought to be funnyâ and as far as he is concerned, he is not. He also eschews memorabilia. âThereâs no point in keeping it; somebody has to re-invent it all again and if you collect all that shit theyâll look at it and go, âitâs been done it beforeâ.â 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 Johnâs tricks is to date you by the kind of comedy you first started listening to. If your first love is Monty Pythonâs Flying Circus, youâre in your mid- to late-30s; if itâs The Goodies youâre about 40 to 45. The Goon Show means youâre old enough to lie about your age if you donât want to confess to being in your late-50s. âYou get your comedy chops about the same age as you first start listening to music,â John explains. The Goon Show began when he was just hitting puberty. For a kid whose family didnât have a television, hearing The Goons on radio was very ârockânârollâ. âMy father liked funny shit on the radio and we listened to it as a family because at seven oâclock 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.â Which succeeded in making John like it all the more â just like rockânâroll!
Of course, Johnâs anecdotes and knowledge betray a much broader love of comedy. For starters, his favourite act at the recent Adelaide Fringe was, essentially, a juggler. âIâm really tired of people who say, ânot another fucking jugglerâ. Thereâs something really astonishing about someone who hasnât even opened his mouth and youâre wetting yourself laughing.â All the great stand-up comics, he points out, incorporate some sort of physicality in their mode of performance. A lot more âwould benefitâ from being able to mime or juggle. And, logically, âa lot of jugglers would benefit from having some jokes.â Pinderâs love of this other form of comedy also dates back to his childhood, when his family lived next door to a circus lot where Ashtonâs and Bullenâs would set up their circuses when they were in town. âI wanted to run away with the circus from the time I was very young,â he says. Fact is, he pretty much has.
âThat whole period with the Tampa, I was almost ashamed,â comedian Anh Do admits. âI didnât want to tell anyone I was a refugee because refugees were âbaddiesâ, you know?â
The so-called âTampa affairâ â involving the ship that rescued refugees who were alleged, by the Australian government, to have been throwing babies overboard â 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 â against some odds, but with hard work and determination â made good thereafter.
Itâs common for comedians to explore the disjunction between how life is universally accepted to be, and how they experience it; for second generation Australians, itâs often about how their necessarily different family values and experiences â informed by the âold countryâ â set them apart from their friends and peers. Not so for Anh Do, however. As a stand-up comic â well, to be honest, âall-round entertainerâ is more accurate, since Do acts, makes films, hosts game shows, speaks inspriationally and dances to boot â 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: âflannoâ; 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 â youâd 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 SeaChangeâ¦
These parallel career elements would coalesce deliciously when he appeared on stage as part of an all-star show featuring other âwogâ (read, if that word is offensive in your culture: ânon-Anglo Australianâ) comics, called Show Us Your Roots. The irony was particularly golden: the guy who happens to be of foreign extraction who doesnât 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 âAussieâ than anyoneâs, since it didnât speak of the non-Anglo Australian experience at all.
âThatâs something I do consciously,â Anh said at the time. âPeople see me on stage and expect to hear the old âeating the dogsâ, this, that and the other.â Anhâs comedy wasnât going to be about playing to racial stereotypes, he explained. âI 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.â
Anh Do is currently performing at the Sydney Opera House, and nowadays, his comedy is a lot more autobiographical. While audiences are still laughing, theyâre also quite moved by some of the stories. Like the one about how Anh and his family came to Australia by boat. âIt quite a harrowing journey,â Anh says. âThere 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.â
Understandably, Anh explains, his parents are grateful to this day and continue to have a great regard for Germans and German culture. âMy mumâs got a recipe for sweatânâsour schnitzel,â he adds, insisting that âthatâs not even a joke, man. Itâs delicious!â
The Do familyâs life in Australia after arrival wasnât easy. There wasnât a lot of money, he says, âespecially after Dad left when I was 13 years old. Mum was looking after three kids on about six bucks an hourâ¦â Still, this experience is the source of humour, not despair â as it always has been. âI mine my life for laughs,â Anh reminds me, âgrowing 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 â I looked pretty funny!â
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 âbeing from elsewhereâ. Anh maintains that heâs still avoiding the broad generalisations of his racial background. âIâm talking about my life as a Vietnamese refugee, which is quite different from just looking for Asian stereotypes,â he says.
Not that deriving humour from stereotypes is evil â thatâs 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. âItâs something I wrestled with for some time,â Anh admits. It was the Tampa incident that proved a watershed.
âI remember being at a dinner for John Howard,â the comic recalls. âThis table was bagging refugees and someone asked me, âAnh, so, youâre not a refugee, are you?â and I said, âNo, Iâm not; Iâmâ¦ Iâm a migrant.â I lied through my teeth. And felt very bad about it afterwards. But at the time, I just wanted toâ¦ you know, I wanted toâ¦ they just slagged refugees and I just didnât want toâ¦ you knowâ¦â
The comic finds it uncomfortable, remembering that moment when he wasnât prepared to take on the table, or indeed, the room, as the single voice of dissent. It was easier to lie and fit in.
Anhâs faced similar situations before, and been able to deal with them as a comic. There was a Diggersâ reunion, he once told me, where he had to play to old soldiers whoâd fought in Vietnam, Korea and World War II against the Japanese.
âI 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, âHeâs just a Westie kid, really; heâs just a ladâ. I went all right, and after the gig, an old guy came up to me and said, âMate, youâre quite funny for a slopehead; do you want me to buy you a beer?ââ
Anhâs material at the time would have demonstrated that he was indeed a Westie kid â your typical young Aussie â who just happened to be born in another country. And he wasnât selling himself short by accepting the beer rather than taking offence at the âslopeheadâ remark. But thatâs 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 â and totally theoretical â itâs the plight of most comics: itâs an underlying need for acceptance and love â to âfit inâ â 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 â their own â 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. âItâs me saying, âthis is my life; Iâm refugee, I grew up poor; judge me if you will, but thatâs who I amâ.â
Not that this diminishes Anhâs earlier work. It doesnât make his older jokes less funny. As Anh explains, this new phase of his career is about âmaturing as a comicâ. Earlier on, playing pubs and clubs, it was all about âhaving to get quick and cheap laughs before the bikies start throwing stuff at yaâ. Nowadays, heâs playing the Opera House, âwhere you can actually tell a tale and have meaning and depth and all the rest of itâ. Itâs all about developing the artistry of entertainment. âBut itâs not just about being a refugee,â Anh adds. âItâs also about other thingsâ¦ like being on Dancing with the Starsâ¦â
Yes, of course. Beyond his stand-up career with appearances on The Footy Show helping make him known to people who wouldnât 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.
âI was doing eight hours of training a day for six days a week,â Anh says of the experience. âI lost 13 kilos. None of my clothes fit anymore. I was rockinâ up to Channel 7 Studios in my Year 10 school pants, the only things I could wear that wouldnât just fall off. So I went and gave all my fat clothes to St Vinnieâs 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.â Anh returned to âHornsby St Vinnieâsâ to relocate his clothes, but theyâd been sold. âI couldnât find a single item,â he says. âThereâs a dude out there with all my stuff; if I see him, I will mug him to get my stuff back!â
âGrowing up, all I wanted to do was play football. I wanted to play Origin for New South Wales,â Anh says. âThat was my dream.â Part of the reason lies with a very basic lesson Anh learnt very early on: âYou get picked on for being different, but as soon as youâre good at sport, all of a sudden youâre 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 didnât make it â my talent only took me so far. But that was my dream.â
According to Anh, his love of âAussies and sportâ is down to the fact that âweâre always the underdog, but we get in there and we give it a bloody red-hot goâ. He offers the Olympics as the best example â a perfect segue for a joke.
âMy favourite Olympic sport is Synchronised Swimming,â he says. âI love watching it. Iâm 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.â
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 doesnât know him, that will have fun watching him die if they donât have fun watching him succeed. But that moment a comic can point out a truth that an audience wasnât even aware that it knew â that is golden. Anh agrees. He was on a panel of people brought together for Channel 7âs Sunrise program, to discuss The Chaser when it was in the doghouse for its touchy âterminally ill kidsâ sketch.
âI donât agree with the sketch,â Anh explains, âbut 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 kidsâ¦ other than sick kids.â 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 sonâs symptoms. âThis room was laughing in empathy with the father,â Anh says. âOther parents, who had kids who were sick, were empathising with laughter. Thatâs the power of comedy. It can be healing. It can be a great tool for breaking down barriers. Itâs powerful.â
Anh Do is proof of the power of comedy â 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 couldnât 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 wasnât either, really.
âI discovered that I just enjoy telling stories,â Anh says. âWithin a couple of years of doing comedy, there was a part of me that wanted to tell stories that werenât funny as well. So I started writing a film, which was made. Now Iâm also writing a book â my autobiography. And Iâll 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.â
âAnhâ is pronounced to rhyme with âbarnâ; âDoâ is like âdoeâ, the female deer.