Stand Up For Your Rights

It was a crisp cool morning, much like many of the other mornings in October in Melbourne. In fact, on waking up I could scarcely differentiate this morning from any other but I knew that today was going to be different. Two very important things were going to happen today, the Australian federal election and the Amnesty International comedy night – “Stand Up For Your Rights”. The significance of these important happenings was that I was running one of them. Perhaps someday I’ll run the other (or perhaps even run in the other!). Today, however, I had to stand up and be counted. Not just among the 18 million or so other Australian Citizens, but as an agent for change, as living proof that one person can really make a difference.

The past week had been a roller coaster ride and a half. Exactly 168 hours ago, ticket sales had stood at the alarming figure of 172. Our venue, Hamer Hall, has a maximum capacity of 2397, which is just a tad bigger than 172. This presented a few problems for us, the organisers. In addition, the woes of assembling a crew and organising all the logistics of actually running the night – theoretically the biggest single stand-alone comedy event in all of Australia, were starting to stress me out. As a person who does not normally get very stressed about things in general, my stressing had the unfortunate side effect of eating into the confidence of my tireless volunteer crew.

Then a miracle happened. Not the kind that happens when you find an elegant proof for a plane geometry problem, the inexplicable kind, the kind which is intrinsically tied to human behaviour. On Monday, people began to buy tickets. Lots of tickets. I was expecting exponential growth in ticket sales in the last week, but this was quite beyond what I could have imagined. With the help of a few handy little special offeres and discounts the ticket count more than doubled by Tuesday morning, then more than doubled again by Friday morning. To everyone’s relief we no longer had to consider the prospect of playing to an audience who would’ve only filled the first few rows of the stalls. We had all but sold out the stalls and the dress circle and were starting to fill the balcony. At 1500+ ticket sales, things were looking good.

So what did I do the night before one of the biggest events in my life? Well, I did exactly what I did last year before the inaugural SUFYR gig, I went to a Melbourne Arts Festival show in the state theatre. Last year I went to see Odeil Duboc’s Trois Boleros a dance piece with delightful choreography which was ever so slightly bland and repetetive, especially in the music department. This year, I was treated to a vibrant and pleasantly surprisingly unorthodox presentation of Mozart’s Concert Arias. Afterwards, I came home and found myself very easily falling asleep. Without the stress of ticket sales, falling asleep did not require the many units of alcohol which had assisted my slumber in the previous weeks.

Voting in the federal election was uneventful. I was a labour voter in one of the safest labour seats in all of Australia. While queuing up to vote, a very old man used my shoulder as a rest, which was fine by me, eventually someone came along and let him through to the front of the queue. Some of the boxes for the senate had interesting names on them, things like “Liberals for forests” for example. There were, or course, the usual suspects – the “citizen’s electoral council”, “socialist alternative” and there were also some new kids on the block, such as “family first” a new party with very naive policy, narrow outlook and, as it turned out, a hidden agenda of mixing affairs of church and state. I loathed the current government. Not only for their appaling human rights record, but for the very un-leader-like qualities of our Prime Minister, the [not often] right [and never] honourable John Winston Howard.

Once I was done with my compulsory duty, I headed off to the victorian activist resource centre to pick up some activist resources. A candle suit, some posters, badges, lollies and a box full of amnesty banners made up my arsenal. I was ready for anything, well, not before lunch I wasn’t, so off I went to Lily O’Neill’s in Northcote for an election-day barbeque. On arriving, I felt very out of place, not least because I was wearing a black suit with a black shirt. Had the interior of the house been painted matte black, one would have only been able to see my face and hands. I also had a hit of table tennis with similarly dressed Melbourne Uni Amnesty President Alex Bowen. Having feasted on some sausages and spuds me and Alex were off to the venue to start setting things up for the big night.

When we arrived at Hamer Hall (the venue formerly known as the Melbourne Concert Hall), all was not quite right. My improvisational… er… organisational skills were put to the test almost immediately when the very professional, organised and capable arts centre stage manager Maija asked me what exactly was going on. I decided that, seeing as nobody knew the answer to this particular conundrum, now was as good a time as any to actually decide how the whole night was going to work. Several short and hectic hours later, we had a detailed running sheet, completed sound checks and stage set up for a wonderful comedy extrava-gala-ganza. I could scarcely belive things were running so smoothly.

Waiting outside the theatre before Stand Up For Your Rights

Waiting outside the theatre before Stand Up For Your Rights

5:30pm – 1 hour dinner break. Yeah right. Halfway through my main course, I got a phone call from one of our interstate comedians… “hey Daniel, where’s my Hotel? Yeah, I know you told me, but I left the details at home…”. Intermittently throughout my meal, I was interrupted by the irritating vibrations of my mobile telephone. There was one point, just as I was finishing my main course, where I took seven consecutive calls, consecutive in that the next call was queued up on call waiting before I had even finished the previous one. The grand finale to this phone-farce was at 6pm when I was called back to the venue and had to very quickly scull an entire bottle of sparkling mineral water. So much for a relaxing one hour break.

Backstage, an hour before curtain. When I say curtain, I use it in the way I believe theatre production managers use it, because, of course, there is no actual curtain, and there are far too many commas in this sentence. Comedians began to arrive and we slowly became more relaxed. So relaxed, in fact, that I had time to have a play on a Steinway and Sons 9-foot concert grand piano and get a quick guitar lesson off fellow backstage hand Angus Tait of RMIT amnesty fame. As 7pm approached, I got an urgent call from the stage manager… apparently, there were huge queues at the box office and we’d have to delay the start of the night otherwise many people would be locked out. Inside, I was jumping for joy that there were huge queues for tickets, but I kept it cool, gave Maija a concerned look and said “hmm… oh dear, we’re just going to have to start a bit late, damn”.

My recollection of the actual comedy is similar to that of last year. Almost non-existent. When the night actually starts, from the very first roar of the audience to the very last, time seems to pass in a very strange way. It felt like I had stepped out of my body and was watching everything in fast forward. Fleeting moments and the occasional joke would catch my attention ever so briefly. Pull a curtain aside, carry a drum onto the stage, carry a microphone off the stage. All part of a carefully choreographed masterpiece, these moves happened without effort, like clockwork, like the balls in a newton’s cradle, there were no dead moments, at least not for me. The interval came all too quickly, but I took the opportunity to mingle in the crowd and try to get a feel for how the audience were responding. There was something of a unanimous agreement that the night was enjoyable from all who I spoke to. But I suppose they were all my friends, and that’s what friends do. I have great friends.

Starting the second half seemed strange. The results of the federal election had now spread through all areas of the venue like a groupie with an all-areas pass. The mood backstage was much darker, so I decided that I would…well… throw a curve-ball at the audience, so to speak. The second half started… click, click, click… what’s this? Is this the same man in the candle suit who was handing out flyers to this very comedy night just a few nights ago at Federation Square? Is he wearing tap shoes? What the…? Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, tap-tap-tap, heel-toe, heel-toe, knock, stamp. Run, run, run, SMACK! into the door, door opens, run off stage left. Viola, Daniel Yeow puts his signature on his comedy night.

GUD on stage during SUFYR

GUD on stage during SUFYR

While I don’t remember much, I do remember this. Standing backstage with the comedians watching the comedy was an unparalleled comedic experience. Watching top notch comedy being commented on by top notch comedians was just a superb experience. Shaking the hands of some of the great names in Australian comedy and having them congratulate you was also kind of surreal. I also remember the devastation I felt when I heard that John Howard was going to be our Prime Minister again. I also remember getting very worried when Dave O’Neil hadn’t shown up until about 5 minutes before his stage time. On the subject of comedians commenting on comedians, I remember MC Justin Hamilton (not to be confused with MC hammer) watching Dave in awe, shaking his head and saying “…the master”.

Then it ended. Almost as quickly and abrubtly as it had begun. Everyone left, the stage got cleared, the equipment was unplugged and dismantled and we quietly finished off the alcohol in the backstage fridge and left. I slowly packed everything into my car and drove home to meet up with dad, who had flown down from Hong Kong to Melbourne specifically to watch my comedy night. As I lay down to sleep, I couldn’t help but notice how much like every other night this night seemed at this point. It was almost as if nothing had happened. A part of me kind of hoped that I would wake up, find out it had all been a dream and get to live it all over again, but another part of me (the sane part) was relieved that it was over. The 9th of October 2004, a day on which many things changed, I can only hope that my influence was a positive one. And finally, having made my difference, I dissapeared back into the world of normal people like a ghost into a fog.

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