Stand up comedy is not a newly discovered theatrical genre in Greece. Until recently, though, it was mostly restricted to a limited number of devoted theatregoers, usually younger in age. Well, not anymore; thanks to a generation of talented performers including, but not restricted to, Silas Serafeim, Dimitris Dimopoulos, Lampros Fisfis, Katerina Vrana, stand up comedy not only has established its audience, but it has also flourished to international standards.
Katerina Vrana, a truly gifted comedian of international standing, presented her two stand up shows in Theatron 104, Athens, in March. The former is Feta with the Queen, a sell out performance since its premiere at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2013; the show earned its creator a place among “the 13 funny female comedians to watch” in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as listed by CNN. The latter, entitled About Sex, is Vrana’s new show that previewed in Athens before its official opening in Melbourne; as a work in progress it was not, expectedly, as polished and mature as Feta with the Queen had been. Still, it was hugely funny and enjoyable.
Vrana was born and bred in Greece, but over the past fifteen years has been living and working in the UK; sharing her life between the two cultures is what inspired and informed Feta with the Queen. In this immensely funny show, the comedian explores the cultural stereotypes surrounding the Greek and British daily life: the British passion for tea, drinking, queuing and writing letters of complaint; and the British weather, of course. The big Greek weddings, the waiter in the Greek taverna, the Greeks’ exasperation and complete lack of patience as they are waiting to disembark the ferry in the Summer.
The truth is that none of the above sounds exceptionally original; Vrana, though, is so witty, so perceptive, so amusing, so fast in the delivery of her ideas that she makes the discussion of cliches and banalities, the perpetuation of stereotypes even, pure entertainment. She also points out that the appearance of Greek women is also stereotyped abroad, as she has first-hand experience of how it feels to be rejected for a role because you don’t look as ‘Greek’ as Spaniard Penelope Cruz or Mexican Salma Hayek – blame it on her complexion or her massive, curly hair, which is the object of much of her satire. She also playfully mocks her vanity as an actress, even her wish to be the Queen of the world. At the end of the play she is crowned like a Queen and has the spellbound audience singing with her ‘The Lion sings tonight’, after seventy minutes of almost unstoppable laughter.
About Sex is Vrana’s brand new stand up comedy, in which the performer shares with the audience her views on sex and her feeling that people just don’t do it right. Although the topic seems like a safe bet, as sex always sells, the danger the show to become a flop is always lurking; there is a fine line between the witty, provocative joke and the cheap joke, the amusing and the vulgar, the sincere and the indiscreet. In stand up comedy one sole actor bears the full weight of the show on his shoulders and needs the audience’s instant feedback to continue; he therefore needs to be much more alert and flexible, even more when having to perform such a show before audiences from different countries and cultural backgrounds.
Vrana, again, takes the challenge and wins. Her show is at times exquisitely funny without becoming offensive. Elaborating how the free access to porn has distorted the younger generations’ perception of sex becomes one of the highlights of the show, especially when she performs how people have ultimately confused porn with real sex. Although she is not as sure-footed as she was in Feta with the Queen, she is still in control of her show, carrying her audience along with her. She is funny and open without being vulgar; she uses swear words here and there but they all come so naturally in her speech – it is not a cheap device to make audiences laugh, as it has occasionally been the case in Greek comedies. All in all, a show that has the potential to be a five-star experience over time.