Jokes that have staying power from the mind of ghost non-believer Yannis Pappas

Even though it has been almost a month since I saw him open for Hannibal Burress, rarely does a day go by when I don’t think about Yannis Pappas’ jokes.

The 30-minute set Pappas expertly delivered to a sold-out Fletcher Opera House in Raleigh not only got the crowd hyped for Burress, it left a pleasingly indelible mark on me and my comedy-viewing crew. Sure, Burress destroyed and we talked about his act on the ride home, but there was ample Pappas discussion in there as well.

Sometimes the feature performer is dwarfed by the headliner, but Pappas could not be, and has not been, forgotten. If there was any question about his stand-up chops before the show, Pappas answered them as soon as he took the stage, setting up what might be the best comedy performance I’ve seen this year. It’s a toss-up between Pappas/Buress, Todd Glass, Gary Gulman and Maria Bamford. Don’t make me choose in this scenario I just created!

During our Wednesday afternoon chat, Pappas and I discussed touring with Burress, ghost jokes, a behind-the-scenes look at the Comedy Central Half-Hour tapings and much more. Enjoy the interview, visit Pappas’ website, follow him on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes at the end.

TC: Do you get to hang out much with Hannibal or is it all business and on to the next thing?

YP: We were traveling together through that leg of his tour. We did Philly, D.C., Williamsburg and Raleigh so yeah, we hung out all day. Go eat lunch, do whatever. Go out at night and get a couple drinks.

TC: Obviously the amount of time you’re responsible for is different when you’re featuring or when you’re headlining. What else is different? Do you do different material? Does your pace change?

YP: I haven’t featured for many people. Hannibal is one of them. He’s a buddy and we kind of started comedy together. When I featured for him, I wanted to put a set together that would be good, solid and get the crowd cooking for him. I’m trying to do the best job I can to get the crowd warmed up. When you open, you don’t want to be too dirty. You don’t want to have any dirty, long jokes. You just want to get those consistent pops.

TC: A lot of your jokes stuck with me, but I think my favorite is the “Ghosts” bit. I imagine the punchline sometimes catches people off guard, doesn’t it?

YP: It does. You’re talking about when the ghost fingers everyone’s asshole?

TC: Absolutely. (interviewer, Pappas laugh)

YP: Yeah, I guess that flies in the face of what I just said about not being dirty, but I think that was probably the only dirty thing I said (during the Raleigh show).

That’s the whole point of that punchline is that it’s sort of a surprise. I don’t believe in ghosts, obviously. If there were ghosts, one of them has gotta have a sense of humor. (interviewer laughs) One of them has to be a prankster. The whole point of that punchline is I want to draw attention to how ridiculous it is that a ghost would come back and like, close a door.

I’ve had that joke for a while and I figured it would be a good joke to close on for the feature set. The rest of that stuff is pretty new after my Comedy Central Half-Hour. That’s all new material I’ve written since then. The ghost joke has been around for a while.

TC: You mentioned your Half-Hour taping and I’m curious: What is something that goes on during the taping that might surprise people?

YP: Everyone is a little nervous. You get one shot at it and you don’t want to mess it up. It’s not as free and loose as it may seem on TV. You have to do the jokes that you submitted (to Comedy Central) for the most part.

On tour, me, Hannibal and Tony (Burress’ DJ, Tony Trimm) are just laughing and having a great time because we know it’s a live show and we can play the room. You can talk to the crowd if you want.

(For the Half-Hour), guys are really not having that much fun before the taping. They’re just getting ready for their set.

TC: If a new joke doesn’t work the first time you tell it, do you change it right away or do you stick with that original premise a few more times?

YP: It depends on how much you believe in it. I’ve had jokes that I really believe in and I’ll tell them a few times when I’m working them out to try to craft them and they don’t go good. But I really believe there is something funny there. I’ve had jokes that haven’t worked for like, a month. Then you just figure something out until you finally see a way to make it accessible to the audience. Generally, if you try it 10 times and it’s not working, it might be time to jettison it and say, “Look, if it’s only funny to me, it’s not funny to anybody else.” The key is, if it’s one you believe in, you just keep pushing through until you find a way. It’s like a puzzle and then it feels so good when you get it because you believed in it and it starts to work.

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