Big brush off
Which star hit the cutting room floor on Anh Do’s new show?
FOR a man who’d already conquered the comedy world like Anh Do, becoming a finalist in the 2014 Archibald Prize was a monumental achievement.
It was also an emotional one, because the host of
Anh’s Brush With Fame had painted a portrait of his father Tam when the older man was gravely ill with a brain tumour.
“That’s a son painting a dad he’s quite worried about,” explains Do.
There was one slight problem though – Tam didn’t like the picture.
“My father looked at the painting and said, ‘Gosh I think I’m better looking than that!’.
“Then all these old ladies recognised him and wanted selfies with him in front of the painting … he looks at me and says, ‘Hey son, good job, you got my likeness down pat’. He changed his mind just because the old ladies wanted selfies with him!”
They’re “best mates” now but for nine years through his teens, Father’s Day was a celebration in which Do could not take part.
Tam, battling alcoholism, had left the family when Anh was just 13, and the pair didn’t reconnect until Anh tracked him down aged 21.
His anger at being forgotten by his dad quickly dissipated when Tam introduced him to his baby half-brother: “His name’s Anh. I named him after you,” his dad said.
“My father lost three brothers and his own father in the aftermath of the (Vietnam) war and he used to drink to forget about it,” Do explains.
“Now he’s back in our lives, and he’s got his drinking under control and he’s a great dad.”
Tam survived the tumour and Do’s four kids under 12 adore their grandad.
“He’s getting close to 60, he’s mellowed and the kids love him because he’s a big kid.” Brush With Fame blends Do’s love of painting with his fascination with people. Celebrities in this first season include comedian Magda Szubanski, presenter Amanda Keller, brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo, singer Kate Ceberano, actor Craig McLachlan, radio loudmouth Kyle Sandilands and boxer Anthony Mundine.
“For me I had to either love and admire them, or find them fascinating,” he explains.
“I think one of the reasons people open up so much during the show is I’m not there to judge them. I’m just a very curious person. If I’m at a dinner party … and you’re up for it, I want to ask you the big questions: What’s your greatest joy? What’s your deepest regret?”
While the opening montage features celebs reacting with delight at their portraits, Do admits they didn’t all love what he’d painted.
“They all said they liked it, but you can tell, you know! I’m so nervous before I spin that painting around. I’m like that person on Master Chef watching the judge chew the food …”
The interviews also went well, with many great stories hit the cutting room floor.
Case in point: legendary Cold Chisel front man Jimmy Barnes, recounted a tale about a woman who gave his stage manager a letter at a gig requesting he undergo a paternity test.
“Barnesy has a look at the photos and says, ‘I better do that paternity test!’,” Do laughs. “It turns out he has a 30-something daughter he fathered when he was 17 and he’d never known about her. And that story didn’t even make the final cut! You could do a two-hour show on Barnesy.”
Although his success as a painter led many to conclude he was scaling back his work as a comedian, Do is touring with his hit comedy show The Happiest Refugee.
He refuses to be put into a box.
“You can list all of these things, like making people laugh, painting, getting to know fascinating people – I could list all of those as my hobbies,” he says.
“If I inherited a billion dollars from an unknown uncle tomorrow, I’d still be doing these things, just for fun.”