Check any list of celebrities popular with Australians and chances are comedian Anh Do will be somewhere near the top.
In 2015 he was rated #2 in the Repucom survey as Most Appealing Celebrity (beaten only by Hugh Jackman) and #4 on Trust.
They are results even the man himself finds hard to explain.
“I don’t know where they are doing those surveys! One had me at #4 for “Most Popular” and I’m not even at #4 in my own family!,” he told TV Tonight.
“I might scrape in at #5 because one of my sons is pretty annoying.”
Having featured in his own travel specials for Seven and Long Lost Family for TEN, Do is now fronting his own art / interview series for ABC, Anh’s Brush with Fame.
“I was cleaning out the garage and I found about 1000 art books I’d bought from St. Vinnie’s and I only had about 50 or so comedy books. And I realised, ‘Wait a minute, I think I’m ignoring this passion called Art.’ So I went back to TAFE,” he explained.
“People say ‘Are you a painter or a comedian?’ but I love it all.”
Indeed his 2014 painting of his father saw him become a finalist in the 2014 Archibald Prize. Painting with oils, but with no ‘process’ he can explain, he remains ever-humble.
“Barnsey asked me ‘What’s your process?’ But I have no idea what I’m doing. I just subconsciously slap down paint. Sometimes I might start with the forehead, sometimes the cheek or neck. So I’m kind of making mistake after mistake and when it looks ok I stop!
“Someone else might be able to tell you the style –I’m not learned enough yet!”
In his new series, Do paints portraits of 8 celebrities but devotes as much of his time to an intimate conversation with his subjects. The result is an insightful, emotional series that challenges both participants.
“If I inherited a billion dollars from a long lost uncle tomorrow and I had to fill in my days, I would paint and chat to fascinating people. So this is a dream come true,” he explained.
“I got to choose the guests in collaboration with the ABC. For me there were two criteria. Either I loved and admired the person or I find them fascinating. So someone like Kyle Sandilands is lots of things, but he’s never boring.
“I’d heard things about him living on the street but he tells a fascinating story about living behind a service station when he was homeless, and at nighttime he would listen to the radio coming through the bowsers.
“So the voices of the announcers would be his human company. That’s when he fell in love with radio.
“The guests are so open and giving and I think that’s what makes the show work.”
Also taking to the chair are Magda Szubanski, Craig McLachlan, Anthony Mundine, Kate Ceberano, Dr. Charlie Teo and Amanda Keller. Each gets to keep their finished portrait.
“Amanda Keller shares some melancholy moments in her life and it was just when I was painting her eyes, so it comes out.
“The intimacy of the studio space is one of the reasons why they open up. There’s no studio audience so they don’t feel like they have to perform. So it’s just two people chatting. It’s definitely not a show about how I paint.
“Some sittings took 2 or 3 hours and some were 4 hours. Sometimes they would ask me about my life.
“I did a lot of research on all of them. If the guest had written a book I’d read it. I did sketches and a bunch of work so that on the day I’d nail it.
“I have a bunch of photos on my table, and I explain to them ‘Don’t sit still!’ I want them to answer the questions and be animated.”
Meanwhile Do has no immediate plans for more travel specials noting he was missing family too much, whilst he is yet to hear about any more of Long Lost Family.
“I haven’t heard anything, but I’ve got to tell you, I’m quite happy to move on from that. I spent the entire time trying not to cry. It was a good experience for me, something different. But it was pretty intense. There was a lot of joy in seeing the reunions, but I think I’ve done my quota of crying, thanks.
“It’s given me some range!”
Anh’s Brush with Fame premieres 8pm Wednesday on ABC.