What travel has taught me: Damian Callinan, comedian, writer and actor


At a Dublin Film Festival screening of my film, The Merger, recently, Waheed Mohiuddin, an asylum seeker from Pakistan, asked if he could interview me for a documentary. As we turned my hotel room into a makeshift film studio, he slowly shared his story. He is an academic, film-maker, journalist and author. His last book, Revenge, is the reason he had to flee. He awaits processing after nearly four years and, despite the circumstances, has been doggedly building a new life as his family waits in Pakistan. If there was a time I felt the interview status should have flipped, it was this.


Teaching English in Japan in the 1990s I arrived early for a class in the penthouse apartment of the Rikoh Camera building, for the CEO's kids. His wife Keiko greeted me then I went to the luxurious bathroom before class started. After doing the business I was confronted with a control panel full of choices that wouldn't have looked out of place in a space shuttle. I just had to guess and push – and leapt out of the way as the bidet jet arced across the room. It eventually stopped and panicked, I left, having still not "removed the evidence" so to speak, figuring I'd come back in a break from teaching. When I did so, Keiko had already been in and eradicated the crime scene. It was never spoken of.


While on my honeymoon in Ireland in 2013, we were driving through the Wicklow Hills and stopped for spectacular scenery. There was a cock and hen stone fence with a hole in it. I thought to myself 'that would be funny to put your head in', then moved on to take photos. Eventually I turned back to see that my new wife, Ziilah was kneeling down with her head stuck in the fence. She had been waiting for a good two minutes for me to notice. At that moment I knew I had married the right person.


I was in Turin in 2011 and we were staying with members of Brass Vole, a street brass band that we had met via the Melbourne Comedy Festival. The band members had little or no English, but on a night out, we communicated with physical comedy. At one stage we were taking turns around the table pulling the face of "Strabismo di Venere" – the cross eyes of Venus. I have never laughed so hard in my life. All night the slapstick continued as we walked from bar to bar, taking turns to pretend to walk into poles, knock our shins on tow bars and trip out of sight behind parked cars.

After transporting his one-man show The Merger to the screen last year – garnering the Cinema Australia Audience Award and two AACTA nominations – Damian Callinan brings it back to the stage for Melbourne International Comedy Festival, April 9-21. See malthousetheatre.com.au