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Profile Anh Do

Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday February 2, 2011

By Lucinda Schmidt

Buying his mum a house was a high point for this refugee-turned-comedian. After Anh Do and his family arrived as refugees in Sydney, he had one aim in life. Having survived two pirate attacks on their boat from Vietnam, then several months in a Malaysian refugee camp, he was determined to help lift his family from poverty."From an early age, all I wanted to do was earn money to buy my mum a house," recalls Do, now 33 and a well-known comedian.His father had left the family when Do was 13 and his mother earned just $6.80 an hour in a clothing sweatshop.At 14, he started a small business breeding tropical fish, after learning that $15 spent on adult fish could spawn 500 babies.As a first-year university student at UTS, studying law and business, he ran a market stall selling American Indian artefacts to capitalise on the Dances with Wolves craze. The stall soon grew to four franchised stores.Just six months from finishing his five-year degree, Do turned down law firm job offers to focus on stand-up comedy, figuring that was a faster way to earn money."By then I was doing stand-up about four hours a week and that paid a bit more than I'd get as a law graduate working 65 hours a week," he says. "I was following the laziness option."He took every gig he was offered, including spruiking fruit and vegetables in shopping malls and hosting boxing tournaments, until he'd saved a $40,000 deposit."I gave the house to her for Christmas 2000," recalls Do, who was then 23. "We all cried."Do realised he may have a future in comedy during his final year of university, when the law students practised their courtroom technique in "moot courts". "Rather than just going through the case, I'd just make the class laugh and I'd win because they would vote for me," he says.At an "open mic" comedy night, a friend told Do he was funnier than the participants, so next time Do did a five-minute stint that went well and led to his first booking.Despite more than a decade as a successful comedian, and writing a best-selling autobiography, Do confesses that he is "the least funny guy in my family". It was a coping mechanism for all of them to deal with the horrors of the boat trip with humour.They left in 1980, after two of his uncles - who fought for the losing South Vietnamese/US side - escaped from a communist concentration camp. Forty people crammed on to a nine-metre fishing boat, which lost most of its food and water after a storm on the second day.Pirates took what was left, including the engine, but one young pirate threw the group a gallon of water as his boat sailed away. It kept all but one of them alive for five days, until they were rescued by a German merchant ship.Although Do was only a toddler at the time, he grew up hearing stories of the escape and says it has strongly influenced his approach to life."Rich wins over poor but family is more important than anything else."The Happiest Refugee: My Journey from Tragedy to Comedy by Anh Do (Allen and Unwin, $32.99)THE BIG QUESTIONSBiggest break The hardest [stand-up comedy] gig I ever did. There were 50 bikies in a pub waiting for a stripper - I was the warm-up guy. They were yelling "Lady boy" and "Take off your gear". I managed to survive that gig [in 1999] and every one since then has been a piece of cake.Biggest achievement Buying my mum a house. After moving 17 times, I really just wanted her to know we've made it - this is our place and no landlord is going to kick us out.Biggest regret I liked a girl in first year at university and I didn't tell her for five years. We were just friends. Finally I told her and she said "Me too" and we got engaged three weeks later. That was five years of watching her date other blokes.Best investment My mum's house in the western suburbs [of Sydney]. I bought it for $350,000 [in 2000] and it's now valued at $700,000.Worst investment Last year I bet $500 on [NSW rugby league team] the Rabbitohs to beat the Panthers. The week before, I had given the Rabbitohs an inspirational speech and they beat the Tigers. Then they lost to the Panthers by 30 points.Attitude to money It's great to have but it's not everything.Personal philosophy My father's favourite Vietnamese saying: There's only two times in life - now and too late.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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