Greece finds stand-up comedy amid economic tragedy

News Hour

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 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.

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