Fear of Dandenong – by Aidan “Taco” Jones
Once again we reach Saturday and find me running on very little sleep after three days’ activities. Last night I went down to Dandenong to do some standup at an open mic night in a local pool hall… what a strange experience.
I’d never been to Dandenong before last night, and my only experience or knowledge of it at all was a joke told regularly by Doug Gordon, a comic from around the place, which goes; “Did you know there are over 300 languages spoken in Dandenong? That’s crazy, how many ways do you need to say, ‘gimme your wallet!’ ”.
Make of that joke what you will, it is liable to plant a certain picture in the blank mind of any wary traveller. Then just before I left to jump on the train I stopped by Baker St, Richmond, to grab some stuff I left there on Tuesday and say hi to Brodie and Jimmy, and after I said I was going to Dandenong. Brodie (ex-dealer with more than ample experience dealing with sketchy people and shady situations) told me to be careful, and not to walk around at night. Fuck.
So I jumped on the train notably tense and began rehearsing a script in my mind for what I was now sure was the inevitable run-in I was going to have with a gang of angry youths as soon as I stepped off the train. “If you can make ’em laugh then you’ll be right” – I remembered the words Plummy told me one day a long time ago as he recounted his story of being backed against a wall by three guys in Adelaide and getting out of it by calling one of them a fluffy teddy bear. I don’t fancy my chances tickling someone’s tum-tum while they stare into my face with the “I-want-to-pulverise-something” eyes on.
I tried to spy my foes on the train, but saw no one other than a few cute girls and some sad, repressed business-types I couldn’t help myself from gleefully judging internally. No threats, but my head was on a tense swivel. As we pulled in to Dandenong station at the end of the line and a twenty-five minute ride, I saw the blue and white checkered pattern of the police force on the side of one of the buildings and let out an audible sigh. But I still had the walk to the pool hall.
Phone out, and I started adding up the value of all the clothes I was wearing just in case they muggers were organized tax-wise and were offering invoices. I remembered advice from Bolivia; don’t walk over bridges because then you can be trapped by two people… but I also remembered my blind confidence from Bolivia, and so when faced with a foot-bridge, I crossed that shit like a motherfucker. WOOOO!!!! WHATTT?!! PROJECT CONFIDENCE! HEAD UP! BREATHE STEADILY! LOOK AT HOW IN CONTROL I AM EVERYONE!!
I got to the pool hall in one piece, they didn’t have EFTPOS, I had to walk another ten minutes back to IGA to get cash out (back over the bridge, and back over it a third time on the return!), and when I got back the salt-of-the-earth types that I’m sure would be offended by such a condescending label were setting up instruments for their various open mic bands.
I went up third to maybe twenty strangers whose attitude towards me ranged from indifference to mild uncaring opposition, and I ate shit for seven minutes and forty-eight seconds, throwing out my punchiest material to two or three one-note chuckles at each painfully delivered punchline. “These people are so different to me, this place is so different to mine, how can I possibly hope to connect with this audience, or with any of them individually?”
After the show most people who had shaken my hand before conspicuously avoided eye-contact, and the couple behind the bar advised me as to the differences between my sheltered inner-city home and their gritty suburban locale. “They’ll laugh at anything over in Richmond, mate! ‘Cept they’d prob’ly do it like this [mimes snobby cigarette-holding hipster laugh].”
“Yeah, look dude, you’re probably right.” is what I wanted to say, but my response probably came out a bit more mumbled and unclear as I just wanted to get out and home so that I could get to planning my next trip out there.
For a comedian, each different crowd is a new puzzle to be solved, and there is a solution to every puzzle, make no mistake. What started out in my mind as a frivolous and ill-advised danger-mission to one of the ‘worst’ suburbs in Melbourne quickly turned into the beginning of an exercise in empathy. My ego won’t let me to give up the idea of walking on to the stage on Friday Open Mic Night at The Green Table Pool Hall/Social Club in Dandenong and capturing the hearts and minds of those twenty odd people, so different to me, but surely not that different where it counts.
I got a lift back to the station in the dark, still having not seen one dangerous person, but harbouring no doubts that they were definitely lurking out there in the shadows. I doubt my ridiculous daylight ‘confidence’ display – like a peacock trying to scare off radiation with a feather display – would have deterred any potential attackers, but at least it made me feel a little safer.
I’ll figure you out Dandenong, see you in November.
Aidan ‘Taco’ Jones is a Melbourne based comedian and writer, to read more visit ajtaco.blogspot.com