In one of the many famous scenes in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film “Goodfellas,” Tommy DeVito, a mobster played by Joe Pesci, gets prickly when he’s told he’s a funny guy. “What do you mean, I’m funny?” he asks, fury building in his voice. “Funny like a clown? I amuse you?”
Comedian, writer and actor Grigorios Kritikos has been told he was funny since he was a kid, and he references that scene when he describes how much that bothered him. “I was always the center of attention,” Kritikos said. “People always told me, ‘Greg, you’re really funny.’ And I used to hate that. I couldn’t stand it.”
It would be years before Kritikos, who goes by the stage name Greg The Greek, became familiar with his sense of humor. He was born in Greece and emigrated to the U.S. in 1971, where his father, a former professional soccer player, opened a shoe repair shop in Astoria, a working-class neighborhood of Queens, N.Y.
“The kids were ruthless back then,” Kritikos recalled, saying that he was given the disparaging nickname “Hamburger” because his Greek accent made it difficult to pronounce the word properly. As a young adult, Kritikos says he fell in with a rough crowd, running with a gang called the Steinway Boys and indulging in drugs, alcohol and crime.
“There was a lot of pain and bitterness in my family growing up,” Kritikos said. “We were a poor family. I was the kid next door that didn’t get any toys under the Christmas tree.” After his mother was struck by a drunken driver, Kritikos went into a depression that further fueled his alcoholism.
He entered rehab in 2011 – “March 2,” he said, the exact date etched in his memory – and says he’s been sober ever since. He’s also lost a considerable amount of weight since giving up drinking.
“A lot of my friends are dead, and a lot of them are in prison,” Kritikos said. “A lot of guys didn’t make it, and I’m one of the guys that actually made it. I’m the lucky one that got out of it.”
Kritikos lived in New York for more than 40 years, moving to Spokane last July. “As a kid, I always loved the Northwest,” he said, “but unfortunately, I grew up in a concrete jungle.”
He channels his checkered past through his comedy, making light of the darkest chapters of his life – poverty, addiction, obesity. “My material is based on real life,” he said. “I like to turn tragedy into comedy. I’m a creative writer; I see comedy in everything.” Kritikos also mines material from his obvious incongruity with his new surroundings, since his gruff Queens accent makes him stand out on Spokane’s comedy scene.
He’s acted in several independent films and written spec scripts for a potential TV series (“Stories from Astoria”) and a feature film (“The Shoemaker’s Son”) based on his life, and Kritikos says these creative outlets are what keep him content and focused.
“The secret to my life today is that I know what I don’t want,” he said. “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives. I like to laugh with life, not at life.”