You may already be a huge fan of Yannis Pappas and not even realize it.
He blew up YouTube five years ago with his sketches as the sweet and sassy Puerto Rican transsexual Maurica, then hit gold again by skewering his own Greek heritage as Mr Panos. “Some people will not know, even after watching a live show, after watching her, Panos and then me doing an hour as myself AND seeing the poster that says Yannis Pappas, they still don’t know that was the same person, which is crazy.”
But now Yannis is ready to step into the spotlight as himself, with an album that’s the culmination of over a decade of doing stand-up comedy in NYC and Miami. Let Me Be Yannis is available now on iTunes and All Things Comedy. Yannis also co-hosts a new podcast Robo v The Dog on SoundCloud. We caught up with Yannis after his appearance on SiriusXM’s Bennington to discuss his new album, but as usual, his “Frankenstein’s monsters” couldn’t help but steal center stage.
I think people have finally figured out Maurica is not real, because people want her to be real so bad. Whatever she means to people is not something I would have intended. I just created what I thought was the funniest thing, because I’m from New York and so close to it. You can’t be from New York and Brooklyn and not be soaked in Puerto Rican culture, Jewish culture, Italian… it’s part of being from here. And I dated so many Puerto Rican girls, I just knew it. And when I created her, I didn’t think of how dangerous it was, I didn’t think “I’m not Latin, I’m not gay” and how in this climate, that could go wrong. If I had, I don’t think it would have worked. I just try to make her as real as possible. Without the internet, I would never have been able to do a character like that. Can you imagine walking in and pitching that to a network? I would have been laughed out of the room, it wouldn’t have been allowed. But Maurica has had next to no controversy. Panos, on the other hand – that’s the ironic thing – I’ve gotten death threats. Multiple.
They’re both so not me. And, like, when I get into character, once I put on that costume, I’m just gone. There was this Puerto Rican dude in Tampa who, after the show was like, “Yo, dude, I don’t understand. It’s like a fufi” and that’s like a Spanish word for ‘spell” “You’re like this fucking bitch and she’s Susie, dirty – I don’t believe it.” And she’s quicker than I am. A lot of the stuff we do is just off the top of our head, usually about half the show is brand new. And when I’m her, I just don’t feel like me. Panos is more like I’m making fun of the foibles of Greek culture, but Maurica is more of a loving character who just wants people to get along and wants love, and there’s that in me. So there’s more her in me, I think, than him.
In the beginning, when I realized the characters were going to be draws, especially Maurica, the show was me, Angelo [Lozada], Sergio [Chicon], Maurica, and I would do a short set but I would always go first as me because there’s no way I’d be able to follow her. But then I just started to build my nerve up and wanted to switch it and it worked. I just challenged myself to follow my own Frankenstein. They’re there to see her. A lot of times when people come to the show, they don’t even know who I am. Greeks, they call me Mr Panos, they don’t even know my real name. I got a tweet last night when I was on Red Eye, “I saw Mr Panos on Fox” – they don’t even know my name.
It’s very different and I don’t know how I make those three all work together. Angelo deserves a lot of credit because he’s the glue, he stays on stage the whole time until I come out as me. He goes first, brings Mr Panos up, stays on stage and we do a kind of two man thing, Angelo stays up and keeps it going then brings out Maurica, they do their thing and then I go change and he brings me up. So it’s really a lot of credit to him. We just taped this last one so we could pitch it as a special and I watched the tape from Gotham [Comedy Club] and I just couldn’t believe how much we had it down. But we have been doing it about four years now.
In New York, Mr Panos goes first, but in Chicago we learned the hard way that Maurica can’t follow that. It was the first time she bombed, it was hilarious. Chicago’s all Greek. So Panos went first and MURDERED and we didn’t make the connection, we just thought we finally got him good to go. In retrospect, I should’ve known something was wrong. He’s kind of a little harder to swallow live, he’s a curmudgeon and a racist. So Maurica’s song comes on for her to come out and it’s just a cavernous room to begin with, so you hear the song just echoing off the walls. Usually, it’s filled with clapping and screaming girls, but this is just silence and echo. They didn’t know her at all, it was just all Greeks and they’re typically more conservative so we actually cut it off early.
Yeah, I guess I’ve used that pun like six different ways now, just milking it. Oh, “Yannis” kind of sounds like “Honest” so let’s use that. I had a few album names I considered then I ran it by Nate [Bargatze] and he thought it was perfect for a first album and being out of character. Anyone who knows me already knows them first so it’s like, “Let me be me for a second. Let me give you this time as myself, even though you don’t want it.”
It’s actually almost a year old, really. I recorded it at Comedy on State in Madison, which is such a good club and they were such a good crowd. But then I just ignored it for a while and didn’t want to put it out. But I listened to it again and I was like, “Yeah, this is good and I want to get it out there.”
I am so excited about this. Maddog’s one of my best friends [note: James Mattern no longer goes by “Maddog”, but Yannis is grandfathered in], I’ve been on the road most with him and Angelo and this just gives me a chance to hang out with him. And you can’t not have a podcast in this day in age. I did one with Nate and Chris Laker back in ‘09 and I did it all wrong. We were in early and we fucked up, which is mostly my fault. Nate reminds me of that every time we hang out. I was irresponsible and he just knew they were going to get huge. But this podcast, I love it and I hope this is something I’ll do until I die.