The United Nations Of Laughter

The United Nations Of Laughter

In December 2005 the warmth of the Sydney summer was blighted by the chill of sectarian violence in the beach suburbs of Cronulla and surrounding areas.

Violent clashes between so called “Aussies” and what the press called “Men of Eastern Appearance” had infected the streets with an unnerving tension as Australian citizens from a variety of cultural backgrounds feared for their personal safety.

Amidst the ongoing turbulence I was scheduled to be the comedian at the Rockdale City Council Christmas Party held on the foreshore of the beach at Brighton-le-Sands. Reports were that racially based conflicts were still flaring up in this area. I was about to walk into the eye of this particular storm and try to get laughs. Thanks a lot comedy gods!

I didn’t know what to expect as I wound my way through police blockades and searched for a place to park. I was nervous, and my feelings of apprehension that night were not helped by the fact that most of the street lights seemed to have caught a case of stage fright and blacked out. 

I emerged from the cocoon of my yellow Ford Laser into an atmosphere charged with unease and humidity. My passage to the venue seemed destined to be uneventful.

In fact I didn’t see a single human being, until two figures suddenly loomed large as they rounded a corner and headed toward me. My heart beat out an adrenaline inspired drum solo but these two enormous Tongan blokes meant me no harm.

At the venue I was met by the Mayor who asked me if I wouldn’t mind going on a bit earlier than planned as the guests had already finished their mains. I walked straight on stage and the image of the audience I then saw is still crystal clear in my memory almost two decades later.

Among the 200 guests were Muslim clerics, Christian clergy, a Jewish Rabbi, Chinese, Vietnamese, Greeks, Italians, Indigenous representatives and an unmissable delegation from Zimbabwe in vivid traditional dress.

A confluence of circumstances created an unique gig that night. I had feared that the mood might be sombre after the recent events. But the laughter was loud and full of warmth and good will. It signified more than just the appreciation of humour. It encompassed a riposte to the racial discord that had stained our shared culture over the past few days.

When I finished my act the applause was overwhelming and I knew that the clapping wasn’t just for me. “Look at us,” I shouted, “We’re the United Nations of Laughter!” The audience stood and kept applauding. Hey, every performer loves a standing ovation but I realised something unusual was happening.

These folks were now applauding each other and in doing so I knew they were publicly declaring their connection. Then there was cheering and hugging. It went on long after I had left the stage.

Something powerful happened in that room that night. More powerful than conflict and intolerance. A luminous celebration of our collective humanity took place. In those fraught times the glow stayed with me as I left the venue. 

Walking back to my car I had a smile on my face that seemed to illuminate my path through those darkened streets. And I was not afraid.

 

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