It's easy enough to see Yannis Pappas for free. The Brooklyn-born comedian has performed widely onstage and on TV, but two of his most prolific acts are characters who star in YouTube videos: Greek restaurant owner (and chain-smoking video blogger) Mr. Panos and transsexual New Yorker Maurica. If those short films whetted your appetite, you'll have a chance to enjoy Pappas live Sunday at the Irvine Improv.
In an email interview with the Daily Pilot, Pappas talked about his Greek-American heritage, his thoughts on Irvine and the serious charity work he's done over the years. The following are excerpts from the conversation:
"Yannis Pappas" sounds like the masculine equivalent of "Yo Mama." Well, maybe the masculine equivalent in Greek or some other language. Is it your real name?
It means John Pappas. Yannis means John in Greek. I didn't change it because Yannis is a dope name; John is the same name as John Wayne Gacy. There have been no infamous serial killers that have gone by Yanni. Nope, just me and the modern composer. Yanni and I are forces for good, whereas John Wayne Gacy and John Stamos are forces for evil. If Stamos had kept his Greek name, Yannis, he would have had Johnny Depp's career. Johnny sounds like Yanni. This response was not funny, but I am too lazy to erase it and try again.
Mister Rogers used to urge his viewers to use art and music to channel angry feelings. So I take it that by becoming a stand-up comedian, you prevented yourself from killing anyone?
For legal reasons, I can't say yes or no to this question.
All right, all right. I've read that you tour Scandinavia every year. Why Scandinavia?
For the free check-ups. I don't have insurance. If you don't like a joke or one of my characters, please don't hit me.
I can't hit you! We're emailing.
This is true. Scandinavia has a great comedy scene and they all speak English better than we speak it here. I met a comic, then met another one, and before I knew it, I have been going to Scandinavia at least once a year for the past five years. I just was on television in Denmark. I love it there — everyone is smart and beautiful.
How about Greece? Do you ever tour there?
No. I have heard that Mr. Panos is very popular there, but I don't speak Greek very well at all and Greeks in Greece may kill me for that. When you tell a Greek who speaks Greek that you don't speak Greek, they look at you like you just told 'em they have two months to live. A very proud people. They will also charge you double for a cab ride. If I learn Greek or they learn English, I will go. I have been there many times with my family. Beautiful country.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe your characters Mr. Panos and Maurica were created specially for the Web. How do you go about developing a following for an online character?
People have to like it enough to want to share it with their friends. Mr. Panos had a Greek following, and then I did the blog "Financial 'Crisis' in Greece," and since that is global news, I think people from all ethnic groups shared it. It was also featured on a huge financial news blog, Zero Hedge, so that helped it a lot. The great thing about the Internet is you can make uncensored comedy content from your heart with no interference from standards and practices. Can you imagine if I tried to pitch either one of those characters to a network? I created them for the Web because the Web was there and it made them seem real.
There are a lot of people who still don't know that Mr. Panos and Maurica are not real people. I have had tons of messages and emails on our YouTube pages and their Facebook fan pages that speak to them directly like they are real people. I get a kick out of it.
You'll be performing in Irvine this weekend. Irvine is just about America's safest, calmest, friendliest, most suburban city, which means there's nothing funny about it whatsoever. Or so I think. Are you planning to put a few Irvine zingers in your act?
Yes, I always do. I have to walk around a bit, get a feel for it and then talk about how much worse it is than where I came from: NYC, the best city on Earth. I'll also Wikipedia it. I'm sure nobody walks there. Like if I ask for walking directions to something 10 minutes away, people will warn me not to try because they think I'll die along the way. They'll just hand me a bottle of water and remind me to hydrate and look at me like I'm crazy.
So every city in the world is worse than New York? What's the second-best city?
Yes, every city is worse than New York. That is a scientific fact. If New York is Polo, Chicago is Chaps, so not Chicago. So I would have to say Miami. Fun city, very little clothing, superficial and sexy — it's like L.A. without the industry and desperation.
You've done some intense charity work in the past — disaster relief after 9/11 and working with the former homeless and mentally ill. Does pursuing serious endeavors make you a better comedian?
It certainly taught me about life and to always try and be sympathetic. At its most entertaining, life is either tragic or funny, and nobody wants to hear a story that is neither, so becoming intimate with the tragedy has made me a more honest and well-rounded comic as well as a grown-up one. I really believe every kid should have to do some social service in college for college credit. It's a life experience I would not change.
Tell me one other thing about you that I would never guess from watching your stand-up routine.
I'm actually funny.
If You Go
What: "The Yannis Pappas Show Featuring Mr. Panos & Maurica"
Where: Irvine Improv, 71 Fortune Drive, Irvine Spectrum Center
When: 7 p.m. Sunday