Meet Greek Goddess of Comedy Ellen Karis
Greek-American Comedian Ellen Karis continues to evolve. The native New Yorker with roots in Mani, Greece and Cyprus, always loved theater—and comedy. But like many children of immigrant families, she followed a more practical career path. She studied accounting, became a CPA, then earned an MBA in finance, leading to a successful career at a Wall Street investment banking firm.
“I couldn’t take another Profit and Loss Statement,” she quipped. Ellen needed something more, perhaps a creative outlet. She’s always been drawn to the arts. After binge-watching sitcoms, on a whim, she took an improv class. “It was so fun.” Then she took an acting class, “and then it morphed.”
She took more classes. One teacher instructed the class to improv something from their lives. “I always talked about my family, you know, all the drama. The teacher thought it was funny and suggested that when I did stand-up, to talk about my Greek family. It wasn’t my intention, but she planted the seed.”
Thinking she might someday to a sitcom, she visited comedy clubs. “I didn’t know how to write a joke, so I enrolled in a writing class.” This led to several more years of more study and writing groups, then open mic nights, small shows. After a few years, she met a comedy manager who told her about a client who played Jewish audience at temples. He encouraged her to hit the Greek circuit. And the rest as they say, is history.
From Greek-American comedian to Sunday School teacher
Now with 20 years under her belt, doing mainstream and Greek-themed shows, including corporate events, private parties, and even online performances during the pandemic, it was time to stretch her muscles again. So, a comedian walks into a church…
“In my spare time, among other things, I teach Sunday School,” she revealed. She and her husband don’t have kids, but she is the proud nouna to 9 Godchildren. “When my niece/Goddaughter was little, my sister also had a newborn and didn’t take the kids to church. I wasn’t going as much as liked either, so I offered to take her daughter to church on alternate weeks.” When she took her niece/Goddaughter to Sunday School, she encountered a whole other world. “It was chaos. Kids all over. I didn’t want to leave her alone, so I stayed.” Finally, she offered to help the frazzled director. “Next thing you know, “I’m singing Jesus songs—and teaching Sunday School.”
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Research for lessons sparks an idea
Soon, she became the main teacher to 4, 5, and 6-year-olds. “I wanted to teach them traditions like names days and make sure they knew their saints. This also led to the creation of Godparents Day at our parish.” As they day approached, she sought a book to share with the kids to explain the Godparent/Godchild relationship. She came up short, but it sparked an idea. Even as she shifted to older grades, the idea stuck. She knew she had to write it.
“My Godmother was a teacher for 40 years, and a librarian for the last 20. Kids books were very important to her, so I wrote in homage to her. She was such a huge influence on me.” Drawing on memories and lessons of her nouna, and her relationship with her own Godchildren, she wrote. “I honor them all, because they aren’t just random people.”
She wrote the text, then set it aside. But some ideas don’t stay quietly on the sidelines. They nudge you, call to you, until you return to them.
Years later, Ellen sought an illustrator not only with the skills, but also knowledge of the Greek Orthodox religion. Enter Kristina Tartara. A fellow Greek-American, Kristina has illustrated several books, many with Christian themes. “I had a distinct vision and gave her photos to work from. She did amazing work.”
A book is born
In 2021, Ellen self-published, Special People: Godparents in the Orthodox Christian Faith. The colorful, softcover book is super cute and easy to follow. “It’s great for Sunday Schools and makes a great gift.”
She sells it at her comedy shows, in church bookstores, and on Amazon. “People like it. I’ve got 5-star reviews, which make me smile.”
Now, the proverbial light bulb keeps flashing. “I have another kids’ book in mind. It’ll be more mainstream this time. And a funny book. There are so many thoughts in my head.”
She also shared that she’s taking this writing and performing gig to yet another level. “I’m writing a one-woman show about my great-grandmother who came from Cyprus. That’s my main project this summer.”
Ellen Karis may be the Greek Goddess of Comedy, but she’s about so much more than one-liners. And story time will certainly never be the same. I’m excited for these projects and where she goes from here.
Get your copy of Special People: Godparents in the Orthodox Christian Faith on Amazon. Contact her directly for bulk orders for church bookstores and Sunday Schools.
More from ‘Greek Goddess of Comedy’ Ellen Karis
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