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These jokesters inhabit the comedic penthouse suite April 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.

Maybe it’s a function of this country’s splendid multiculturalism. Or just maybe audiences have become real bored with what passes for mainstream comedy. But there can be no doubt that the hottest comedy tickets in town and across much of Canada are for wits who spring from the cultural communities.

Short of a Jerry Seinfeld, there is only one comic who could sell out a room as big as Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in just a few hours, then sell out the recently added second show at the same venue. That would be Russell Peters, who may have been raised in Toronto but whose South Asian roots are responsible for comedy stylings that have catapulted him to superstardom around the planet.

Same thing happened in Montreal. Tickets were gobbled up so quickly when they went on sale last week for Peters’s July 19 Just for Laughs show at Theatre Maisonneuve in Place des Arts that a second show has been added July 20. Similarly, tickets for Peters sold out quickly in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, where a fourth show had to be added to meet the huge demand.

This is not just some aberration, either. Ticket sales were so brisk for the Ethnic Heroes of Comedy Tour show, that a second and third had to be added this weekend at Theatre Maisonneuve. Only a few ducats remain for Friday’s 8 p.m. and Saturday’s 7 and 9:30 p.m. shows.

This tour, headlining Montrealers Angelo Tsarouchas and Sugar Sammy as well as T.O.’s Frank Spadone and L.A.’s Jo Koy, will hit 10 cities in Canada before wrapping at the end of April.

This fascination with ethnic comedy comes as no surprise to Tsarouchas, who has spent much of the last year opening for Peters on tour around the world. The prevailing view has always been that Greeks give good tragedy, but Tsarouchas, along with Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame, proved years ago that Greeks can also give great comedy.

A decade back, Tsarouchas was making waves here and around the continent with his one-man show, It’s All Greek to Me. Then the jolly Greek giant, how else to describe a wit who weighs 370 pounds and stands close to 7 feet tall, had the brainwave to team up with Spadone for a multi-pronged ethnic comedy assault. The two had starred in Just for Laughs’s Wiseguys series two years ago. Tsarouchas has no Italian blood, Angelo is abbreviated from Evangelos, but who is going to try to push him off the stage at the Italian-flavoured Wiseguys shows?

“We were a great Greco-Roman act, and I’m not talking wrestling on stage, either,” he says. “Reaction from audiences, not just ethnic crowds, was so overwhelming that we decided to go whole hog with some South Asian humour from Sugar Sammy and Jo Koy. Now we’re getting calls from all over the world. “The world is so rapidly changing and people are becoming ever more interested about what’s happening in other communities. Comedy may be the tool, but if it helps to get people to co-exist, so much the better.”

Tsarouchas claims that he honed his comedy skills mimicking customers while flipping burgers as a teen at his dad’s restaurant in Park Ex. Actually, he credits his dad , who has since passed away. “He was a real philosopher,” Tsarouchas says. “He would tell me that three things in life were inevitable: death, taxes and that Greek music will always speed up, particularly at Greek weddings.”

Curiously, Tsarouchas was turned down for a role in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “Despite the fact I fulfilled three of the four requirements in the title,” he cracks. “More insulting, they said I didn’t look Greek enough.”

More curiously, after this rejection Tsarouchas had to settle for a role as an Italian mobster in a Sylvester Stallone flick.

“Maybe the reason I didn’t get My Big Fat Greek Wedding was that I was going through My Big Fat Greek Divorce at the time,” he says. “But that’s ancient history. Now I’m in My Skinny Little WASP Co-Habitation phase.”

The Ethnic Heroes of Comedy Tour comes to Theatre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts on Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Russell Peters plays the same venue July 19 and 20. For tickets, call 514-842-2112 or 514-790-1245.

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