If you didn’t already know – The Top Secret Comedy Club (in London Covent Garden) is a brilliant and tiny comedy venue in the heart of the capital. The downstairs room is usually roaring with laughter, or, you’ll witness the awkward silence and heckles from people just metres away in its 145 capacity basement venue. This “secret” venue really does offer the opportunity to see comedy at its finest with huge names including Jack Whitehall, Jason Manford, John Bishop and Micky Flanagan having performed here. Anyway, know longer able to visit this superb venue due to Covid restrictions, we found out they run Zoom gigs, giving stand-up a new look with sit-down comedy. This is how we first heard about the hilarious George Zach aka Greek Geordie who was headlining recently, and kindly agreed to our Q&A to tell us all about…
Interview by Ben Farrin
It is not easy to get across emotion or accents with an email Q&A, and there’s a bit of an ongoing joke about your accent, right….
I am from Greece and I live in Newcastle, so if you haven’t heard me talk this is an accent you can’t even imagine. But if you have heard me speak then you are reading this in my voice, like a discount Morgan Freeman. The joke I say on stage is that I sound like Borat, which isn’t really my idea. My friends in university used to say Yagshimash to me every time I came in the room. Being new to the country I had no idea what it meant but I laughed along because I didn’t want to seem like an idiot, which ironically is exactly the sort of thing Borat does. When I realised what it meant and looked Borat up, I was horrified, because in my head I sounded like the royal family – and still do! I had no clue I sounded so foreign, until I eventually listened back to myself. You know how most of us hate the sound of our own voice? Imagine that but listening to a different accent than you have in your head also. If you know an international student, then know this: they probably think they speak the Queen’s English. Idiots.
I actually find accents incredibly interesting. Like… you can drive for a few hours, get out of your car and into a completely new world. Grarse or grass? Barth, or bath? I guess with your strong Greek accent and hint of Georgie you have bigger and better comparisons to make?
A comedian called Brendon Burns who’s from Australia had a joke about how in Britain the accents get so diverse and unique that soon people will hear an accent and say “you must be from John’s house”. Man, Newcastle is a place where normal English doesn’t apply, I had to learn it all over again.
The worst thing that happened to me regarding my accent, was when I left a nightclub once and a Geordie girl wanted to get in the taxi before me and I said “you can’t” but this was not the c word she heard. Cue massive kerfuffle (is that how you spell it? I’m not looking it up – also, what a word kerfuffle is, THEY ARE HAVING A KERFUFFLE, GATHER AROUND EVERYONE). Eventually my friends intervened, and it got cleared but I nearly had my head kicked in. I was shocked, mainly at the misunderstanding but also at the attempt to jump the taxi queue. I thought this was England!
So can you tell us, why did you come to the UK?
I came to study Biochemistry at Northumbria University, then stayed for the weather and to avoid joining the army for mandatory national service. But mainly the weather. Couldn’t afford the Bahamas. Came to Newcastle.
From a foreigner’s perspective, maybe you can enlighten us, how do foreigners judge us English?
Before I start, let me tell you that I love the Brits, I love being in the UK and I am never leaving, it feels like home to me.
Having said that…
Greeks say English people have really frosty humour (NOT a compliment) and some often ask me how I make such humourless people laugh… Which is hilarious, because English people genuinely think they have the best sense of humour, so it is quite a juxtaposition. My opinion is that both countries have great sense of humour. British people are incredibly funny, but it comes down to a difference in culture. Being “dry” doesn’t really translate to Greeks, we are more about Friends than The Office. However, the younger generation of Greeks totally get British humour, mainly because of Netflix etc.
Good stereotypes about English people – punctual, honest, progressive, organised, diplomatic, well mannered, calm.
Less good – humourless, organised, slight alcoholics, a bit emotionally constipated.
To some foreigners who don’t know any better, you are basically Germans – but with better fashion.
And since you got your indefinite Visa to remain, what’s changed, do you feel more “British” now?
I actually feel both Greek, British and neither. The referendum made me feel so alienated for a while, then I realised that I am still going nowhere. I love this place and if I didn’t get the visa I would stay here illegally/beg a friend to marry me. A few guy friends of mine actually offered! Shame I didn’t need to take them up, because my fake wedding party would have been sick.
I definitely have aspects of both countries and cultures in me. I am British AND I am Greek. I am very liberal, but I also break the law often. I trust authority, but I don’t respect it. I plan ahead, but I am always late. I work hard, but I have no money.
When did you first realise you are hilarious, and that comedy was your future path?
I realised I was funny on stage. Look, I didn’t know I was funny before, I just wanted the attention. The fact people actually laughed meant I got more gigs and attention. As for future path, I was playing poker for a living before comedy and loved it. From Biochemistry, to poker to comedy, you can imagine my parents are very proud.
After a year of performing, I naturally dreamt of doing it for a living, but didn’t think it would actually happen, it all seemed so farfetched. Regardless, I gave poker up, took up a normal job selling motor and home insurance via a call centre job, just so I can be free in the evenings. The job mostly paid for the expenses of travelling in order to do unpaid gigs across the country. I kept doing it, mainly because I am addicted to this thing, but eventually it happened! Since February 2015 I have not worked at a normal job.
All I wanted was attention and to wake up whenever I wished.
Can you remember your first gig?
I have footage of it somewhere too! It was St Patricks day, in a 30-seater room above a goth/punk pub in Newcastle’s gay district, at a gig called Long Live Comedy which ran for years and years. I had a t-shirt custom made for it. It was my face giving the thumbs up and the word “Chlamydia” underneath. I thought it was hilarious. I did well, but sadly lost the T-shirt. £12 I paid for it. Gutted.
Was it your worst, and if not, what was your all-time worst gig and why?
I used to really get affected by bad gigs. Like, they would ruin my night and my week. But you have lots of bad gigs and you sort of get used to them, like a professional boxer gets used to having their face punched. First time it hurts, you probably cry a little. Conversely, the 50th time it hurts less but then you start forgetting where you put your keys so make sure it does not happen too often. If you are too used to bad gigs, you are probably not that good. Remember – Mike Tyson would always rather dodge.
As for the worst gig… this is a long story…
Worst ever gig was when I was the entertainment at a Christmas show for a motor trader company in Leeds. It was absolutely horrible. Followed a magician who they absolutely adored. I start doing my thing. No one cares. Partly they didn’t want to hear me and also I was proper sh*t. Halfway through someone from the back said, “This isn’t going very well, is it”. To be fair, a solid observation, saying what we are all thinking. Before I responded (not that I had anything worth saying), he uttered “save your dignity and stop talking now, it is ok”.
What this man was soon to realise is that I have no dignity, which became evident when I pointed out that I am contracted for 30 minutes and I have 14 minutes left. CEO of company was sat in the front row, he had bought me a drink earlier so I sought some support by asking him whether HE thinks I should stop, given he is paying me. He says, “it’s best if you stopped”. Crowd cheers. I realise this is the lowest of the low, so now I decided to just see how ridiculous I can make this situation and, in an effort to entertain myself I started negotiating FROM THE STAGE, how will my payment work out if I were to stop 16 minutes in. Will I get paid the full amount or pro rata? He says, you will get full amount, I have already paid your agent. I took a long pause and said “In that case, I am a man of integrity. Seeing how you paid the full amount, I will do the full time. With this and that I only actually have 11 minutes left”. I thought this is a funny thing to say and I expected they would laugh, then I would laugh and then I would come off stage on a bit of a joke. Instead, they did no such thing. Just a massive groan. And I did it. I did 11 more minutes, to the clock… Well almost. Remember the boxer comparison I made earlier? 10 minutes into me playing to a proper dismayed audience someone said, “here I will help you out” and he threw a towel on stage. A white towel. Like in boxing. I kept thinking “where did he get the towel in this function room?”. It was the funniest thing that happened during my whole set. I left, walked outside without talking to anyone, was snowing like mad, got in a taxi to the station, missed the train and caught a Megabus back. No business like show business.
Proudest moment from being on stage?
December 2019, headlining Top Secret in London with my siblings there who had come to visit for Christmas. My brother had just turned 18 so had never seen me perform. Sold out, 250 people in. Went like a dream. I did an encore in front of my little brother. In fact, there was also an attempt at a standing ovation. It was one man who looked around, noticed that no one else followed his lead, not even his girlfriend, and sheepishly sat back down. It counts.
Your jokes easily resonate with everyday people and not only that but you’re one of those guys that’s just funny to watch. Your dishwasher and the Tesco jokes are brilliant. What’s your personal favourite joke?
You mean my own joke or someone else’s?
My own favourite piece of material to perform currently is a bit from my latest show about going to a swingers’ house in Australia. But I also love the dishwasher routine because it is so universal.
Someone else’s? Zach Galifianakis (bearded guy from The Hangover) has an opening joke I wish was mine: Hi. My name is Zach Galifianakis. I hope I am pronouncing it right.
It must be difficult right now for people like yourself who are unable to perform in venues whilst the country is in lockdown. How have you been during these strange times?
I have been involved in a few projects the last couple of months that keep me busy, I will be starting 2 podcasts, but I can’t say what exactly yet. But that all started in December. Prior to that I was doing nothing. And I was ok with that. Don’t get me wrong, I miss performing comedy every day. Even pre covid, I needed to do it every day. I love it.
Yet, I am a very positive guy, always looking at the bright side of every situation and currently the bright side is doing nothing. Doing nothing is the best. Before I got asked to join these projects, I spent my time chilling, playing video games and cooking amazing food. If you really commit to it, cooking takes absolute ages. I made a lasagne that took me 16 hours of prep.
Look, you don’t have to spend lockdown being super productive. It is ok to do nothing. Relax. Get some short ribs, marinate them with a coating of salt overnight in the fridge, then slow cook them for 4 hours the next day in some tomato sauce with marmite, beef stock, garlic, onions, finely chopped carrots and mushrooms. Use that as a base for your bolognese, lasagne or moussaka. Whilst it is getting ready, watch some reality TV where Gordon Ramsey calls someone an idiot sandwich. Eat way more than you need in a single seating. Have ice cream for dessert. Remember, no one will see your fat ass for months. Go to sleep. It will be fine.
For anyone reading this and interested in comedy. I just watched George perform on Zoom for The Top Secret Comedy Club, it was just £1 a ticket and the online gig was just hilarious! George, you stole the show! Is it tricky performing live from your room, to a laptop screen rather than to a live crowd?
First off, Top Secret have done a great job and when this is over it is worth getting yourself down to Covent Garden to see the live shows, they pale in comparison to their online stuff. They have been very kind to me, Top Secret, I headline their shows, they like what I do, and I often get to work with the best in the industry on the same line-up such as Romesh Ranganathan, Jack Whitehall, Simon Amstell, etc etc. Yes, online is much different but I get immersed in it, I watch the whole show when I do zoom gigs, so I get into the rhythm of things. You know what though, there is a certain dystopian feel to it as well as a feel of amazement. Like I am amazed because technology is allowing me to connect from my room in Newcastle to someone in Canada, which I find amazing. But then again, a man talking to the computer connecting with a bunch of other people from his room because he isn’t allowed out is straight from a black mirror episode. If the main character spent all day in his underwear.
To wrap up this interview, can you tell us a funny story about you that people wouldn’t already know?
Years ago, when I was starting out in comedy and quit poker, I represented myself in court over a ticket dispute with Cross Country Trains. I accidentally caused 2 mistrials and was threatened by the judge with contempt. On the 3rd trial, I turned up hungover after an all-night bender with a comic after a gig in a city 200 miles away. Took the 6am train, made it to court so early, it gave me a chance to drop into H&M to buy a shirt and tie. Later, I went on to cross examine the key witness who was the train inspector. It was amazing.
Lost. Got handed a £425 fine. Paid it over 5 instalments because they saw my bank balance and took pity. On the way out, I noticed a mustard stain on my trousers from last night’s kebab.
They say, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client”. In my defence, I was told about this phrase after the fact. Pointless.
Top tips for students wanting to get into comedy?
I think everyone should try comedy at least once. It is amazing and accessible to all. What should you talk about? Firstly, NEVER DO SOMEONE ELSE’S JOKE/STORY. Other than that, talk about things that make you laugh. If the joke works, well done. If it doesn’t, try it a few more times. If the audience isn’t laughing, it isn’t them. It’s you. And never ever compare where you are in your journey to other people. It will only make you bitter.
Lastly, what’s the first thing you’re going to do when lockdown is over?
I hope I get so wasted I do not recall what happened.
Follow George on social media @GreekComedian
Main picture credit: Steve Ullathorne