With self-deprecating humour, comedian Angelo Tsarouchas weighs in on why being Greek is funny, his latest Hollywood movie and how he and the King of Jordan ended up partying like wild men. Opa!
Stand-up comedian and mob hitman lookalike Angelo Tsarouchas is a beefy entertainer best known for finding the humour in the life of Greek immigrants, with his material almost exclusively drawn from his own experiences growing up in Canada. “I don’t have the most common name in the world,” he tells his audience during his act, which is on YouTube. “My name at birth was Evangalos Petros Tsarouchas. My parents’ names are Peter and Debbie. “My parents come from a little country in the Mediterranean called Greece,” he says. “They moved to Canada. They decided to have children. And they asked themselves: ‘How can we help our little Greek children fit in with the Canadian children? I know! We’ll name them like diseases!’ “Tsarouchas! You have Tsarouchas? Put some cream on. You have Vasili Kakapopoulos? You’re not going to poo for a month!”
Tsarouchas has spent more than a decade honing his craft through a relentless touring schedule that has taken him around the world, with his performances including clubs and arenas in cities like Calcutta and Tokyo, not to mention the royal residence of the king and queen of Jordan.
On the phone from Los Angeles, California, Tsarouchas tells the Athens News why he wants to perform in Greece, why immigrant parents torment their kids and about his big fat movie deal.
Tell me about your Greek roots?
I was born in Montreal and raised in Ottawa. But my dad is from Sparti and my mum’s from Lesbos. So that makes me a Spartan lesbian.
How did your family react to your to become a comedian?
My parents were supportive of what I did but they wanted to make sure that I could make a living. My dad was like, “Ti vlakies kaneis - tha kaneis lefta me afta?” (What kind of nonsense is this?) Was there pressure to change your name? Some of the agents would say I should Anglicise my name, but I’m dead set against it. Richard Donner, the director, once looked at my name and said, “That’s a mouthful but I like it.”
Did you ever think of hiding your Greek heritage?
I have never shied away from that, though a lot of people do. It has actually worked in my favour. You can’t change who you are. You have to accept it. For me, it’s been good because people know me as that guy. And kudos to Nia Vardalos because people started to notice me when My Big Fat Greek Wedding came out. I started working on CBC’s (Canada Broadcasting Corporation) Just for Laughs. I also did BBC’s The World Stands Up. I got three television specials in South Africa and in the UK and in Canada and now I have one in the United States called Bigger is Better, on Showtime.
Why incorporate your Greekness into your comedy?
It’s different when you live in Greece where being Greek is just being Greek. But when you live in North America there’s a big difference. And I found that it was a big influence on what I did as a comic. There was a time when I didn’t want to be labelled so much as a Greek comedian but then I realised that you can’t change who you are. I like dolmades, I like yemista, spanakopita. I like calling people malaka because half of them are. How do Greek-Canadians, Greek-Americans react to your act? They love it. I feel honoured to say that I represent them. When I talk about my mum or my yiayia (grandmother), I’m pretty much talking about everyone’s.
How did you learn to speak Greek fluently?
My mother couldn’t speak English. Does everyone get your Greek jokes? People want to hear stories about other people. I’ve been to India and Singapore and I’m telling jokes about Greeks and people are laughing. I’ve been to Macau and Beijing and Bangkok and I’m talking about my Greek family and they get it. Wherever I go I always run into a Greek. It’s fair to say that Greeks have populated most of the world. Maybe Alexander the Great did it by conquering. I think we’re doing it now by fornication. Why not? Our legacy continues.
Have you ever considered performing in Greece?
I want to. For me, I’m thinking that I’ve performed everywhere in the world but Greece. But here’s my concern: I don’t know how Greeks will receive me. I’m a product of the diaspora.
What are you working on now?
I’m proud to say I have my new movie coming out called Fred and Vinnie directed by Steve Skrovan from Everyone Loves Raymond and it’s written by Fred Stoller, who plays cousin Gerard on Everyone Loves Raymond. It just came out with a trailer. I play this guy named Vinnie who’s from Philadelphia who moves to LA. He’s the guest from hell, the guy who says I’m going to come to your house for a week and then ends up staying for, like, nine months.
What else is in your future?
I’ve been offered a few movie roles. I’ve actually also written a movie called It’s All Greek To Me about a guy who works in a restaurant and has always wanted to be famous comedian but ends up becoming a sumo wrestler to win the love of a Japanese tour guide. That’s been tossed around. I’m still touring. I’m getting married in October here in LA. And, I got a call today about another film. Rumour has it it’s with John Travolta and parts of it will be filmed in Greece.
What has been your career high point so far?
Last year, I performed at the Bell Centre - it’s where the Montreal Canadiens hockey team play. I was in my hometown, 17,000 people, my mum was in the crowd. It was the 100th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens. And I never ever thought, not in a million years, that I’d be standing on stage in that arena with my family there. It took me about a minute to start my routine. I was choked up.
How is it that you got to perform for the king and queen of Jordan?
I was invited to the Amman comedy festival in Jordan and the king and queen couldn’t come to the show. I was one of the comedians they wanted to see. So my manager after the show said the king and queen wanted me to come to the palace. I thought they were kidding. It was 11 o’clock at night. Sure enough, after the show, the limo picked us up and took us to the palace and we were doing sfinakia [shots] with the king. And he was cooking dinner for us and we were shooting guns in his private shooting range in his palace. It was one of the coolest things. And here’s the best part, I’m telling people I did this - and they don’t believe me.
What’s your impression of Greece?
Here’s the deal about Greece and I’m not going to say this because I’m Greek. I used to be a travel agent way back and my pitch to people when they didn’t know where they wanted to go was that God made it that everyone should visit Greece at least once. As a visitor, it’s probably one of the nicest places on earth. You can’t beat the weather, you can’t beat the food, ruins and culture. I think that Greeks work to live and they don’t live to work. That’s good and bad, I guess now in light of everything.
By Kathy Tzilivakis