Ally Dinning and I sat down with the last-minute stand-in headliner, George Zach, to talk about biochemistry, Australia and a twinge into politics. We also talked about how animals have different sounds in different languages – but we’ll keep that out of the interview!
Nikie Azlli: Firstly George, since when did biochemistry become funny?
George Zach: It didn’t. There’s nothing funny about biochemistry. I wanted to do [biochemistry] because my parents supported me with that. So, out of respect but really, I wasn’t really interested. You find this, right, when in university people don’t really like what they do sometimes but they’re halfway there, so might as well finish it. That’s what happened, I didn’t really like it but might as well just finish it. When I finished it, I didn’t work a single day in biochemistry, I just did different jobs then finally I saw a video on YouTube about a comedian who died and I had no idea about stand-up and I watched it and after a while I thought, wow, that’s amazing, you can talk to people and they listen? I didn’t think I was funny, I was more interested in the attention side. Then a year later, I tried it. But, biochemistry had nothing to do with it.
Ally Dinning: Sorry if this is an ignorant question, but is it true that there’s no stand-up culture in Greece?
GZ: True, but there is now, like in the last 7 years, might be 10 years. But when I was growing up in Greece until 18, certainly hadn’t heard of it at all. Now, we have Katerina, who did stand-up comedy in England and when she went back, she brought back all the knowledge she’s acquired from over here. Now she’s the biggest comedian in Greece and there’s comedy club, buildings, everyone is doing it but it was next to nothing before. Good question! For the country that came up with theatre, we had no stand-up comedy.
NA: So, coming to the UK inspired you to do comedy?
GZ: It was relevant, me coming here it was just for university. I discovered comedy like, 7 years into being here. I didn’t really come for comedy, I should have gone back at that time! But I didn’t want to, I was avoiding joining the army so I just stayed here. And I’m not doing it forever, to the disappointment of many people.
NA: English is not your first language, so how did you come up with materials in English? And did you find it difficult adapting to that?
GZ: Well, it’s the same thing for you. When you’re out with your friends and you make a joke and they laugh, did you think about it in Malay before you said it? No? So, it’s the same thing with me. The difference is when you’re on stage, you have to know about the culture. So, when you make jokes with your friends, you make jokes about the situation but when you talk about the culture, you have to know exactly how to do it. But, it came natural to me because all my friends were English so I never had a problem with language, I very quickly figured it out. I don’t think about how I’m going to make it funny in English, it’s just is it funny? It’s much harder for me to do comedy in Greek. I really panicked because the jokes had to change and I find it harder to change to my mother tongue.
AD: Is there any massive difference between student crowds and more general crowds?
GZ: Yes, there is a difference. Student crowds, you would think that they are more relaxed but they’re not because some students are like, 18-year- olds and just came out from home. When you leave home, you don’t know what’s funny, where do you cross the line, you don’t feel comfortable with your friends. If you laugh at something, like peer pressure exist when you’re 18 or 19 and you want to be accepted by your friends so you try to see if everybody else is laughing and you laugh along. Whereas if you’re 40 or 50, you just don’t give a s*** anymore. When you get older, you’re more likely to like the dark stuff because you’ve seen life a bit more and you’re ready for a joke that’s really dark. On the other hand, students will never hate you, they will always give you chances, they will always be attentive. They might get drunk and they might lose a bit attention span, it can happen but there is never a bad bone in their body. Whereas if you play to older crowds, they might just be bitter with life and ready to heckle you, say something stupid, bring you down and tell you off for things whereas students are more likely to go, give this person a chance. I prefer students, personally, I find them a bit funnier.
AD: So let’s talk about your shows in Melbourne? What were your experiences there, and what was your general thought processes behind the shows themselves?
GZ: Been there twice now. First year, I did a show called Greek God and it’s basically about growing up in Greece and living in England, very standard first show, my life experiences. My second show, in 2015, in July I broke up with my ex and between July and November, I didn’t have a house, couch surfing with friends and travelled a little. I went a bit crazy, so I wrote a show about it. The show in Melbourne this year was called Confessions of A Homeless Greek Sex God and it’s about that year. It’s amazing, I love Melbourne. I went there a few months last year, this year I’m only going for, like 5 weeks. Highly recommend Australia.
NA: How did you land the show in Australia?
GZ: I had met people from Sydney in 2014 and they were thinking of bringing me in 2014 but they said I wasn’t ready. Then in 2015, they brought me in and we had a very nice deal. I was seen by the right people.
NA: Were the audience different in Australia and the Edinburgh Fringe, for example?
GZ: Yeah, audience in Australia are way louder and bit more likely to heckle. They are less liberal, I think. In Australia, if you make jokes about coming out as gay, it’s still controversial in comparison to here. You can tell that the crowd is still edgy in Australia to do comedy about anti-homophobia, anti-racism, or challenging that because in Australia, it’s like challenging gun ownership in America. In England, if you challenge gun ownership, people will go like, yeah, we don’t like guns. But, in America, people will get angry, it’s the same thing in Australia. So, it’s fun to do my materials there. Because when I do my materials, you can see them get a bit edgy. The world is moving on.
AD: Following on from that, and a sort of depressing question unfortunately: You’ve previously talked about Greek politics, and we’ve seen on your Twitter where you have quite a political voice there at the moment, so from then on, were you less surprised about the big political events that happened last year?
GZ: Oh yes, I absolutely put money on Trump to win, and I also put money on Brexit. Everything that I didn’t want to happen has been happening. Tories won the election out of nowhere, so I thought, maybe this isn’t going my way. As soon as I realised that, people were going all like, it’s a clear remain. I told myself, Brexit might win this, so I put money on a betting website, thinking if I lose £100, I actually put £200, and it’s a remain, I’m happy. But still, it’s disappointing.
NA: So last question George, do you have any advice for students?
GZ: Don’t worry about your job prospects because we’re all screwed. Happy message there! We’re all screwed, don’t worry about it! (Disclaimer: He’s only joking!)
These are the best years for students, you’re going to love them. Remember when you didn’t have enough money but you still had fun, you had £25 but you still go on a night out. But when you grow older, just remember you still had fun with just £25. Have a great time because it’s the best years of your life.