Basile on capturing the comedy of Greek contradiction

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By Marianna Alepidis

Over two decades ago Greek American comedian Basile traded in the courtroom for the comedy club and all it took was a solid win in an amateur stand up round.

“When I was going to law school, I went to a comedy club with my cousin who said, ‘I bet you 20 bucks you won’t go on stage and do the amateur hour.’ And because of course, my ego is thick, I’m an entertainer for God’s sakes, I said ‘you’re on’,” Basile tells The Greek Herald.

“He said 20 bucks if you do it, 40 bucks if you win. Well, I wanted the 40 bucks. So I practised and practised and the following week I went and I guess I won this amateur contest, and it bit me. If you talk to people like George Kapiniaris and many other Greek comedians, they’ll tell you the same bloody thing. That’s the way they started.”

Basile the comedian
Over two decades ago Greek American comedian Basile traded in the courtroom for the comedy club.

Often is the trope that when a child of a migrant family chooses the path of arts over academia, chaos ensues. Basile’s parents however, had no qualms. Having played American football through his schooling years and then getting into study law, they knew he’d find success on whichever path he followed.

“The bottom line is love; my parents always showed me love. I remember I quit law school to become a comedian. My mother and father never questioned it. My mother actually gave me the best backhanded compliment I’ve ever got. She goes, ‘you know, Basile, you’ve always been a conniver, so I’m sure you’ll make it work’,” Basile says.

“My father always was the practical one. He was the one who always said ‘make sure you have a roof over your head with anything you do, have a security blanket.’ And now I tell my kids the same thing. I even say that to all these people who want to do comedy at a late age, just make sure you have a roof over your head, that you can cover your ass.”

Reflecting over his career, the Emmy-nominated performer credits his family as his greatest influences. Basile’s heritage and his cheeky islander flair plays a starring role in his work, as does the comedy in contradiction of his day-to-day life growing up in a Greek household.

Basile the comedian
Basile with his family.

“We’re islanders; my mother is from Ikaria and my father from Andros. And so they would have these sayings and these platitudes, and I would sit there and scratch my head trying to make sense of them,” the comedian explains.

“Growing up we had a big hookah brought over from Turkey in the house and my yiayia would lecture me about all the bad things. ‘You shouldn’t smoke hashish, it’s very, very bad for you,’ meanwhile, there’s this huge bong in the middle of our dining room table as a decorative piece. To me that was stupidly funny, all the oxymorons, if you will.”

Although the comedy was interwoven into his life naturally, it was on the advice of Basile’s aunt Stella to really put the collective ‘Greek-ness’ under the microscope. On his first trip to Greece in 1996, he brought two notepads ready to fill with material.

“I would write notes of everything that I found funny. I was doing an American show for the Pan Icarian Convention of the United States on Labour Day weekend. They gave me the room, it was filled with 350 people,” he says.

“I’m doing my regular American Act and my mother’s sister yells out ‘Basile, tell us about Ikaria.’ And it was as if I purged everything that was inside of me and thank God, we filmed it. The place went crazy with laughter and that’s where I started coming up with the Growing up Greek in America series.”

Basile is bringing his newest show Blame it on the Greek to Australia starting on November 2 in New South Wales.

Basile the comedian
Basile is bringing his newest show Blame it on the Greek to Australia starting on November 2.

While he’s sure to miss his wife Koula and two daughters, he’s just as excited to share his new material with his Aussie fans.

“I got blamed for everything! Why doesn’t the car work, well because Basile used it, and I so started Blame it on the Greek… I’ve always wanted to do something that was going to be a lot of fun and multicultural. So for about an hour and a half, you’re going to have a blast. I have an outline in my mind and if you want to improvise with me, come along and play,” Basile says.

His comedy continues to resonate with fans of his whether it’s in person or on screen. Aside from wanting to make his daughters Katerina and Zaharoula proud, he hopes he can continue to bring joy to those around him.

“I’m getting paid to do what I love. It’s Kismet, it’s wonderful. I do it for the love of the ‘patrida,’ for the love of bringing others happiness. There was a man who called up. He wanted to order a DVD of a show I did in Boston. So I said, ‘sure I’ll take care of that.’ And he goes, ‘my mother has worn it down, she’s watched that DVD thousands of times and she suffers from Alzheimer’s’,” Basile explains.

“She doesn’t remember my name, but she remembers the Basile DVD. I was touched. He asks if he can tell me a funny story, I said please do. He says, ‘Basile, sometimes she doesn’t even know who I am and we will sit and watch your DVD over and over and over again, and I know your material frontwards and backwards, to her it’s as if she’s watching for the very first time. And then all of a sudden, one day, she must have remembered something after seeing it so many times. And she looked at me and said, ‘doesn’t he have another shirt he can put on?’”

Get your tickets for Basile’s Blame it on the Greek showing all over Australia at www.benmaioranaentertainment.com.au. You can find more of Basile’s material on his website www.BasileLive.com and across his social media accounts @basilethecomedian.

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