Anh Do: A portrait of Australia's 'happiest refugee'

Anh Do at his painting studio in inner Sydney Image copyright ABC
Image caption Anh Do at his painting studio in inner Sydney

His journey to Australia took him from tragedy to comedy.

As a young boy, Anh Do escaped war-torn Vietnam aboard an overcrowded fishing boat.

He has since built an impressive career in entertainment.

Now a fixture on the national stand-up scene and TV screens, two years ago he surprised the judges at Australia's most well-known art competition with an intense portrait of his once-estranged father.

The comedian's artistic streak - on show in a new TV series - earned him a finalist place in the Archibald Prize.

"It was great to visit the Art Gallery of News South Wales with this huge eight foot painting of him up on the wall," Do said.

"My father fought alongside Aussie and US soldiers in the Vietnam War.

"In the aftermath of the war my father lost three brothers and his own dad so he drank a lot. When I was 13 years old my father left the family and I didn't see him for nine years."

His mother worked tirelessly to single-handedly raised three children who all went on to attend university.

Do harboured an interest in art but studied law because he was determined to buy his mother a house.

Image copyright ABC
Image caption Anh Do with the vivid portrait of his father he entered in Australia's Archibald prize

After completing his studies, he was about to sign up for a 60-hour a week corporate job. But he turned down a job offer figuring that he could earn more by making people laugh.

His upbeat demeanour has since become a regular feature of comedy festivals and on TV and film.

He even turned his life story into a best-selling book, The Happiest Refugee - a story that caught the attention of one of Australia's biggest stars.

"I got this phone call and this big voice said 'Anh, it's Russell Crowe,'" Do said.

"He told me he loved the book and I've since signed a deal with Russell to turn the book into a film."

Following the death of a close friend, Do took up painting about six years ago, taking a college course and enlisting the help of an established artist to refine his style.

His new TV show, Anh's Brush with Fame, merges his talents. He paints and interviews a raft of Australian celebrities from his inner-city Sydney warehouse.

Do works quickly in a contemporary style, slathering thick strokes of paint onto the canvas with palette knives.

Image copyright ABC
Image caption Australian comedian Magda Szubanski appears in one of the first episodes of Anh Do's new TV show

Taking a seat on the show are actors Craig McLachlan and Magda Szubanski; singers Jimmy Barnes and Kate Ceberano; radio hosts Amanda Keller and Kyle Sandilands; boxer Anthony Mundine and surgeon Charlie Teo.

As they sit for him, Do makes them laugh and also gets them to reveal a few secrets about their lives in front of the cameras.

It all leads to the moment when the subjects get to see their completed portrait.

"That's been one of the delights of the show," he said.

"At the end of the show I spin the painting around and I show them. And I'm so nervous - I want them to like it. They all tell me they like it but I can tell that some of them don't!"

It's a show that combines his talent for painting and for talking to interesting people, revealing a different side to the people that step into his studio.

"I am naturally a very curious person," he said.

"I'm not a fan of small talk but if you want to get into the big questions of life - your deepest regret, your greatest joy - then we're going to have a great chat."

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