My Kandahar comedy show that literally bombed
Writer, comedian and Can of Worms reporter Dan Ilic visited Aussie diggers in Afghanistan last month to perform a series of comedy shows. Today, he writes about what he saw and experienced, in the first of a two-part report.
Here are some tips for comedians. Never try out new jokes to a hostile crowd. If you do, keep it short.
Whatever you do, don’t go out to an unfamiliar audience and give them 15 minutes of new material you wrote just for them until you’ve actually learnt all the jokes. I did this recently on stage in front of a crowd of about 50.
I could tell the gig was going to be dull. It’s called Funny Shui: the audience all self-consciously sit as far away as possible from the stage. I couldn’t even make eye contact with this group. Showtime.
I trotted out the new gear. The jokes sounded like I had just written them (I had). They sounded like I was reading them aloud for the first time (I was). Okay, they sounded pretty shit. It’s moments like this you wish for some kind of intervention.
My wish was granted. About three minutes into my routine, a British voice erupted from the venue’s speakers: “Rocket! Rocket! Rocket!”
My unrehearsed performance was being disrupted by something far more interesting. An IDF assault on Kandahar Air Force base.
Those Taliban sure know how to heckle.
Stand-up comedy quickly became lie-down comedy. Everyone hit the deck. I was probably the first to “eat gravel”, whereas much of the audience took their sweet time to get on the ground. After all, rocket attacks are nothing new to those who live on the Kandahar Airforce Base.
At around 7:30pm for 12 straight nights, IDFs (indirect fire rockets) had been fired into the Kandahar Airforce base. Due to the rudimentary nature of the rockets and the propensity for the Taliban to fire the rockets without aiming them, most of the IDFs miss the giant military base.
Lying down, with microphone in hand, I continued to do two more minutes of new material, which seemed to go down much better now that all of our lives were in immediate danger.
But Taliban rocket attacks are a serious thing. Some rocket attacks do hit their targets.
Only a few weeks before I had arrived at Camp Baker, the Australian compound in the 35,000-strong installation, an IDF attack was underway when one Australian soldier couldn’t bear being stuck in his bomb proof accommodation any longer and decided to head out for a smoko.
Just as he dragged the last little bit out of a cigarette, he heard a loud CRASH from his barracks. The soldier returned to discover a Taliban rocket in his bed.
Proof that smoking is good for you.
My Kandahar comedy show was my first on a five-show whistlestop tour of Afghanistan for Forces Entertainment early last month. I had the privilege of being on tour with pop rockers Amy Meredith and top singer-songwriters John Schumann, Hugh McDonald and the Vagabond Crew.
Today and tomorrow I’m going to tell you a little about what I saw behind the scenes in Afghanistan.
Just two days before the rocket attack we had landed at the Al Minhad Airforce Base in the United Arab Emirates.
Stepping off the charter airliner onto the Arabian tarmac was surreal. It was 3am, about 35 degrees and there was a mist in the air that gave all the other military planes on the tarmac a cinematic quality.
After a day of endless briefings - essentially 12 hours of PowerPoint presentations extolling the virtues of drinking water, washing your hands, how to apply a tourniquet, and warning us against drinking too much water - we popped down to area of the base that enlightened us to the dangers of IED weaponry and just what it feels like to unload a few magazines of bullets on the weapons range.
I was only there about a day, and I think that I saw all that Al Minhad Air Force base has to offer. It’s like a very clean caravan park mixed with all the charm of a minimum security prison.
The UAE base is used for the transit of personnel from Afghanistan to other places in the world. Often the stay is less than a week, but for Al Minhad’s full time inhabitants it can get quite annoying.
There is nothing much to do there except work out and eat. Someone told me that despite being in a safe country, the largest number of psych reports from the Middle East Area of Operations come from Al Minhad Airforce Base. That’s because while those working on the base they are part of the operation, they don’t ever really have to put themselves in danger, which results in an oppressive guilt.
As a result the personnel assigned to AMAB will try spend a portion of their trip deployment working “in country” - military speak for Afghanistan.
“In country” is precisely what happened to us as we boarded the back of a RAAF Hercules aircraft. Entirely awesome stuff for a young man who has read a lot of Tom Clancy, and played his fair share of Call Of Duty.
Some of the young tackers in Amy Meredith found this kind of transport “boring”. But who needs endless video entertainment channels when you’re dressed in body armour and about to fly into a war zone?
This shit was cool.
Landing in Kandahar was incredible. We drove from the airfield, which was buzzing with jets and choppers and transporters and secret CIA props, to Camp Baker, the Australian part of the air force base.
The thing that struck me about this place was its size. It was huge. Not so much an air force base, but rather a city plonked in the middle of the desert. It’s main industry: the creation of dust.
The base is so huge that it has problems like every other city. It has its own traffic jams, it’s own sewerage works, it’s own crime rate, it even has it’s own KFC and TGI Fridays.
The Board Walk, a shopping mall built in a square market, boasts coffee, pizza, kebabs, burgers, plasma tvs, dvds, counterfeit watches, hot dogs, a running track, and a hockey rink.
Imagine an outdoor shopping centre where everyone carries a semiautomatic rifle - so something like Westfield Parramatta.
It’s a place where people go to workout, socialise, participate in sports, and most importantly kill time.
Anything to take your mind off being in Kandahar is good: here if the rockets won’t kill you, the dust will. The best rumour that I heard was that after one year of being based in Kandahar you will have consumed enough air borne faeces to make up a Snickers bar. Nothing else satisfies.
The KFC in the middle of Afghanistan is fairly impressive, but the TGI Fridays is even more so, inside it’s just like any TGI Friday around the world.
I sat down with and American solider who was eating KFC and I asked him why it was important for him to have KFC here.
“It give us a taste of home, and helps us realise what we’re fighting for” he said with a smile “I’d fight for KFC any day”.
In case you’re wondering why we’re in Afghanistan, there’s your answer: protecting the sanctity of the secret 11 herbs and spices.
For the rest of Dan’s report, see The Punch tomorrow. Follow Dan on Twitter here.
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