As a lot of you would know Dave Grant died on Sunday surrounded by his beautiful family and friends. It was a peaceful passing for a friend. Yesterday there was a memorial in St Kilda attended by hundreds of people. It was a moving and inspiring tribute to a man that touched and influenced a lot of people. His wonderful wife and beautiful children all spoke eloquently about their “funny man” filling the room with love and affection. Various friends from all facets of Dave’s life paid tribute in their own unique way. I was a very lucky participant in the ceremony and I cannot thank Dave’s wife Karen enough for the honour. It was an amazing day and was in the end the perfect tribute to our brother.
Today I have been thinking about Dave a lot. I am sad that he is gone but I feel nothing but love for my friend and the life he lead. I would like to share with you my top five Dave Grant moments.
5. The first time we changed a room together to make it work
Dave and I had performed together a few times in Melbourne but this was the first time we had a run of gigs together in Sydney. It was early 2001 and I was still new to stand up Sydney style. I was hosting and Dave was headlining. The run of gigs we were performing at were all new and booked by Artie Laing of A List Entertainment. A List was very important to my development as a comedian as they booked me for gigs very early in my career. I think Artie and the A List gang knew exactly what they were doing teaming me with Dave. It was a weeklong lesson of how to get it right.
I forget the suburb we were in but the gig we turned up to was on a Thursday night. Dave and I met up early and had dinner then walked upstairs. There were already 40 people ready for the show and more streaming in. Dave has walked in and looked around.
“No. No. No, this will not do,” he muttered while shaking his head. I have to admit, the room looked fine to me. It had people in it, what more do you need? Dave walks up to the manager and says he needs to change a few things. The manager looks at Dave and realises this is a man on a mission and therefore will not take no for an answer. I watched as Dave walked up to all the people and told them they had to step outside. The manager and I stood next to each other dumbfounded. What was he doing?
Like a sheepdog on coke he rounded everyone up and outside. Then he closed the doors and told the girl who was selling tickets no one was allowed to come in until we were ready. For the next fifteen minutes Dave and I moved tables, chairs, pot plants and lights. We removed coloured gels from the lighting rig and checked the microphones until we had the crisp sound Dave craved.
Then he let everyone in. They were disgruntled to begin with but when they walked in they found themselves closer to the stage and bunched together like happy little campers. The gig was a massive success and after Dave had ripped them apart I walked on after him to close the show. The audience was buzzing and like someone who has just had the Matrix revealed to them, I could see how all the changes had worked and made the gig so much more than it could have been.
From that moment I was hooked and have ever since changed rooms in the Dave Grant way. Artie Laing admitted to me yesterday that he deliberately booked Dave for rooms in their early conception because he knew how to fix them. Artie really knew what he was doing when he booked me to work with Dave.
4. Shit gig in Sydney.
A couple of years later and Dave and I were booked to perform at a room in Parramatta. As soon as we turned up we didn’t like what we saw. The gig was full of pissed men and women who probably thought the best comedy in the world was lighting your own farts. (Don’t get me wrong, that is pretty funny but not on this night.) Before I was to go on the host had a drunken skinny man try to remove a g-string from a drunken fat girl’s ample waist. This was classy stuff.
To say the gig did not go well would be a lie. It was awful. I used all the tricks in the book. I used material that had worked all over the country but they were really only interested in drinking and seeing how they could ruin the future of the country by fucking each other without contraception and possibly breeding by accident. At one point someone yelled out something incredibly offensive to an Aboriginal man who was sitting up the front and who was also trying to enjoy the show.
I turned. I really let them know that they were scum. I let them know that they should all drink drive on an abandoned highway so they didn’t take any innocent bystanders out. I told them they could go fuck themselves and they had better treat the next guy with some respect because not only was he as funny as fuck but he had the brawn to be able to take them all out in a fight. I threw the microphone down and strode off the stage. As I walked past Dave he had his watch in hand.
“Great work kid. You went up there, you did your best and you took no shit. You fired off all your rounds and you let them know just how disgraceful they’re acting. And you came in two minutes under time.”
“Thanks Dave,” I said as I kept walking. I didn’t even wait to get paid. I just kept walking and left the gig.
An hour later my phone rings. It’s Dave Grant.
“Hey I just wanted to ring you to thank you. You just made the gig a lot easier for me because you shocked them so much that when I walked on I let them have it. I was booked for 20 minutes but I ended up doing half an hour of high-octane comedy. And then at the end I told them to give you a round of applause because if it wasn’t for you taking the bullet, I couldn’t have done my job. Thanks brother.”
I genuinely didn’t sleep until late in the morning that night I was so pumped by Dave’s phone call. That he would even think of me was beyond words but to thank me was just outrageous. And you know what? He would have made that gig work without me. But you already knew that didn’t you?
3. Espy meltdown
The Espy in St Kilda had stopped putting on comedy shows for a while but back in 2006 they started Sunday sessions up again. I went down to watch and hang out. That was what you did at the Espy. Besides, Dave Grant was hosting so I wanted to go down and watch.
The show begins and when Dave walks on stage I see the thousand mile stare. The stage looks like shit. Gels in the lights. Half the stage in darkness. Dave isn’t going to be happy.
“I feel like a ninja up here,” Dave says. Everyone laughs but I know Dave isn’t joking.
Dave is a professional though and he keeps working and working trying to make the gig a success. I can tell his mind is working at a hundred miles per hour and after a very funny opening he introduces the first guest for the show Gavin Baskerville.
Gav comes out and is going well. Then suddenly in the darkness up near the front of the stage I can see someone moving back and forth. I can’t see what they’re doing but I just notice the shuffling back and forth. Suddenly out of nowhere a bright light shoots up from the floor hitting Gav in the face. The light has made him look evil and not only that, it’s too close to him. Gav starts sweating but continues to do his act. At one point Gav mops his face and says, “Geez, someone better put a fork in me, I’m cooked on this side”. I’m in hysterics. This is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
Gav finishes and Dave walks back on stage. The light hits him in the middle of his chest. He is still not happy.
“Okay people, we’re going to take a quick break and fix this light situation.”
Dave has thrown to a break one act in! I can’t stop laughing. This is classic Dave. I walk out the back and stifle the giggles.
“Dave, was that you in the dark setting up the light on stage while Gav was performing?”
Dave looks at me.
“I couldn’t cope Hammo. So while Gav was on I went to my car, pulled out my emergency lights, cables and extensions and just set up.”
Up until this point I never knew that Dave drove around with all the equipment a gig needs in the boot of his car. This destroyed me. Dave was the only person I knew who if the Amish booked him would be able to set up a successful gig.
The show restarts. The lights are perfect. The gig goes without a hitch. Dave was right again.
2. The Rhino Room Gala
At the 2008 Adelaide Fringe Festival I was booking the Late Show at the Rhino Room. The Rhino Room is my spiritual comedy home and I take great pride in the acts I book. One night through some good fortune I ended up booking what was essentially a gala. Now remember, when people turn up to the Late Show they have no idea who is going to be on. I always like to book established acts with up and comers but this night, this night is something else.
Now remember a hundred people in this sold out show turn up without knowing who is going to appear and this is the line up: Jimeoin, Bob Franklin, Lehmo, Arj Barker, Gordon Southern, Wil Anderson, Frank Woodley, a member of Puppetry of the Penis and Dave Grant. All for $20. I’m hosting and with every act that comes on stage you can tell the audience can’t believe the night they’re getting. I can’t believe the night they’re getting and I booked it!
The only problem is that no one wants to go last. Everyone wants to be on as early as possible. So I turn to Dave. I ask him if he minds going on last.
“Whatever you need to do brother,” he says.
So we get to the end of the night. It is roughly two in the morning. I bring on Dave to polite applause. He is the act with the smallest profile but the audience has had a great time and they’re staying until the end.
Within seconds the crowd is roaring. Dave is on fire. He knows what has come before and he is taking his game to the next level. He pulls out all the classics. He tears into the audience with his rapid-fire wit and the crowd is screaming with laughter. No one leaves their seats in the off chance they miss a joke. At the end when I come back onstage there is sweat dripping down Dave’s face. He’s given it his all. He gives me a big bear hug while the audience screams their approval.
After the gig we’re downstairs having a drink. A group of five come up and shake Dave’s hand.
“We just wanted to tell you that we thought you were the best tonight.”
I feel pride. Am I allowed to feel that about the comedy veteran? I do anyway and I smile at Dave as he has his photo taken with the group of young comedy fans.
After they walk away we don’t talk about it. He’s too classy for that. But he’s smiling and so am I.
1. The Star and Garter
I had finished performing in duo called the Bunta Boys and had set out on a solo career. I return to Melbourne for the first time as a new act. I’m at the Star and Garter waiting to go on stage. This big guy, with grey hair and dressed all in black comes up to me while I’m sitting by myself.
“Hey, Justin Hamilton, right? Dave Grant. You used to be in the Bunta Boys. Are you going solo now brother? Hey, have a good one. I’m looking forward to it.”
And a friendship is born.
I miss Dave. But I am so glad to have these stories and so many more about my friend.
January 29th, 2010