Telling jokes at corporate events is serious business. For Anh Do, months of slogging it out in stand-up venues for free have paid off in a lucrative and liberating way. He regularly performs to sell-out crowds and is one of Australia's most recognisable comedians. Anh says he loves to tell stories and entertain. But his jokes about being a Vietnamese kid growing up in Australia make light of the harrowing story that unfolded when he left Vietnam as a toddler on a boat as a political refuge. His perception and ability to joke about the Australian way of life and his Vietnamese cultural heritage has won over crowds across Australia and New Zealand.
How did you become a comedian?
I finished a degree in business and law at the University of Technology, Sydney. When I was at an interview for a big job as a lawyer, the interviewer reached across the table and said 'congratulations Anh, you've got the job'. He added casually 'by the way, you'll be working about 60 hours a week'. I was doing stand-up comedy as a hobby at the time and one of the old comedians said he worked only three hours a week and made more than double my lawyer's salary. So I switched out of laziness.
The old guy failed to tell me that it takes about 10 years to get to his level, which is the feature act of the night. I didn't want to wait that long so I did as many free gigs as I could – up to six or seven a week. This stage time helped me to improve very quickly. Within a year and a half I won the Comedian of the Year at the Harold Park Hotel in Sydney, which got me onto Rove and The Footy Show. A career in comedy is hard going at first, but if you are intense early on you can accelerate the process.
Sometimes if you keep at your hobby it eventually grows big enough to pay you. That's how I did it, and I just went nuts. I had no day job, so I needed comedy to pay for my rent and food. This pressure can work for you or against you, and for me it was a good motivator to keep me writing and performing.
When you turn your hobby into a job, 90 per cent of the time it's fantastic. You love what you're doing so it's like you're not really working. But then there's the other 10 per cent when a little bit of joy is taken out of it. For a while I was working up to seven nights a week and spruiking in the middle of a supermarket to make people laugh. This felt like hard work!
At the end of the day my life is much rosier than if I'd been a lawyer. I'm now in a position where I only do the gigs that I want and love to do. The gigs pay well and life is a breeze – it's fantastic.
These days a lot of my work is corporate. I have a quick 10 minute chat to the client to find out what they want and then just deliver a cracker show.
I've done Thank God You're Here three times and every time it feels like I am falling out of an aeroplane without a parachute. Freefalling in front of two million home viewers is an exhilarating experience that's unbelievably hard and challenging. Dancing with the Stars was also sensational. I'm pretty terrible at dancing, and entertaining through dance was something I never thought I would do.
The hardest gig in my life was when I was sent to the country to do a gig at an RSL Club. I thought 'this is going to be easy, country people love comedy and I do RSLs every week'. I walk in and there are about 500 old drunk guys and I thought it was going to be even easier because drunk people laugh at anything. But before I am about to go on, the MC has a minute's silence for fallen brothers in WWII against the Japanese, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He then sees me and says 'Jesus Christ'.
For the first five minutes it's dead silence except for one bloke who's made a gun out of his hand and is shooting at me with his fingers. I say 'you've probably killed a few blokes that look like me'. 'Fourteen' he said. But I brought to the front all my blokey and bogan material like flanalette shirts, bull terriers, Datsuns and Kingswoods.
At the end of 30 minutes I got them laughing and it was one of the best gigs of my life. One of the old guys comes up after the show and goes 'geez you're funny for a slope'. I took it as a compliment and he bought me a beer so I had some drinks with them. It was a great experience.
There's a lot of admin work, which I originally ran away from as a lawyer. I used to hate doing it myself, but now my manager takes care of it.
The old guy was right. These days I only do about three or four hours a week and I'm earning a very good living.
I spend between 80 and 90 per cent of my time with my children just hanging out – life's fantastic.
I have a manager who takes care of all the boring stuff that I don't like.
A comedian once told me that no matter what anyone says, you have to be really, really good at what you do, whatever it takes, whether it is writing, research or practice. That tip stuck with me and if you follow it, you'll get places.
As a comedian and storyteller, one quality that's very important for me is to connect to people. In comedy, storytelling and entertainment, it's all about your interaction with an audience, so it's very important to connect with them.
I see the audience as my boss. Most people go to work and have one boss they usually hate, but I go out there and have 500 people I aim to delight and please. The audience is why I'm there and that's something I never forget.
I'm in a film this year, as well as some TV shows which are a bit confidential. But you'll see me around on TV and in the papers – there's lots and lots happening in the second half of this year.