George Kapiniaris has been making us laugh for decades. We fell in love with his portrayal of the hilarious, endearing, patriotic, sharp tongued Memo in Acropolis Now, the hit show he co-created with Nick Giannopoulos and Simon Palomares. Known for his high energy style, which combines real life anecdotes and observations, satire and music, his shows are always a success and his ability to induce hysterics with a witty remark is second to none .
As Memo, George has provided some of the most infamous moments on screen, which are still quoted by adults and children alike to this day. Memo rushing from church with the Holy Light to sneakily begin his feast of red eggs and food in “Easter Greek Style”, an episode he himself wrote, as well as the “They call me wog, I call them skippy tha bush kangarootha” speech have become iconic.
Thirty years later, audiences cannot seem to get enough of the show, or of George Kapiniaris who is a bottomless pit of characters and comedic material, channelling his electric onstage persona into a treasure trove of shows, most recently with Straight Outta Compo and Malakas With Attitude.
GCT caught up with George Kapiniaris ahead of his last Malakas with Attitude show to chat about comedy, music and how his break-out role as Memo paved the way for stellar performances in theatre, film and television.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Melbourne on Lonsdale street, the famous Greek street of the city of Melbourne, near the Greek Centre in the heart of Melbourne’s Chinatown. That’s where the famous Stalactites is, filled with Chinese customers and next door the China Bar is filled with Greek customers!
What part of Greece are your parent from?
My mum was from Katerini in Makedonia with a ‘k’ and my dad was from Kalamata in the Peloponnese, where the olives come from. They met on the ship ‘Patris’ from opposite sides of Greece and fell in love there!
When did you first go to Greece?
I was six years of age and it was Christmas 1968. Being the method actor that I am, I refused to speak a word of English while in Greece. I even attended Greek School!
When did you first realise you were funny?
My dad was funny, he was the life of the party. He was that bloke that would amuse everyone telling stories and cracking jokes. If he was born later in time I’m sure he would’ve been a stand-up comic. I think it runs in the family, my kids are the same. I was always the class clown, the entertainer. During that trip in Greece I remember entertaining a train load of Greek passengers from Katerini to Athens at the age of six. In church I always had a bunch of kids facing me instead of the priest. Fifty years later I’m still doing it!
Tell us about your musical background?
From a young age I dreamt of being a rock star, heavily influenced by my parents’ Elvis and Beatles records and then in the 1970s being inspired by the TV show Countdown, I wanted to learn guitar and sing in a band. My uncle George (who was a carpenter) made me my first pretend guitar and I would spend hours in front of my parents’ bedroom mirror acting out my rock n’ roll fantasies. Then I got my first guitar (a nylon acoustic) and I did lessons but I wanted an electric guitar and an amp! I wanted a Gibson Les Paul, but I got a Les Paul copy and that was good enough for me. It was a Gonzales! I put a band together in High School called Scarlett and we performed all the Countdown hits. Funny thing is now, 40 years later I’m performing in a show with Tottie Goldsmith called The Songs Of Countdown , and we’re performing the same songs!
What has been your favourite show and why?
Acropolis Now was by far my most favourite show because it was like having a baby. Simon, Nick and I created the show, we were co-producers of the show, we created all the characters, we wrote most of the scripts. I wrote 12 of the 63 episodes including ‘Easter Greek Style’ which I think has to be the most famous of all the Acropolis Now episodes. I wrote the theme song to the show, and played the lead part of Memo in all 63 episodes. We wrote The Live Version of the show too and I toured with that for a year, plus Acropolis Now made me famous. It set me up for the rest of my career. Thirty years later, fans are still buying the box sets off me at all my shows. I have fans who are less than 10 years of age who recite and know all my lines. I don’t remember all my lines!
Out of all your performances on stage and on television which has been your favourite role and why?
My top 10 characters that I have played in Film, TV and stage are:
- Memo- Acropolis Now
- DJ- The Flying Doctors
- Eli- Straight Outta Compo, Comicus Erectus & The Queen and I
- Joe- The Last Proxy
- Stretch- Oh What A Night
- Goran- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
- Cookie- Nice Work if you can get it
- Stan- Thunderstruck
- Don- The Give and Take
- Ronald Mcdoggle- Fat Pizza
Tell us about your enduring friendship and partnership with Simon Palomares, as well as working with Joe Avati?
After finishing Drama School 33 years ago, Simon and I started off together doing Try Outs at Comedy Clubs in Melbourne. Within weeks we had set up seasons at theatre restaurants doing 2 hour shows which we wrote ourselves and through that we developed our own type of ethnic comedy. This was before Wogs Out Of Work. The stuff we came up with was ground-breaking and people have been copying our style ever since.
Simon and I worked on and off together over 30 years, including touring on two shows with Joe Avati. In the last 3 years we hadn’t spent much time with each other but recently we did a reunion show at The Bryan Brown Theatre which was well received by the audience. Some of them had actually come to our original Hip Hop Club shows in Sydney 32 years ago. In the last 10 years, I have performed a lot with joe Avati with shows like Il Dago, Comicus Erectus, The Good The Bad & The Ethnic and most recently, Straight Outta Compo which we have just started touring again with Tahir & Rob Shehadie and we have a lot of fun doing it. We support each other on and off the stage, we write together, we have dinners, go to shows and are very much like a family.
Tell us about Malakas With Attitude? What has audience reception been like?
The show isn’t just about the Big Malakas in the world. It’s about the Little Malakas too. It’s about time all the Malakas made a stand. Malakas stand up and be counted! You don’t have to be a Malaka to see this show about Malakas. You don’t have to be from the Strait of Malacca either! The reception has been amazing and the reviews have been overwhelmingly good!
You have written and performed in so many shows, what is your favourite part of the creative process?
Performing is by far the best buzz you can ever get. But when you get to perform your own work and the audience loves it, that’s an even bigger buzz. Adrenalin on stage is an amazing thing. Better than any drug. Better than Sex. Better than any sensation you could ever have.
What has been the biggest challenge?
The Give and Take for the Sydney Theatre Company, Nice Work If You Can Get It for the Production Company, playing Captain Tempest in Return To The Forbidden Planet, and The Last Proxy, which I wrote with and performed for Tony Nikolakopoulos, were all tough gigs. Lots of lines to learn, dance moves to remember, tough brain busting shows. You have to do a lot of homework for shows like that, and I did!
My next challenge will be learning a play that I have just written with Tony Nikolakopoulos called The Life of Byron. It’s basically a one hander where I would be playing about seven different age groups. We hope to have this theatre show in production by next year.
Who has influenced you the most in life?
Robin Williams, The Beatles, Jerry Lewis, Elvis, Graham Kennedy, Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges, Kostas Voutsas, The Marx Brothers, Vince Sorrenti, Joe Dolchi, Simon Palomares, Lewis C K, Eddie Murphy, Danny Kaye, KISS, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Fred Astair, Gene Kelly, Aliki Vouyouklaki, Roberto Benini, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Kevin Sheedy, Royce Heart, Tom Hafey, George Washington, Gough Whitlam & Charlie George.
What do you hope audiences take away from your shows?
Hopefully the audience is affected by my shows. I hope they learn something along the way. I like to stir things up in my shows. Sometimes I get in trouble. But that’s what satire is all about. To hang shit on things that we think is just wrong. Us Greeks invented it!
Is it important for you to pass the language and traditions to your children? What do they make of your comedy?
I try and not push comedy on to my 7 and 9 year old but they’re comedians anyway. They haven’t shown much interest in Acropolis Now yet but they did love me doing the Memo ‘They Call me Wog ‘ routine for them. After one go, I couldn’t believe, they were reciting most of it, so I recorded them doing it and put them on a facebook post. They do go to Greek School, they don’t like it and they don’t see the point just yet. So if anyone knows a good answer for why their mum wants them to go to Greek school could you just contact me at georgekapiniaris.com, because I need some answers.
Do you feel like you have 2 patrides?
Sure do, but then I go to Greece for a holiday and I realise I only have one. Even though my blood and DNA comes from Greece, I’m definitely a Skippy the Bush Kangarootha. But I’m not even that? Because the Skips see me as a foreigner in my own country too. So what am I? A Diasporic Greek from Australia! That’s what most of us Greeks are in Australia. Lucky we have each other.
You can catch George in his final show of Malakas With Attitude on Wednesday 18thApril at Rockdale Town Hall, 448 Princes Hwy Rockdale. Tickets can be purchased at www.trybooking.com
For information on George and his upcoming shows, visit georgekapiniaris.com