Tag Archives: Greece

Greek comedian Katerina Vrana – she’s not cheesy, just getting feta and better

The show

Scotland, England, Australia, Greece and America?

I missed Katerina Vrana’s show Feta With The Queen at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, but I caught up with it a couple of weeks ago in London.

Katerina is a British-based Greek actress/comedian with a pure English accent who has a lot of hair and a lot of potential. Feta With The Queen is about her experiences as a Greek living in the UK and was a flawless comedy show with a flawless performance by a comedian who had a good script and total audience control.

Shortly after that London show, she flew to Greece to perform Feta With The Queen there and, last week, she flew to Melbourne for Australian shows until 17th December.

I talked to her yesterday, after her jet lag had abated. It was lunchtime in London and half past midnight in Melbourne, where she had just returned to her flat after her show.

“How long did it take to write the show?” I asked.

“About a year,” she told me. “It actually started in Greek, not English. I did it in Athens in Greek, though it was a slightly different show. And then I wanted to see if bits would work in the UK, so I started working on it in English in Spring 2012.”

“And it changed from the first Greek version?” I asked.

“It’s complicated,” said Katerina, “because stand-up is such a new form in Greece that they sometimes don’t know the conventions and how it works. So the simplest way was a very simple format of We do this… But, in the UK, they do this… And that would make them laugh. I obviously developed it for Edinburgh.”

“I somehow imagined,” I said, “that the Greeks invented stand-up comedy. They invented everything else in performance.”

“You would think so,” agreed Katerina, “But, like everything else, they probably invented it 3,000 years ago and haven’t touched it since.”

“Was Aristotle not doing knob gags?” I asked.

“Ooh loads,” laughed Katerina. “It was political satire with loads of knob gags. And a lot of sexism, which we do very well as a culture.”

“The British do that very well too,” I said.

“You’d be surprised how much behind us you are.”

“That’s not a phrase I want to hear…” I said.

Kateina Angel 7

Would you refuse to give feta sponsorship to this performer?

“Last year,” said Katerina, putting me back on track, “I tried to get sponsorship from feta companies in Greece and one of them was extremely positive but, after they’d said Yes, a week later, they got back in touch and said: We’ve just had a meeting and we’re not sure what stand-up comedy is, so we’re saying No.

“A friend of mine brought the CEO of that company to see my show last week in Greece and he said Well, we clearly need to sponsor this girl. So hopefully, next year, I’ll be able to get some sponsorship, because I’d like to go to New Zealand and possibly Montreal, though I’m not totally sure.”

“But, anyway,” I said, “after trying the planned Edinburgh show out in Greece in January, you also previewed it in Melbourne in Spring this year.”

“Yes, I thought the best way to preview it for the Edinburgh Fringe was to take it to another festival where I could work on it and perform the whole show as often as possible instead of doing one preview a month in London – and also to see if it had any resonance to people who aren’t Greek and aren’t British. Can it stand on its own if the people don’t live in the UK but have an understanding of the UK? If you are not Greek or British, does the show work? And it did.”

“And now,” I said, “having performed an early version in Greece and previewed it in Melbourne, then run it successfully through the Edinburgh Fringe, you have just played the finished Edinburgh version in Greece again…”

“People had sent me messages from Greece,” explained Katerina, “saying We want to see the show that got all the 5-star reviews in Edinburgh. So it’s the same Edinburgh show you saw in London with a couple of Greek swear words thrown in.”

“How did it go down?”

“It went really well,” said Katerina. “I had to add an extra show because they sold out. Greeks take forever to book. There was a very slow trickle of advance booking then, the day before I performed, all three shows booked out. So, on Sunday, I did two shows back-to-back.”

“And it being in English was not a problem for the audience?”

“No. But it’s not enough to be able to simply understand English. I tend to speak fast sometimes and I didn’t want to compromise by slowing down, though I did slow down some things in the end… Greeks tell you immediately if they don’t like something and someone did shout out: Speak slower! and I said (in a posh English accent) I’m terribly sorry.”

“Did you have to change the actual content for a non-British audience?”

“No, I did add a couple of Greek swear words instead of English because they were more natural in that context. But only tiny little tweaks like that. No massive changes. I wanted to take the show I did at the Edinburgh Fringe to Greece.”

“Did you revert to a Greek accent?” I asked.

“No. If I’m talking to people in Greece in everyday situations, I do revert to a Greek accent but, when I’m talking to myself on stage, it’s easy to keep my British accent.”

“So, in a sense,” I said, “when you’re on stage, you’re not talking to the audience, you are monologuing in your head.”

“More or less,” agreed Katerina. “I’m basically opening the door so you can look inside my head.”

“And you might take this same Feta With The Queen show back to the Edinburgh Fringe again next year?”

“Yes – Maybe… Well, in whatever form it might have taken by then, because I’m going to keep working at it. I want to include more nationalities and I lived in India for a year and a half and I’d like to bring that in a bit.”

“In India,” I said, “with your English accent, they presumably thought you were British?”

An Indian guru - not a Greek comedy performer

Same hair; different approach: Indian guru, not Greek comic

“No,” said Katerina, “they didn’t know what to do with me because, to them, I didn’t look white enough to be British and my hair confused everyone. They kept saying Haha. Your hair is like Sai Baba.

“Who?”

“A guru in south India who died in 2011 with a lot of hair. I actually tried to see if I could get little parts in Bollywood films when I was in India, but they said I didn’t look foreign enough. That’s plagued me a lot in my acting career: I never look ‘enough’ of the thing I want to go for. I routinely get turned down for Greek parts because I don’t look Greek enough.”

“What does a Greek woman look like in theory?” I asked.

Penelope Cruz.

“She’s Spanish.”

“Yes. That’s what they think we look like… Like Salma Hayek.”

“She’s Mexican.”

“Yes. I get that a lot, especially in the US. Not so much in the UK, because so many Brits go on holiday to Greece that they know what Greeks look like.”

“So where do Americans think you come from?”

“They can’t even hazard a guess.”

“I suppose,” I said, “to seem Greek in America, you would have to be bald and suck a lollipop like Kojak. But ‘bald’ would maybe not be a good look for you.”

“I would lose half of my material,” said Katerina.

“Your show would presumably play well to Americans?” I asked. “You’re talking about British and Greek culture, but that can be understood even by people who have not actually lived in either country.”

“Yes,” replied Katerina. “But, at the moment, I’m concentrating on one continent at a time!”

“So what else in happening in Australia?” I asked.

Katerina performs her show in Thessaloniki  (Photograph by Sofia Camplioni)

Katerina performs first version of Feta show in Thessaloniki (Photograph by Sofia Camplioni)

“I’ve got some meetings with a couple of producers – I’m talking about bringing over some Greek acts and touring them in Australia, because there’s such a massive Greek population here.

“In Greece in the summer, as soon as May hits and the heat goes up in June/July, everything stops. Theatres close down; everything closes down unless you’re doing something outdoors – and stand-up does not work well outdoors because there are too many distractions.

“So comedians don’t work in Greece from May to October and therefore June/July would be a good time to take Greek comedians over to Australia because it’s autumn there. There’s such a demand in Australia for new comedy and new voices.”

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Filed under Australia, Comedy, Greece, UK, US

The international sport of egg-throwing – was it Greek, Californian or English?

Andy Dunlop weighs the eggs act alternatives

I’ve just received a press release from organiser Andy Dunlop about the World Egg Throwing Championships which I mentioned in a blog last week.

Apparently, international teams of egg throwers will be flying in for the Championships on 24th June from Germany, Greece, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and the USA. The Dutch currently hold the title with a throw of 63.3m

Representing Greece will be identical twin brothers Kiri and Kostas Poulous. They say history is on their side because: “We invented sport egg throwing, against the Persians in 480 BC at the Battle of Thermopylae.”

This claim is controversial.

My comedy chum Martin Soan tells me his troupe The Greatest Show On Legs appeared on the British TV show Game For a Laugh around 1985 throwing eggs.

“Our egg-tossing thing,” he tells me, “came out of a 1981 book called Californian New Games – all sorts of hippy games they’d developed to keep children entertained during early festivals on the West Coast.

“In England, Footsbarn Theatre and people like that had done it in the West Country and, when we were talking to London Weekend Television about appearing on Game For a Laugh, we told them We’ve got our naked balloon dance and they said No. We’re a peaktime family show. Have you got any other ideas? So we said Yeah, we’ve got this egg-tossing competition.

“So Game For a Laugh closed down Covent Garden market in London to stage our egg-tossing.

“But, without telling us, they had arranged for the English cricket team to ‘just by coincidence’ turn up too. Suddenly, we were having these enormous throws from one end of Covent Garden market to the other with cricketers catching the eggs. It was genius.”

However, current World Egg Throwing Championship supremo Andy Dunlop says the sport in England dates back to the fourteenth century.

“According to that font of all knowledge Wikipedia,” Andy tells me, “egg throwing in the village of Swaton started circa 1322 when the new Abbot of Swaton, controlling all poultry in the village, used them to provide eggs as alms to those that attended church. When the Eau was in flood these were hurled over the swollen river to waiting peasants.

“I myself,” Andy tells me, “played a version of it at RAF Alconbury in the early 1980s. In 2005, we held our first event at Swaton Show, resurrecting the ancient true sport and the World Championships commenced in 2006.

“The origination of the World Championships was discussed hotly by the committee (seeking to ensure that old tractors and vintage vehicles were not distracted from).

“The question was asked: How could we claim to be the World Championships?

“The answer was that there was not one already and, anyway, with our verifiable ancient claim to the sport (and the web address already purchased) who could object?…. Not even Sport England it would seem, as they have acknowledged egg throwing as a genuine sport.

“We extended the games the following year from two person throw/catch and an egg relay to include target throwing. Then, after that, we added Russian Roulette and egg trebuchet.”

Whether or not the Greeks can prove the claim that their national egg throwing dates back to the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC remains uncertain.

In the meantime, I would just be interested to find a copy of Martin Soan’s claimed Californian New Games book. I can’t spot it on Amazon or elsewhere.

It is almost as if people are making up facts about egg throwing just for a yolk.

There. I said it.

Now I have got it out of my system, I can get on with my life.

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Why I am pictured in Mensa Magazine (twice) holding a man with an erection

How did a man sporting an erect penis with a dog on the end of it get published (twice) in the current issue of Mensa Magazine, the glossy monthly publication for members of British Mensa?

And why am I holding the man?

Well, that’s an interesting question. Thankyou for asking.

Sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and pay close attention.

Preparing for Edinburgh Fringe shows in August tends to start way back in December or January each year.

I am organising Malcolm Hardee Week in the final week of the Fringe – basically two debates, two spaghetti-juggling contests (anything to get noticed at the over-crowded Fringe!) and a two-hour variety show during which the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards will be presented.

I am normally a shrinking wallflower where self-publicity is concerned but, because I am chairing the two Malcolm Hardee Debates and there are precious few other photo opportunities, I had some pictures taken, courtesy of lecturer Peter Cattrell, by photography students at St Martin’s College of Art (where, it turned out, no girl came from Greece, though they did have a thirst for knowledge).

I had brought along a giant dice box for no reason other than the fact it looked interesting. Student Cody Cai had brought along a pair of comedy spectacles and student Kerstin Diegel took a photo of me wearing the glasses and holding the box.

I remember thinking, “Oy! Oy! Malcolm Hardee could be Photoshopped into this, popping up out of the box!”

So now, dear reader, we have to take a time trip with wobbly special effects transitions back into the mists of last century – probably to the late 1990s, when the world was young and the Twin Towers still stood in New York…

London photographer David Tuck took some photos of comedian and club owner Malcolm Hardee, including an iconic one of Malcolm apparently doing shadow puppetry with his hands – you know the routine – you link your open hands together, flap them and it allegedly looks like a bird – except that the shadow on the wall behind Malcolm looks like a dog and, with the shadow of his arm included, it also looks like he has a giant penis rising out of his groin in the foreground… with a dog on the end of it.

David Tuck cannot remember exactly when the picture was taken, but it was a couple of weeks before Malcolm opened a short-lived comedy club in Harlesden, which would make it the late 1990s. Memories of Malcolm seldom come with exact dates.

David tells me: “The image Malcolm originally had in mind was that he would be doing a simple bird shape with his hands and a magnificent eagle would be the shadow image. This was before the days of Photoshop so, to get the image onto a piece of black and white photographic paper, I had to cut the image out of card and physically lay it on top of the picture during the darkroom process.

“My abilities with the scalpel weren’t exactly up to creating a photo-accurate eagle in full flight, so we talked about other possibilities and, when he mentioned a dog, I thought: Yeah, a dog I can do!

“I remember afterwards someone saying that it was funny because it appears to be coming out of Malcolm’s flies, like some sort of shadow penis. Just to set the record straight, that wasn’t the joke. I didn’t even notice until someone said it.”

From such random accidents do iconic photos come!

For anyone who knew Malcolm, it will come as no surprise that he never actually got round to paying David Tuck for the publicity photos he took and that this shadow puppet photo was used widely for years afterwards without David ever getting any money or even any credit for taking the photo.

When I used the photo on Malcolm’s website after he drowned in 2005, I found out David had taken it and have always tried to give him credit for it.

Around 2006, comic Brian Damage, at heart an arty sort, was playing around with images. Brian says:

“I was in the middle of my second or possibly third mid-life crisis. (You lose count after a while) It could have been age-related or something to do with giving up smoking or both.”

He played around with the David Tuck photo of Malcolm and basically ‘cartoonised’ it.

I thought it was excellent and got Vinny Lewis to design a poster using this image for all subsequent Malcolm Hardee shows at the Fringe.

Vinny had designed occasional artwork for Malcolm’s Up The Creek comedy club and had created the printed programme for both Malcolm’s funeral and the first Hackney Empire memorial show in 2006.

He added a coloured background to the cartoon and played with details.

So, when I got the St Martin’s photo back from Kerstin Diegel, I got Vinny to Photoshop the Malcolm shadow puppet image into the photo and the result is now available for The Scotsman or anyone else to publish to plug Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe.

‘Anybody else’ turned out to be Mensa Magazine who printed the image on the contents page of their July issue and, inside, to illustrate a piece on Malcolm Hardee Week.

I suspect it may be the first time Mensa Magazine has published a photo of a man displaying an apparent cartoon erection with a dog on the end of it. Their defence is clear – that even David Tuck and (possibly not even) Malcolm noticed that the shadow was of an erect penis.

It’s a funny old world.

You can see the photo here.

It was created by Kerstin Diegel, Cody Cai, David Tuck, Brian Damage and Vinny Lewis.

Nothing is ever simple.

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Yesterday I met a man from Atlantis who speaks Japanese

For ages, I have thought there was mileage in a Real People chat show on TV – if you go to any bus queue in any town in Britain and choose any person at random then, with the right questions, that person will reveal the most extraordinary life story.

Life truly is stranger than fiction. Novels are very often watered-down versions of the truth and they have been watered-down simply to make them believable.

I was reminded of this when I was passing through the food department of Selfridges in Oxford Street yesterday and I was offered a free tea sample by a Greek-Bulgarian sales specialist working for the East India Company which was bought by an Indian entrepreneur in 2005 and which opened a shop in London’s West End last year. It turned out the tea-offerer was from the island of Santorini (claimed by some to be the origin of the legend of Atlantis). He told me he spoke six languages including Japanese and Scots Gaelic – which he then proceeded to do.

Speak Gaelic.

It is a tad odd to have a Greek-Bulgarian from Atlantis who works for the East India Company (given its charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600) speak Gaelic to you when you are passing through the food department of Selfridges department store.

To surprise me, it would have been enough for him, as a Greek-Bulgarian, just to work for the fabled East India Company because I hadn’t realised it had been re-born.

While being one of the most successful commercial companies ever to exist –  at its height, the company allegedly generated half of world trade and it established Singapore and Hong Kong as trading centres – it also effectively ruled India with its own army on behalf of the British government 1757-1858 and virtually built the British Empire by monopolising the Opium Trade – it was responsible both for the Opium Wars and the Indian Mutiny!

That Indian entrepreneur – Sanjiv Mehta – who bought the name in 2005 and re-started the company last year is a near genius. People are buying recognisable brand names for millions of pounds/dollars all over the world and the East India Company must be one of the most famous names worldwide – it has been around for 411 years – though I’m not sure trade with China will be easy!

So it would have been enough for the tea-offerer, as a Greek-Bulgarian, just to work for the fabled East India Company but, good heavens – perhaps you had to be there – a Greek-Bulgarian who works for the East India Company, comes from the original Atlantis and speaks Gaelic! What are the odds of that combination happening? If you wrote a novel with a character like that in it, people would laugh at how stupid you were for including such a literally incredible character…

What price a Real People chat show?

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