Stand-up comedian Katerina Vrana on Stereotypes: Funny Because They Are True at TEDxThessaloniki – Transcript
Katerina Vrana – Stand-up comedian
So hi, my name is Katerina Vrana. I am Greek, I live in the UK, I live in London. I am a stand-up comedian.
As far as the power to create goes, I am a stand-up comedian. I’ve got two brothers, one is 30, the other is 14. The 30-year old is a drummer and a photographer. In fact, he is the drummer of the band that’s going to be closing TEDThessaloniki this year, TEDx.
So our Greek parents are very proud of our professional choices. Like, “Will you ever make money?” No. The 14-year-old wants to be a lawyer. Here’s hoping! So yeah — oh, and my hair, my hair. My hair is like this because this is how it is, OK? No discussion about it. In Greece, this doesn’t stand out that much. It’s big, but it’s not that extraordinary. In the UK, it’s become a sightseeing thing. Like people stop me in the street, people touch it without asking me.
And then, there’s teachers that bring little children out of the classrooms and go, “Look, look at the lady who looks like a tree!” is very annoying. So I’ve been in the UK now for 10 years — oh, and also, I am a 100% Greek. I was born here, I was raised here, both my parents are Greek, my whole family lives here. I have no idea why I speak English like this. Absolutely none! It’s a fluke. The rest of my family doesn’t speak English like this, they speak like proper Greek people.
So I asked my mum, I said, “How come when I speak English I sound awesome? And the rest of the family sounds like bloody foreigners.”
And my mum went, “Ah, darling, when you were born, you were so very, very ugly!” Don’t clap that. You bastards!
And she went, your father and I thought, “This one will need personality, and language helps. I wanted French and maybe piano, your father wanted English.”
“Yes Katerina, I wanted English,” – that is my father – “I will tell you why: because British royalty marries very ugly women. Go!” No! No. William is already married, and Harry has very red hair. And I haven’t got anything against red hair, right? It’s because I would totally have the sex with Harry. I am telling you this now. I just, I wouldn’t do it in the sun, I’d do it in the shade. Do you know what I mean? If you have sex with Harry in the sun, he’ll explode, “Aaah!” It’s not a good idea.
So, having lived in London — the thing is that I’ve been living in London as I said, for about a decade, and what’s happened is, over there I feel definitely Greek, but what happens is when I come back home there’s been a bit of a shift in my identity, and suddenly, I find myself say things like, “Why can’t the Greeks form orderly queues? God damn it!” I am trying to balance out the things to not feel foreign in two countries.
One of the things I’ve really come to find endearing about the British, for example, is how they get angry. They don’t! When a British person gets angry, they write you a strongly-worded letter, “Dear Sir…, regret to inform…, most upset!”
An English friend of mine was in a train. The train got stuck, they stopped in the middle of nowhere between two stations, and they left them there for an hour and a half; they didn’t explain why, they just kept apologizing. My friend’s telling me this story said, “Katerina, I was so angry, I was livid. I was so livid, I was tempted to complain!”
I was like, “What?!” I said, “In Greece, there is no strongly-worded letter, there wouldn’t have been a train.” You keep the Greeks five minutes longer than they need to be anywhere, you know, like in the boat at the time of “disembarkation”. You keep the Greeks inside that boat, and it’s like, “What? What you keep us here like animals, like animals? You call this an European country? This is not Europe, I don’t understand!”
Wait, there is so much more. And then someone always goes, “Where is the manager? I want to speak to the manager!”
“Please sir, please sit down, you are becoming hysterical!”
“Who are you to tell me what to do? Who are you?”
“I screw your mother!”
Wow! It takes five seconds to escalate that level. And also, as far as that goes, the “Screw your mother!” makes no sense. Like, “I screw your mother!”
What a coincidence! Of all the boats in all of Attiki, you walk into mine. The son of whose mother you are screwing, and it is… Hello, Yannis, the son. The lady who you’re having kind of relations with. What a — a pleasure to meet you. This kind of — also, right? No one you ever want to say it to you ever does, right? Because if Bill Gates comes up to me and goes, “I screw your mother.” I’ll be like, “Daddy…! You’re home!”
“And will all be going to Cannes, on my jet.” So I wish the Greeks would temper their rage that immediate “Mmm!” that happens. I don’t expect them to become like the English, no, “Dear Sir, I regret to inform…I screwed your mother.” just a little bit more of a thing.
Also, the other thing I’ve really come to enjoy about the UK, and I know this is weird for a Greek person, is the weather. I know, I know, I know, I know! Oh, one person going, “Yes! You tell them. It rains!” The thing is I keep trying to explain to the British that everywhere else in the world, clouds are functional rather than an aesthetic choice. In the UK, the clouds arriving, just go, “Hi, we are here. We’re going to just sit here, maybe a bit lower, do nothing, hi.”
In other countries, when the clouds arrive, it’s going to rain and the heaven is open, water pours down, water so thick you cannot see through it. So it’s like, “Where is my Tzatziki?”
“Behind the rain? Who knows?” That lasts for two hours, then stops, the sun comes out, and we forget about it.
In the UK, the same amount of water, takes 24 hours to come down. Because in the UK, rain is that really soft mist, it’s like a cat’s spayed your tent to show it’s its territory, you know what I mean? It’s a very gentle thing. It’s a tipi-tap, it’s called drizzle, and that’s what I’ve come to love because drizzle is rain being quintessentially British, right? It’s rain going, “I’m terribly sorry, I’m coming down, I don’t need to be in the way, I’m just going to came around you, I won’t get anyone wet, I promise, just pretend I am not here. Shh, no, no! Everyone will know I am here. You are not — Missing the point — I don’t — did I get you wet? How clumsy of me. I do apologize. I didn’t mean to do that, I’m just going to come over here. I’ll be gone in 5 minutes. I promise, I am so sorry, I do apologize. 24 hours, and I am still here, it’s getting awkward now, isn’t it? I don’t mean to be doing this. I’m going to be — really.. I’m so sorry. Really, don’t — I am just going – I am the Hugh Grant of moisture.”
And my hair absorbs moisture! So whenever it drizzles my hair goes pfff! And a mile radius around me stays completely dry. And I look like I’ve all of the Jackson 4 on my head. Because he is dead.
Now the thing is that I am in the UK. Well, I went in the UK to act. And that’s when I discovered that I am not Greek enough because I used to be sent up for auditions for Greek and Mediterranean parts, only to be told that I don’t look Greek enough. I’ll translate that for you; it means that I don’t have a mono-brow and a mustache, because Irini Papa has cast a very long shadow. I usually got feedback of the kind, you now, “We are looking for someone who looks like Salma Hayek.” She is Mexican.
So I went up for casting for the movie “Troy”; Do we remember? The movie “Troy”? So I went up for one of the small parts, one of the slave girls that had only one line. And my line was, “More chicken, my Lord?” And I did that really well, so I ended up in the final five, and they line us up, and the casting director comes in, and goes, “Oh, no, no, no, no. You’re too fair to be Greek!”
I said, “Who? What now…?”
“You’re too fair to be Greek!”
I was like, “I am too fair to be Greek? I am the only Greek in the room!”
I am too fair to be Greek in a movie where the Greek warrior Achilles, is played by Brad freaking Pitt! I’m too fair to be Greek?! I didn’t get the part. An Albanian girl got it. Go over there, take our jobs.
Where is Kaplani? I mean acting and comedy are just steps for my final twelve-step-plan for global domination! I’ll find the pose, it’ll be better than this, I promise. Because you know, I think I’m Greek, we did it before I can do it again. Bring it on! I think the world will be lovely place if everyone listens to me. It’s going to be a little bit like Hitler, with less genocide, more hair, and really good shoes. So more like Dubai. I am going to wear a crown and a robe, tell people what to do and they’ll do it, it’s going to be lovely.
I’ve recently realized I’ll probably end up looking like a kindergarten teacher trying to manage an unruly classroom, so I am going to turn up in a crown and a robe looking a bit stupid, making grandiose announcements like, “Hello! I am Katerina Vrana, hello! I am going to be your global dominatrix for the foreseeable future!” Please lay all gifts by my — What is it, Thailand? Yes, Thailand, you may massage my feet. You are very good. Israel, Palestine, be quiet! They don’t shut up, Somalia darling, why are you dressed up as a pirate? No, that’s likely inappropriate. What…? Well done, America. Everyone, America has done a drawing. Yes, dear. No, we can all see, yes! The black man is in the white house. And he’s still alive. Hasn’t America done well, everyone?
OK, now darling stop drawing and look to your sums, because the numbers are all wrong. England! Stop copying from America. You’re old enough to know. Greece, you’re making me look really bad. I don’t know — Palestine, I don’t care who started it. Israel, give Palestine her Gaza back, now! The two of you, learn to share! Iran, put the stone down! No my love, that’s not democracy, no dear… I know, I am Greek, I gave it to you! Bloody Persians. And what’s that in your mouth? Spit it out, spit…
Who gave uranium to Iran? You know they don’t know what to do with it. I just… I don’t… OK, Italy! Italy, tell your dad to stop playing with the little girls in the class. What’s that? Cyprus, I don’t understand what are you saying. Say it again. Slower… Twelve points to Greece! That’s really going to help her. Don’t clap this.
Israel, just because the book says so does not make it right. OK. Palestine why did you just blow up in Israel’s face? What you mean because Syria told you to? And if Syria told you to jump off a cliff would you — Palestine get off the cliff! The two of you play nice together or else I’m sending you to corner with North Korea, am I making myself clear? Greece, stop calling Germany’s mother a whore! And India, get off the phone! Why can’t you all be more like Canada? They do all. They’re very good.
Actually it’s exhausting just performing this. I don’t think I am ever going to make it to global domination. I’m probably going to just sit at home, reading gossip magazines. You know, the ones full of celebrities, and cellulite, and so — way to go. I just want to tell you one more thing before I head off.
What I found was the biggest difference between Greeks and the Britishers — as I like to call them — is their approach towards the opposite sex. When I first went over there, I thought that was something wrong with me because no one stared at me intently for hours. Because you know how the Greeks — The Greeks sit in cafes and this is how they watch women go by. In the UK, this is how they watch women. Don’t look, it’s inappropriate, don’t look.
And also in Greece, you walk down the street, and people shout random slightly complimentary things at you. I was walking down one of the main streets in Athens and a car went by, honked, and shouted, “You make the pavements creak, manari mou!”
I was like, “Did he call me fat?”
In the UK, the only people who shout anything like that are the builders, and they only ever shout things like, “Show us your tits!” No one ever has, I don’t know why they keep insisting. You get other things shouted at you in the UK, like painfully obvious things. I walked down the street and the people shouted at me, “Oy!” – that’s, “Psst!” in English – “Oy, you’ve got big hair!”
I am like, “Yes, thank you, I know!” I have a mirror and no peripheral vision. I’m like those horses that drove the carts, I have natural blindness. If you want to attack me, do it from the side, I won’t see you coming! Ahh! There you are!
But a Greek cab driver just showed me the biggest difference between “Oy, you’ve got big hair!” and then I get into this Greek cab, now, a week ago, because I came over to vote. Ha, that went well! So it was 9 degrees in the UK and I come here, and it was 29, I get into this taxi, and I go, “Oh, God! Is so hot, I’m sweating so much!” Without pause, the cab driver, a Greek cab driver went, “Your sweat is very lucky to be traveling down your body!”
Thank you very much. Bye!