Greece finds stand-up com­edy amid eco­nomic tragedy

Stricken by an eco­nomic cri­sis in 2010 and slammed by aus­ter­ity, Greek peo­ple, who have fed up with politics and eco­nomic crises, have de­vel­oped an amus­ing way of cop­ing through stand-up shows

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Money -

THE CRAMMED base­ment bar heaves with laugh­ter as 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 B.C., 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 per­cent of them would ask, what’s that?”

In Bri­tain, suc­cess­ful stand-up co­me­di­ans have a cer­tain sta­tus, ap­pear­ing on tele­vi­sion panel shows and of­ten com­men­tat­ing 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 - what I’m go­ing to say is a cliche, but I’m go­ing to say it - peo­ple need to laugh,” she said.

In her rou­tine for “Gluten-free”, tour­ing in the­atres in Thes­sa­loniki and Athens, Kat­souda how­ever steers clear of politics and says most other stand-up co­me­di­ans do the same.

“The au­di­ence is sick and tired of talking about politics,” she says.

At the open mic night the air is thick with sweat, smoke and laugh­ter as the 12 stand-ups try out new ma­te­rial on a young au­di­ence, who have paid three eu­ros ($3.5) en­trance fee and, in many cases, make their drinks last the length of the show.

With ages rang­ing from 17 to 37 and just one woman among them, the stand-ups in­clude a school­boy, four uni­ver­sity stu­dents, a lawyer, a male nurse, a teacher, an un­em­ployed man and three pro­fes­sion­als.

When the com­pere Pas­patis asks first-timers in the au­di­ence to clap, there is loud ap­plause. It’s an en­thu­si­as­tic and friendly crowd -- heck­ling is still a for­eign con­cept here.

“I’m re­ally pumped up,” says 17-year-old school­boy Dim­itris Mar­intsios, ner­vously run­ning through his lines be­fore per­form­ing for the first time.

“I think it’s a great idea, a guy on the stage telling jokes, I think it’s su­per cool.”

Young peo­ple may be strug­gling with close to 45-per­cent 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.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult [to be a stand-up comic] but I don’t want to give up, I’m only 25 and I’m a ro­man­tic.”

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.”

Peo­ple wait out­side a bar to lis­ten to stand-up in Thes­sa­loniki.

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