Laughter and terror for Byron comedian in Iraq

Byron Bay comedian George Smilovici dons combat gear in Iraq
Byron Bay comedian George Smilovici dons combat gear in Iraq

Entertaining troops in Iraq can have its haz- ards, as Byron Bay-based comedian, George Smilovici, found out. On stage at his first show in Saddam's lux- ury Baghdad palace, George's routine was in- terrupted by a mortar bomb exploding 200 me- tres away. While "mortified" by the explosion, in true showbiz style, the show went on. Just getting into Baghdad with other enter- tainers including the Choirboys and Bessie Bardot in September, was a test of nerves as well. Because of threats from insurgents, the Her- cules in which they were passengers, dropped from 35,000ft to 250ft in about 30 seconds and then adopted a zig-zag course across the desert to the airport. George doesn't mind admitting that the mortar explosion and the Hercules landing frightened him. But on the positive side, he was more than delighted to entertain troops from Australia, Britain, America and Canada during a tour which took him to Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait as well as Iraq. "It was very touching to perform for them," he said. "It was a tremendous adventure." It was during a big show for the Americans where he ran foul of a senior US officer who didn't take too kindly to jokes about President George W Bush. George had told American troops that Bill Clinton was his favourite president and that President Bush was an evil version of Forrest Gump. For that, he received a letter telling him to steer away from certain "sensitive" topics, which he did for later shows. "I had to censor myself," he said. Despite the horrors and the obvious dangers of being in Iraq, George returned to Australia and started writing a whole new show about what he saw there. But he's also been busy reworking his pro- duction of My Father's Hand, which he wrote with anthropologist, Mark Winters. My Father's Hand is a multi-media show telling the fascinating story of George's profes- sional pianist father who fled the Nazis in Romania to Palestine and then on to Cuba

where he established a club attracting such lu- minaries of the day including Spencer Tracey, Ernest Hemingway and Errol Flynn. But Fidel Castro's revolution saw him flee to El Salvador, Guatemala and then finally to Australia. George describes My Father's Hand as "bru- tally honest, but very funny". "Imagine you had to escape from five coun- tries and start fresh in each country," he said. My Father's Hand will be performed at the Byron Bay Community Centre on January 8, 9, 12, 13, 14 and 15. - Gary Chigwidden

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