Gig 27 and 28: Afghanistan Kabul

This day was the highlight of the tour for me. Robbo is a 64 year old soldier who first went to war as a young man in Vietnam.  He is also quintessentially Australian.  At one point when our plane was delayed he informed me by saying "The engine is fucked, she's gone tits up and we're stuck an extra day".  This was definitely the most Australian sentence I'd heard since a couple of lads drove past my girlfriend 18 years ago and yelled, "Nice norgs lady."  Robbo is 100% Aussie.

Robbo told me that when we landed in the capital of Afghanistan Doctor Karl and I were going to be taken off base to perform for some military personnel who never get an opportunity to see shows.  This meant we were being taken out into the real world where safety was slightly more difficult to guarantee. That morning while waiting for our plane in Kandahar we all saw that a suicide bomber had exploded in Kabul as a protest against the American Secretary of Defence visiting the city.  This left us feeling mildly uneasy even though Robbo informed us, "Not to worry, this happens all the time."  Yes, that might be the case but not for us.  When someone bombs in our line of work it is metaphorically not literally.

After landing and having a new brief about the rules of the base at Kabul, Karl and I were kitted up in our armour and sent off with new soldiers to travel through the city. Our land cruiser was laden with bullet proof windows, shock proof doors and a device that could block anyone trying to remotely detonate a landmine near our car.  As a fan of The Dark Knight Rises this device thrilled me...except for the fact that it might actually be needed.

Karl and I were in one car and we had another keeping a close eye on his from behind. (Ooer vicar!)  We moved slowly through the base and after clearing some posts were finally on the streets of Kabul.  Cars raced towards us at great speeds only to pull up alongside us as they squeezed onto the busy streets.  On one side of the street sheep grazed unaware that later that day they would be taken across the road and slaughtered for their meat; their heads left on the hook so buyers would be aware that this flesh was fresh.

We attempted to enter the Green Zone from one angle only to be turned around when we reached the gate.  The bottle neck this created brought about some mild anxiety and I blamed everything from the Bourne movies to the TV series Spooks as I knew the term "bottle neck" usually lead to something bad happening.  Of course there was nothing to worry about but when you're in a new situation how are you to know?  Our driver was an African/American nicknamed Buzz.  He is possibly the toughest person I have ever met and I knew he was "the man" because he was so relaxed.  You know how really tough people are relaxed because they know they can deal with any shit that comes their way? Buzz was this type of guy.  When I asked him what type of training he'd partaken in he calmly talked about being an ultimate fighter and how once in training he'd been pepper sprayed for ten minutes before having to fight a whole bunch of dudes.  I didn't want to overreact so I bit my lip and refrained from asking him if he was in fact Batman.

We drove around to a new entrance and made our way into the Australian section of the International Security Assistance Forces headquarters.  Robbo pointed out a spot on the street where a 12 year old boy had not only been laden with explosives but was remote detonated by a minder who was trying to get the kid as close to the allied forces as possible. It is difficult to describe the feelings that wash over you when you look at a spot that was the location for such a heinous act.

 

 

The Aussie HQ was a little room with 18 high ranking officers and other members of the security deployment waiting for our show.  These men and women were absolutely amazing.  They obviously have such high stressed jobs and work long hours but they were so friendly to Karl and I that you immediately felt like you were a part of a family.  We shared non-alcoholic beers and exchanged stories.  I feel like I learned a lot more about the situation in Afghanistan in that brief moment than I had previously known my entire life time.

I decided I'd go up first and belted out a 35 minute set before Karl followed with his own 35 minute presentation.  Here's my setlist:

 

Gig brief

Flying on a Hercules

"Stay safe"

Hen's Night

Biker Gig

Old Lady and Scrabble

Gym Conversation

Doctor Story

Breaking Up Through History

Turning 40

Car Crash in Adelaide

Invite Who You Want To Parties

Being An Arsehole

Little Boy Joke

Tripping and Farting

Getting Angry as I Get Older

No Need to Share All Your Opinions

Glitter in Invitations

People wearing your glasses

Hairy Baby

Spooning

 

It was fun to belt out a longer set and the audience was great considering it was in a smaller room with a small crowd.  All those early years of performing to small audiences at Fringe Festivals really payed off at this point!  Buzz told me afterward that he found my set very funny and I was particularly pleased to have won over the man I suspected was in his spare time a superhero.  Doctor Karl was also fantastic as he not only nailed his presentation but also answered some interesting questions.  (I now know why there are always carrots when you vomit.  Even if you wrinkle up your nose at the baseness of that question you have to admit it has you intrigued, right?)

After the gig we were presented with medals (I have so many medals now and I'd be a liar if I pretended it wasn't cool.) and we had our photos taken with our loyal and boisterous audience.  I met some fantastic and interesting people that day and it was a true honour to have performed for them.  Considering they rarely get to see anything I am also glad that I didn't fuck up!

On our way home I watched the sun begin to set over Kabul.  I was pretty relaxed and enjoying the company of the soldiers as we weaved in and out of the chaotic traffic.  While blissfully unaware of my surroundings I looked ahead and saw a woman completely covered in traditional clothing standing in the middle of our two lanes of traffic holding something metal in her hand, the sun glinting just enough to let you know she was definitely holding something out in front of her.  My stomach dropped and time suddenly appeared to lose its elasticity as my first thought was, "This is what happens when you relax".  I don't know if this moment of fear was justified or not.  Everything was suddenly silent in the car and I took this as a bad sign.  It feels trite to write it down now as (spoiler alert!) I'm here telling the story but at the time the appearance of a faceless person holding something metal was just enough to send electricity through my body and shut me down.  I also knew we were driving too fast to slow down and there was literally nowhere to move on either side.  Earlier I had asked if anyone would have recognised our car figuring we'd fit in with the locals but I'd been told they definitely knew who we were. I hadn't bothered to ask who "they" were and had just nodded but now I wondered if "they" were on to us.  Why anyone would want to blow up a comedian and a smart dude is beyond me but it is easy to be rational after the event.  I watched as the car in front of us stopped and now clicked that we were in fact going to pull up alongside her.  As we pulled up I looked at the woman and then her hand only to realise that she was holding four necklaces she was hoping to sell.  I turned and looked at Robbo who turned to me and exclaimed, "For fuck's sake.  If you're going to sell trinkets open a fucking trinket stall."  I don't know if this was the funniest thing ever said but I laughed like it was.  The adrenalin rush that hit me from here took me through to the gig that night.

That night at the gig my setlist was the following:

 

Setlist One

Gig brief

Flying on a Hercules

Hen's Night

Biker Gig

Old Lady and Scrabble

Turning 40

Car Crash in Adelaide

Hairy Baby

Invite Who You Want To Parties

Being An Arsehole

Little Boy Joke

 

Setlist Two

Tripping and Farting

Getting Angry as I Get Older

No Need to Share All Your Opinions

Glitter in Invitations

People wearing your glasses

Spooning

For me this was the closest I came to a tougher gig.  When I say tougher I mean in comparison to the rest.  The funny thing is when I have a tough gig my default setting is to be bigger and bolder.  There were a group of male soldiers up the front on my left and there were mainly women soldiers sitting opposite.  The women were up for it right from the beginning but the men were sizing me up.  I decided the best way to deal with them was to get cocky and started making fun of them because I'd been OTW (Army talk for "over the wire" meaning I'd been off the base) and I'd lived to tell the tale, that I was a war hero so time to show some respect mother fuckers!  The soldiers enjoyed this approach and laughed at my obvious lack of toughness and the way I was talking up something they would have probably achieved many times in their stay in Kabul.  It broke the ice at the beginning and made the rest of the gig a breeze.

 

 

 

The other highlight of this gig was watching Lachlan Doley join Adam Miller in his set for a cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy".  With Adam on guitar and Lachlan on keyboards, it was a nice surprise and a great cover of a great song.  I thoroughly enjoyed this gig and this whole day in general.  It was full of surprises, excitement and I learned a lot as well. That night I lasted to about 10.30pm and didn't wake again until 7am the following day, adrift in an exhausted and deep sleep, full of dreams that were lost the moment I opened my eyes on a new day.

Justin Hamilton

10th of March, 2013

Kabul