A screenshot of an interview with comedians on Zoom. Pictured are Maro Lesioti (top-left), Stavroula Pabst (top-right), Menelaos Prokos (bottom-left), and Angelos Spiliopoulos (bottom-right).

Only Stage Left, The Internet: A Look Into Greece’s Virtual Comedy Scene During COVID-19

At a time when traditional socializing isn’t possible, Greek comedians have had to get creative. Fortunately, they have the internet at their fingertips.

Stavroula Pabst
Apr 20, 2020 · 7 min read

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, all non-essential businesses are closed. This means that Greeks haven’t been able to go to their favorite tavernas, cafes, and bars for about a month. More importantly, many haven’t been able to work. The schools and churches have been closed, and the summer (and the business its tourism season brings) is up in the air.

Such a crisis also means that performers haven’t been able to perform. Comedy staples in Athens, such as Los Angeles in Gkazi and the Sunday stand-up nights at Foka Negra in Fokionos Negri have been postponed for the indefinite future.

For the comedians of Greece, life has turned upside down.

Certainly, such a situation means that there is an economic struggle for comedians, like many others in the gig economy. Simply put, no performances generally means no income.

The impact on comedy, however, is more than economic. Ultimately, comedy is a social activity. Stand-up simply is not the same without an audience. Improv is all about working together to make a scene. Comedy publications have writer’s rooms so that writers can work together to come up with the best of jokes.

So what happens when comedians can’t meet? This is an unprecedented situation many comedians and other entertainers in Greece and around the world face in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stage left, the internet.

While comedians may not be able to see each other in person, they are more connected with one another online than ever before. This means that the potential to collaborate and publish new work and even perform “live” is not completely gone. Rather, it is available in ways never seen before.

As such, many Greek comedians have taken to their corners of the internet, such as Greek entertainment website Luben TV and the popular Instagram account AncientMemes, to let off steam. And with a (somewhat) captive audience, quarantine-related memes, podcasts, and livestream performances abound.

Quarantine-related memes created and shared by the social media account The Real Ancient Memes (@ancientmemes). The account, which has over 278,000 followers on Instagram and over 404,000 followers on Facebook, has been popular with social media savvy Greeks for years.

Live performers, in the meantime, are finding creative ways of trying out their art online. Improvibe, an improv comedy club in Athens, is trying a new approach to its weekly shows and jams: Zoom calls. While it is certainly not the same as a practice or performance in real life, Zoom, a platform that has been popularized with many now working from home, is still a way to taste the collaboration and teamwork that is key to improv.

The calls are easy to watch: one simply has to go to the organization’s Facebook page when a “performance” is to occur and the video will be posted. Viewers can leave comments on Facebook as the performance goes on, meaning that suggestions of topics for scenes can be taken that way.

The first call on 27 March had about two-hundred viewers when it first began, with over one-hundred still watching until the end of the performance ninety minutes later.

With such a success in terms of virtual attendance, Improvibe plans to continue such performances as the lockdown goes on. However, Menelaos Prokos, founder of Improvibe, felt that the quality of the improv was simply not comparable to the improv that can be done during a live show.

Screenshot of Improvibe performance “Στου Καραντινίδη LIVE! — Πρώτη παράσταση” from 27 March 2020, which was organized through zoom and posted to facebook. Featuring performers Menelaos Prokos (top-left), Ester Seremeti-Azaria (top-right), Konstantinos Kintis (bottom-left) and Michalis Panagiotakis (bottom-right).

One major limitation noted by Prokos and others is that performers cannot interact with themselves or with their audiences like they would be able to in real life. The result is that online performances are much less personal.

While audiences have ways of interacting with virtual performances (namely, commenting on performance posts in real-time), the absence of laughter during virtual shows is of particular difficulty to comedians, especially stand-up comedians, who often directly attribute the success or failure of their material to the audience’s reaction or lack thereof. This is why short open-mics are popular for comedians to use as testing grounds: they are able to see whether a particular joke they were trying out works as is, or whether it needs reworking.

At the same time, now that comedians are not bound by the immediate laughter (or the lack thereof) of their audiences, they are able to better consider their own instincts and their own comedic styles. When performing online, “you cannot hear the laughter, so you don’t know what is going well or what’s going on or what is okay or what is fun for the audience. But on the other side…you hear what you want to do…you are able to do what you want,” said Maro Lesioti, a performer from Improvibe.

While such a situation provides interesting benefits, the resulting economic one for performers is not among them. Those interviewed said the upcoming few months could be quite difficult, especially for comedians and organizations who may not be as established or do not have a significant amount of savings to rely upon during difficult times.

Making matters worse, performers are not receiving the extra eight-hundred euros that many other Greeks are getting from the government to ease the financial ramifications of the crisis. Depending on how long the lockdown continues, the financial situation could be dire for many performers and the general population alike.

Another issue is that many upcoming gigs and festivals many seasoned performers travel to are likely to be canceled altogether, which means that the income that performers would have taken from such events has dried up. Improvibe, for example, has canceled its annual Mount Olymprov International Theater Improv festival, which was set to take place in June of this year. The festival, which has been going on since 2016, is one performers’ from all over Europe fly in to attend.

Spiliopoulos, furthermore, had noted that a lot of the future of traveling for comedy (and therefore, making money off tours and other performances) depends on not only Greece’s own lockdown schedule but also with the rules of other countries that he and other comics would normally consider traveling to: As such, many international performances may well be called-off for the rest of the year.

With fears arising that the current pandemic will lead to another financial recession, there is also some fear that when things open back up, people will not have as much money to see live shows and performances.

Still, those interviewed expressed optimism for the future.

Those interviewed hoped and believed, furthermore, that many will look forward to the stand-up sets being written in a period of down-time. They emphasized, however, that it is also alright to not have to write, or use the time to be productive artistically.


AthensLive is a non-profit, on-the-ground source for…

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store