When in Greece, check out stand-up acts that find humour amidst economic tragedy
In austerity-slammed Greece, a new breed of young comedians are making humour out of their economic problems.Updated: Oct 31, 2017 13:29 IST
The crammed basement bar heaves with laughter as the young comedians take to the microphone, riffing on daily life in austerity-slammed Greece. This is one of a growing number of open mic nights to have sprung up in the past few years as audiences find stand-up comedy in the middle of economic tragedy.
Ancient Greek dramatist Aristophanes — known as the Father of Comedy — was writing plays that lampooned the worlds of politics, art and philosophy as far back as 425 BC. But stand-up here is a new art form. “Ten years ago, Greeks didn’t know what stand-up was,” says professional comic Andreas Paspatis, 28, the compere of the monthly Open Mic Thessaloniki, in Greece’s second-largest city.
“When I was booking gigs back then, we would call the bar and when we said we’re doing stand-up, 90% of them would ask, ‘What’s that?’” In Britain, successful stand-up comedians have a certain status, appearing on television panel shows and often commenting on current affairs and writing newspaper columns. But, while Greek television features sketch and comedy shows, it has no stand-ups, and there are still only about 20 professionals in the country.
Many people get their first taste watching foreign stand-ups on the internet, says Ira Katsouda, one of Greece’s few female stand-ups, whose own influences include cross-dressing Briton Eddie Izzard and philosophical American Louis CK. But the Greek crisis has also helped put stand-up in the spotlight and not just because of cheap production costs, says the 33-year-old, ahead of a sell-out show.
“Stand-up comedy is blossoming here. I do believe the crisis has played a big role in this. It’s a cheap form of entertainment and in these dark times, people need to laugh,” she said.
Young people may be struggling with close to 45% unemployment “but I’m not going to talk about the crisis because it’s not that funny”, he says. When he hits the stage, however, he does have a skit involving fare dodging on the city bus. “When the inspector comes on we’re all stressed. I don’t mean only the ones without a ticket but also the ones with a ticket,” he tells the audience, to building laughter. “I always have a ticket but I’m always stressed about the moment he’s going to come up to me... as if he’s going to say, ‘That isn’t a very good ticket!’”
The Greek economy nearly collapsed in 2010 under a mountain of debt and it had to be bailed out by its eurozone partners three times to prevent it bringing down the single currency bloc. Athanasios “Cain” Samaras says that for people of his generation, talking about everyday life inevitably involves talking about the crisis, or at least its effects.
He struggles to make a living as a professional comedian, and like many young Greeks survives only by living rent-free with his parents, which he talks about in his set, along with struggling to get by on a low budget, and the rage of biting into a croissant to discover there is no chocolate filling. “I grew up with the crisis. The moment I started to need money, it was there. So yes, it’s an influence, it’s life,” he says.
But outside the venue, smoking a cigarette on the step, 21-year-old waitress and stand-up fan Mary Tsevrentzidou says she does not indulge romantic thoughts of a brighter future. “People my age are a little bit more nihilistic. We can’t have any romantic thoughts, we can’t live in the clouds, so this is a coping mechanism for us.”
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First Published: Oct 31, 2017 13:25 IST