Basile Katsikis: The $20 bet that launched his stand-up comedy career (”1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - “I’ll bet you twenty bucks!”
No, it’s not the punchline in one of Basile the Comedian’s jokes. That’s how Basile Katsikis’ international stand-up comedy career began, inside the Cleveland Comedy Club in 1986.
“I was always having jokes, always cutting up,” Basile remembers about his pre-professional entertainer days. “But in a nice way. I was never nasty to people. Then one day my cousin says, ‘You know, you’ve gotta get on stage!’ He made me a bet, $20, which was a lot of money back then. I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ He said ‘I’m throwing you twenty bucks, I want you to get on stage. I bet you, you can’t win!’”
Basile did win. He impressed on that Open Mic Night in Ohio, and the owner of the club invited him back to perform on a regular basis. It sent the 26-year-old’s life in a new direction.
The only son of Greek immigrants, Vasili (later changed to Basile) Katsikis was born in New Jersey, but grew up in the Long Island area of New York. He likes to say that his mother Rosemary and father Herb named him Basile (one of his tried and true jokes sure to raise a smile no matter how many times you hear it). While his parents operated a Greek restaurant, young Basile had dreams of playing pro football. But an injury sidelined those dreams, and he enrolled in Cleveland State University with thoughts of pursuing a career as an attorney.
“I could have been an attorney, but would you really have me represent you?” he says with a chuckle.
That’s about the time when Basile first went on-stage and discovered the world of stand-up. He landed a job at WMMS-FM, the rock radio station in Cleveland doing character voices, a talent born out of his earliest days watching television as a child. One of his favorite cartoons was Bullwinkle the Moose, and when one of the morning show hosts recognized Basile’s talents, it led to a major opportunity. He talks about it at 15:00 of the podcast.
“One thing led to another, and Jeff Kinzbach, thank you, wound up writing a letter to the people who owned Bullwinkle and sent a tape in,” Basile says. “Next thing you know, they’re re-dubbing and fixing the old Bullwinkle (cartoons). Bill Scott was the original voice, and he had passed away, and they said ‘we need someone to do this’. They threw my name in there.” Basile got the job.
That stepping stone led to more voiceover work, including several Japanese Anime series. The stand-up career also started to blossom, working alongside comics like Steve Harvey at venues across the country. He also met a young lady named Koula Poulos from Wilmington, North Carolina, and the two got married in 1988.
“Without my wife, I’d probably be nothing,” he says, striking a serious tone. “To allow me to go out, to do the things I do. To do a tour in the UK, to go to Australia for five weeks. You wind up doing these things, and of course you have to have a strong family. I kid around a lot when I talk about my wife, Koula, I’d be nothing.”
The two settled in Wilmington, and Basile has operated out of the Port City ever since. Early on, Basile says he noticed the church they attended, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, did not have a Greek Festival. When he brought it up, leaders there told him to ‘look into it’. In 1992, the idea became reality and has continued at the church ever since. The story begins at 23:45 of the podcast.
“We put together a great team of individuals from within our community, many of you know who they are, the community got together and we created the Greek Festival,” he remembers. “We did the festival, and for the first four or five years I was in charge of it.”
That is just one of the examples of Basile’s drive to help organizations and communities in need. In 2016, Basile was honored by the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the leading membership-based association for the nation’s Greek-American and Philhellenes citizens, “for bringing communities together through comedy and laughter and for his charitable giving”. Basile’s September 2018 benefit performance in Palos Hills, Illinois helped raise more than $17,000 for Koraes Elementary School. This past August, he served as emcee and auctioneer for the Last Chance for White Pants Gala event in Wilmington, to benefit Lower Cape Fear Hospice.
“I just kind of dig it, I really do,” he says about the volunteer work. “There are so many organizations, Greek and non-Greek, that need help, and I have a certain talent, like you, and we have the opportunity to help these organizations. I figure, why not? If you have the talent and the drive to go ahead and do it, what am I going to say, ‘No?’ I’ve been blessed with a talent, and I might as well use this talent. I love this community, and if there’s anything I can do for the community I try to do my best to do it.”
Basile has embraced his Greek heritage from the start of his professional career, using family stories as part of his stand-up sets. He does two types of live performances, the general audience show done in English, and the other done mostly in Greek. His Growing up Greek in America DVD series has sold more than one million units. The food theme is also prevalent in his work, whether it be Basile’s Greek Style Seasonings line or the weekly A Pinch of Basile podcast, that reaches an international audience. On the horizon, a restaurant-themed television show featuring a dysfunctional staff and family. Basile says he recently signed a deal with Amazon Prime, and he hopes to start shooting episodes soon in Wilmington. He talks about that venture at 34:00 of the podcast.
“They are allowing me to be the lead, as far as the lead writer, because a lot of that stuff is based on my material,” he says. “I wanted something that was going to be different. I want to do it here. I’ve always been proud that all our t-shirts are made here in Wilmington. All the products that we have, the website, all the things that we do, here in Wilmington. Why would I want to take it anywhere else when we have the greatest talent right here in Wilmington?”
There is so much more to Basile’s successful career, and we talked about a lot of it in the interview. The Emmy-nominated ESPN ’30 for 30’ episode where he did the voice of Jimmy ‘The Greek” Snyder. Good jokes. Not-so-good jokes. Advice for young comics. His daughters, Zaharoula and Katerina, keeping him in line. Social media’s impact on stand-up comedy. Upcoming shows at Dead Crow Comedy Club in downtown Wilmington. I hope you enjoy the interview with Basile the Comedian as much as I did. You can listen to the full interview by clicking on any of the links below.
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