Spring of 2013 I was a junior at Boston University. I had eagerly applied to a study abroad program to spend January through July in Auckland, New Zealand, and was accepted.
It was a surreal experience. I met incredible people, took fascinating classes at the local university (Sociology of Food?! Taught by an adorable and brilliant old man with a Kiwi accent? Yes please!), traveled all around Australia and NZ by myself, went cliff-diving, sand-surfed (broke a rib doing so), and even serendipitously met up with someone I hadn’t seen since high school who happened to also be studying abroad halfway around the world. But the crux of my experience was my internship – I was a marketing intern for the 2013 New Zealand International Comedy Festival.
Unlike festivals in the states, festivals overseas are a huge, theatrical ordeal. Like Edinburgh and Melbourne, the NZ ComFest is a month long. There are multiple shows at dozens of venues every single day, and you can see a show develop and change from the first day of the festival to the last. It is really special – I would like to go back again someday. (For my UCB friends – it’s like if DCM ran for a a full month, and the same shows went up every single night.)
My job was a blast. I spent the months leading up to the festival working with an amazing team in a very hip Auckland office doing stuff I enjoy like social media and fan outreach. By the time the festival was to begin in April, I had the names of the hundreds of acts set to perform at the festival memorized and ranked in my head by excitement factor. A big name there at the time (pre-Daily Show! pre-any American people knowing who he is!) was Trevor Noah, as South African and Kiwi culture intersect in a huge way. There were going to be a few North American acts, like the Wayans Brothers and Wayne Brady (that these were the choices to represent the state of modern American comedy never fails to tickle me.) Tom Green was on the line-up as well. I didn’t even know that he did stand-up. We got some press/rider briefings that insisted, “Do NOT ask him about Drew.” Ugh! Lame!
In the week leading up to the opening of the festival, the Boston Marathon bombing happened. Our time difference was completely wackadoo, so we were finding out about everything on a terrifying delay, and also this thing exists that people don’t know about which is that countries that aren’t America BARELY HAVE INTERNET. Unlimited wifi is unheard of there. We had to ration 10GB per month between four roommates, and pay $80 if we wanted to add 10GB more. Facebook was the only way that we were finding out about how all of our friends in Boston were doing and if they were okay.
It was mania.
In the days following, I was not handling my panic well. I experienced a strange soup of feelings – an odd, morbid jealousy that I was not in my old apartment on Bay State Road with my fellow BU students to hold each other and support each other. I hated being far away for this. The ever-present paranoia, anxiety, and fear of my loved ones’ safety was showing itself physiologically, as it so often inconveniently does. I kept dropping things the morning of the big opening night festival gala – I hadn’t slept well in days and my motor skills were just complete shit because of the stress adrenaline that wouldn’t quit. I remember making some french press coffee in our apartment that morning (they don’t have drip coffee there! It is seen as the lowest form of coffee everywhere but the U.S.! Get educated, people!) and pushing the pump down through the hot water way too hard and fast, thus exploding the boiling, muddy coffee grounds up and out of the tiny spout, all over my and my roommate’s faces and shirts just as we were fully dressed and ready to leave for the day. We sopped up the mess together, I cried a little, and she said, “We’re all a little fucked up today.” My hands couldn’t stop shaking .
I arrived at the opening night gala and tried to present myself as nicely as I could while constantly panicking that I didn’t have a phone to check (once again, no internet or data unless you’re physically at your computer.) I assisted people like Rhys Darby to their seats and gave them their welcome bags. I got to sit in the audience at The Civic for the evening’s performances and even got to be on New Zealand television that night! My roommate and I went to the after-party and still, with all of the joyful things happening around us, could only talk about Boston.
When a performer would walk by at the swanky party I would try to introduce myself, since we’d have to spend the next four weeks in close quarters. My special badge let them know I worked for the festival. Most of them were kind but wanted to get partying right away, so rightfully cut our polite exchange short. There was a lot of free alcohol at this party.
I was feeling kind of numb and empty. I was already exhausted, and couldn’t imagine the work that was ahead for the next month helping with multiple shows every single night. I just wanted to go home. As I finished my second glass of champagne, a man was making his way past me. It was Tom Green. He had performed at the gala that night and was so fucking funny. I introduced myself.
Tom Green was the first person to help me process the Boston Marathon bombing. When I told him in the polite first few sentences of our exchange that I was abroad from BU, he immediately locked in to speak with me for a long time. He asked me if I was all right. He apologized for what I was going through, and expressed his empathy for how hard it must be for me to be far away for all of it. He told me he would be thinking of me and assured me that everything would be all right, even though the world is a scary place.
I bawled on the walk home in my horrible heels.
In the wake of this past week, I am reminded of this wonderful, quirky little moment of light in my life during a traumatic time. How odd and sweet how the threads of the universe wrap around each other sometimes. Who would have thought? Bless motherfucking Tom Green.
Tom Green, wherever you are, I am thankful for your kind, Canadian self. Hugs to you.
Be a Tom Green to someone you see today.