It’s not often that you can feel at home in a foreign country, but beloved Greek-Canadian comedian Angelo Tsarouchas feels like he fits right in when sets foot in Australia.
“I feel like I’m from there, doesn’t that sound weird? I really do. Coming from Canada, you guys grew up with the same sensitivities that Canadians had. So we’re both from Commonwealth countries, a lot of similarities,” he told Neos Kosmos.
“Our chocolates are better than the American’s chocolate, I love Cherry Ripe and all those other great things you guys have. We have the ‘vasilissa’ on our money too.”
Sure, our accents may differ and we’ll poke fun at each other’s pronunciation of English words, but that all falls away when we find ourselves sitting in a backyard, surrounded by our uncles vegetables.
“When we started speaking Greek and I was in the backyard hanging out with the theias, theios, yiayias and pappoudes, whether we were sitting in the backyard of my house in Montreal or the backyard of my uncle’s house in Brunswick or Oakleigh, you wouldn’t know the difference,” he said.
“They would ask how do you like Australia and I’d say I love it! The reality for me was, it’s the people that make the difference.”
Mr Tsarouchas has travelled all over the world and has found the magic of Greece in places hundreds of kilometres away from the motherland, but there’s one particular story of the “Greek-Australian filotimo” that really stands out to him.
Some years ago whilst on tour, Mr Tsarouchas found himself at a café in Greater Western Sydney trying to figure out whether he’d be buying an overpriced, soggy sandwich to hold him over until dinner.
Instead, he was distracted by an older woman sweeping out the front of her Parramatta home.
“I went and sat there and had a coffee. I always try to get the local newspaper to read what’s going on, maybe get some ideas for the shows and I see this woman. She was maybe three houses down sweeping. I’m sitting there and she’s staring at me,” he said.
‘Theia Voula’ as she would be come to be known recognised the comedian from her television.
“She goes ‘kalimera’ and I go, ‘kalimera’. ‘Aaah, it’s you!’. She tested me in Greek…’My kids love you’,” he recalled her saying.
“She reminded me of my mum, with the pandofles, with the broom, sweeping the front of the house, just like my mum!”
Knowing he had made a very long trip over to entertain the masses, theia Voula did what any great Greek woman would do when she sees one of her own and offered him to come by her home for a meal.
“She goes to me, ‘efages?’ (did you eat?), so me right away I told her ‘no I just had a coffee’.”
“I made gemista, do you want me to make you a plate?” she asked him in Greek.
“I thought this must be a trap because that’s my favourite Greek food…I didn’t realise, I thought there was other people at the house,” he said.
As Mr Tsarouchas’ plate of stuffed tomatoes and capsicum, olives and bread transported him back to his mother’s home back in Canada, he was somewhat flung back into reality by some rightfully confused children.
“I’m eating and then her daughters come home. Two daughters and a brother and I think a girlfriend who was Greek. They walked into the kitchen and I’m sitting there and they’re staring at me,” he said.
“They turn to their mum and ask ‘who is this man?’ And then the other sister said ‘wait a second, are you Angelo Tsarouchas?’ I go ‘yes!’ and she goes, ‘what are you doing in my house?!'”
Theia Voula instantly responded before the comedian had a chance.
“Τρώει το παιδί! (The kid is eating!)”
As her children wrapped their heads around how one of their favourite comedians had found his way into their mother’s kitchen, Mr Tsarouchas kept his eyes on the prized gemista, shifting between the nostalgia of the food and the actuality of what was happening around him.
“The whole time they were questioning me, I was still eating. And I go ‘sit down guys, sit down’. The other sister was saying ‘this is blowing my mind away’.”
There were a lot of questions being asked, namely that of why theia Voula invited a stranger into her home to eat, but she had an answer that was both humbling and poignant.
“It’s what she said to her kids. ‘He’s not a stranger, he’s one of us!’ It made me feel good…’Δεν είναι ξένος, είναι δικό μας παιδί’,” he said.
“I liked the response she gave to her daughter. She could sense it. She had that Greek mother’s intuition. If she saw something bad, she wouldn’t have told me to come in.”
Mr Tsarouchas continued reminiscing about the wonderful woman who had opened up her heart and home, laughing at how strange it looked in the moment, but how natural it felt looking back.
“She couldn’t have been a nicer lady…I’ll never forget it. Here I am ten thousand miles away from home and I’m sitting at this cafe in sydney and this Greek lady comes out and next thing you know I’m in their house eating gemista and her kids come home and we’re hanging out, is that not hospitality? I think that’s a mixture of Greek and Aussie hospitality,” Mr Tsarouchas said.
After the shock wore off, theia Voula’s children called over their family and friends to meet the “Funny Greek”.
“I hung out with them for a bit, then they called some friends over of course, ‘you’ll never guess who’s at our house eating!’ I never understood that. I never thought it was a big deal, it’s my job,” he said.
At his show a couple of days later, the humble comedian brought his newfound friends on stage, sharing the experience of that magical Greek ‘filotimo’ his Sydney audience.
It’s been close to two years since Mr Tsarouchas last made it out to our Australian shores, but hopes he can make it back for more laughs and perhaps some more gemista in Parramatta in 2022.