With a debt crisis looming, this comedian compares Greece to a 'petulant teenager'

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. We’re a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH here in Boston. Glad you could be with us. It’s not a shock, though it is kind of shocking: today, Greece officially defaulted on a $1.6 billion Euro debt and the country is facing a fiscal crisis. Greek banks are shut down until after a referendum on sunday. A “yes” vote on that referendum would be to accept the demands of European creditors. A “no” vote would mean rejecting those demands. The problem is Greek citizens aren’t really sure what would happen next. Would they leave the European Union? Would they drop the Euro? Like many Greeks, Katerina Vrana isn’t sure how to vote. She’s a comedian who performs in London and at her new comedy club in Athens.


Katerina Vrana: I was on tour this summer and the first leg of the tour, which was Crete, was this week, it was meant to be today, and the theaters weren’t open because they don’t have money to pay their staff. Suddenly, I have six days where I have nothing and I think”¦ I mean, I’m going to vote, but in the meantime, I’m going to try and get stuff done and take a mini-holiday, like a mini-break, because the madness is exhausting.


Werman: You’ll vote in this weekend’s referendum?


Vrana: Yeah, I’m staying in Athens.


Werman: So, what are your feelings about that referendum?


Vrana: Uh”¦ I don’t know what we’re voting for. We’ve never been so close to the edge before, and no one has the answers because this has never happened before. I’m against austerity, but I want to stay in the EU. I don’t want to have to have a visa every time I need to travel for work. Whenever I mention that I want to stay in Europe, it’s like, “How dare you!” And the rest of Europe said, “It’s “˜yes’ to the Euro or “˜no’ to the Euro.” It’s as blunt as that. To me, it sounds like anyone who thinks Greece is problematic and a pain in the backside of the other European countries, this is a great excuse to just go, “You know what? Off you go. You’ve been a massive pain in the bum for five years. Just go.” And if that happens, then I have no idea.


Werman: So Katerina, I saw your show in London a few years ago and you had some choice words for Greece and the economic crisis, but even in London I could tell you kind of see these jokes as low-hanging fruit. In Athens, is the economic crisis kind of a no-go zone still, or even more so for a comedian?


Vrana: It’s not a no-go zone for any reason other than they’re tired of it. Like, when Greeks go out to have a drink, they do that to forget their woes, and there’s so much political satire on TV and in newspapers. The constant feedback we get is, “It’s so nice that for an hour I just forgot about all of this ridiculousness happening in the background.”


Werman: Well, you’ve got those daily concerns, too. Have you spent any time waiting in line at an ATM?


Vrana: No, I don’t have any Euros. Nobody’s paid me since February, Marco”¦ I’m living off the money I made in Australia now. Foreign cards can withdraw more than 60 Euros a day. This is the other thing--Greece is fine for tourism. This will not affect tourists at all. But there’s all these kind of warnings for tourists. It’s like, oh my god, this is the best time to come to Greece. Come to Greece! Come and see firsthand. It is mental, come and enjoy. And the food’s amazing. Also, I wanted to say something about what you asked me before, that the Greeks are evading responsibility beautifully. We’re like petulant teenagers I think sometimes, that don’t want to be told off, and stomp off and go to their room. We find it really easy to blame the Germans, or the Europeans, or each other.


Werman: Well, let me turn that around, because when you are in London and you make a wisecrack about Greeks and financial responsibility and everybody in the room goes, “Ha ha, that’s so funny! The Greeks are so irresponsible!” how does that make you feel?


Vrana: Well, we are irresponsible”¦ We have a completely different mentality to how money should be spent generally, as a people, as a culture.


Werman: And describe that mentality. What is that about? Kind of “Live for today”?


Vrana: There’s a lot of “Live for today” and there’s a lot of appearance. You have to be seen to be able to afford stuff. The strength of Greece is the family ties and how strong the family unit is, but it’s also one of our downfalls because we operate everything like it’s family, even our politics. Nepotism isn’t so much a problem as a fact. And bartering. You know, “If I give you this, then what will you give me?” When you try and impose Western European structures on something like that, it won’t take because it doesn’t work the same way.


Werman: In one of your routines, Katerina, you praise the way Greek taxi drivers are so much better at admiring a woman’s beauty than British construction workers.


Vrana: Greek men in general.


Werman: Is the Greek economic crisis so bad that it’s distracted Greek men from girl watching? Please, say it ain’t so.


Vrana: No, no. Only today a cab driver drove past and said, “You have lovely thighs!” “Why, thank you! Thank you so much!”


Werman: Comedian Katerina Vrana speaking to me from Athens. Thank you. Great to speak.


Vrana: You’re welcome. Always a joy.