Doing what makes him (and others) happy
COMEDIAN Anh Do is set to bring his best-selling memoir, The Happiest Refugee, to life for one night only at Grafton’s Saraton Theatre in a ground-breaking new stand-up show.
After touring it regionally in Victoria last year, Anh said he was looking forward to coming to Grafton and travelling throughout regional New South Wales.
“It will be my first time performing in Grafton. I have visited there before when I was about seven years old. We stayed there for a little bit of stopover but I remember it being a beautiful place.”
Anh said he particularly enjoyed performing for regional audiences because “you guys are there to have a laugh.”
“Sydney audiences are a bit different. They’ve usually had to battle through two hours of traffic to get there on a Friday night. They come in a little late, a little bit tense. With country audiences everyone’s really friendly. I love it, they’re my favourite shows to do.”
Anh said The Happiest Refugee story was inspired by his father and uncle “who fought alongside the Aussies (in Vietnam) and ended up in concentration camps”.
“My family had to get out so we found ourselves at sea for five days. We ran out of food and water and were attacked by pirates.”
Anh was only two and a half years old at the time and on board with 47 other Vietnamese refugees. “My father told me we were all sick with dehydration, one person was already dead, and then the pirates struck. He said they threatened us and he said “they were dangling this little kid over board which turned out to be my little brother Khoa Do.
“That was 1980 and thankfully he went onto to grow up. He was named Young Australian of the Year in 2005 for his work with street kids.”
Anh himself also overcame his own difficulties as a refugee arriving in a new country to study and become a lawyer before turning to stand up which saw him crowned Australia’s Comedian of the Year in 2008.
“It was tough childhood but rich in experience and stories.”
Anh said his family was not well off but remembers his first and only birthday party fondly.
“Mum asked me what I wanted for my party and I said helium balloons. She said they were expensive but would see what she could do. So she blew up eight regular balloons and stuck them up on the ceiling with sticky tape.
“It’s these kinds of moments growing up that make up the stories of my life and this show. People do love the show, for the laughs but there are also some moving parts so some people have a bit of a cry too.”
Anh said he and his family and relatives always spoke about their trauma and ordeals “quite candidly” while growing up, something that helped him cope and later became a catalyst for his book and comedy career. “We’d talk about it at the footy and at home. I remember my uncle wet his pants once he was so scared recalling a story.”
And while the plight of the world’s refugees is on the news daily, Anh said he never set out to make his story ‘political’. “I’m not that kind of guy. I’m just a storyteller. People can take whatever they want away from the show.”
Someone who was moved by Anh Do’s book The Happiest Refugee was another performer who had a hard time trying to convince the comedian who he was.
“I got this surprise phone call one day. He said it was Russell Crowe speaking and I was thinking it was mate Johnno having a go but it was really him. He said he really enjoyed my book and wanted to make a movie about it. So he bought the film rights to the book. We are working on the screenplay now. I’m going to play my father. He was really small so I’m watching The Biggest Loser to get ideas.”
Despite the comedy Anh can glean from his life, he did admit performing it can be “an emotional roller coaster ride for me.”
“lt still gets to me, but life is going really well at the moment. I’m even getting recognised on the street. This mum stopped me and said you’re my son’s favourite person and she asked me to sign something and then says to me, ‘you are by far the best Wiggle’. I smiled, crossed my name out and wrote Jeff the Wiggle. I thought to myself after walking away, gee that guy’s 68 years old or something. How old do I look?”
Anh said he felt extremely happy and lucky with his lot in life now performing comedy and indulging in a passion for art which saw him selected as an Archibald finalist in 2014 for a portrait of his father.
“I wake up and pinch myself and am thankful to be alive. When I’m on tour sometimes and have some time to kill during the day, I’ll go and sit by a river or park or opposite a nice church and sketch the view. Then at night I get to go up on stage and make people laugh. It doesn’t get much better than that.”