If you don’t know Mary Coustas by name, there certainly is a strong chance you’ve encountered her inner Greek Goddess, Effie. For over 30 years, Effie, and Mary, have been performing stand up across Australia. Rising to fame in 1987 in the successful stage show Wogs Out Of Work with Nick Giannopoulos, Effie and Mary have forged their own unique brand of comedy.
I was fortunate to speak to Mary about her upcoming show with Effie at the Adelaide Fringe this year.
“I’m very excited to be out and about doing my show! I’ve primarily done shows around the country that are not in festivals. ‘Wogs Out Of Work’ was born in the 80s out of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Whenever I’ve toured, I’ve sort of just gone wherever. It was my first time at the Adelaide Fringe in 2020, and I’m hating myself for not having done it before. I fell into the bosom of it last year and I told myself that I need to come back every year now with a new show. I’m very excited to be able to do it.”
For over 30 years Mary and Effie have been performing their unique brand of comedy all across Australia. I was curious to find out where Mary found the inspiration for Effie.
“My upbringing was very Greek for the first decade of my life, because I grew up in Collingwood. Then when I was nine we moved to the white middle class suburbs, where I spent my second decade. I suppose I obviously carried a lot of my wogginess with me, which came at a very high price. There were only three Greek kids in my school, so that was punishing. There was a lot of bullying; it wasn’t a good time for me. I always had an optimistic view of my life, and that things were going to be awesome soon. I had done a lot of plays at school and loved performing and as I’m Greek, I’m naturally larger than life as it is. Then I decided I wanted to go to Uni and study acting, so I did that for a while. During that period a friend invited me to go to Lygon Street for coffee and that was a very Ethiopic area, and I hadn’t been to a place like that before. While I was in a bathroom there, I overheard these fantastic accents. I loved how petty the conversations were and I just sat in there listening. So, when I came out, I saw them with their extra-large hair spray. It was incredible. The big hair, the bad makeup – I just loved them. They were just like dolls. The first chance I got, I wanted to play a girl like this…and that was the birth of Effie.”
It was at this point of the interview with Mary that Effie herself took control of the phone. To say I was starstruck to be speaking to such a legend would be a huge understatement. After composing myself, I asked Effie how she coped during the lockdowns of 2020.
“It was mental, I gotta tell yous. There was benefits, I’m not gonna lie. You know, I didn’t have to see my mother-in-law, good thanks – justifiable didn’t have to. My own mother-in-law, which is a high maintenance pain-in-the-arse, I love her but she’s full tilt. I didn’t have to see her either, but the whole street heard her every time that she called. She still thinks she’s in the village. But there were some benefits. Shane and I, freshly married couple, spent a lot of time exploring each other’s anatomies so to speak. That was good. I clocked up lots of rooting frequent flyer points. I went from bronze to platinum in nine months as I like to tell yous. They were the positives, I’m not gonna lie.
“There was also the negatives. The toilet paper hoarding, because the world just shat itself. We didn’t know how long it was gonna go. The hand break got put on life. All our freedoms and assumptions stopped. So in amongst the benefits, there was still terror at times, and mood swings. We’re all not accustomed to being grounded, you know, having to overthink what is natural to us, like our freedoms, and then when you have to be conscious about not touching someone, putting on a mask, not leaving the house. Then add home schooling, cos I had a child – you probably already know. I had an immaculately conceived child, so I was a virgin when I married Dr Shane Bradley Cooper. I had to homeschool my daughter. I dropped out of school in year 10 to become a hairdresser, say no more. So that was scary and confronting. I have my daughter’s intellectual future in my hairdresser hands.
“Look, one of the biggest benefits was we all went through it together. The effects of it were different for different peoples. But nevertheless, you know, collectively we were given this challenge. What I do know is we all need to laugh, we all need to detoxify ourselves. We need to scrub ourselves in the shower and what better way to do that than with laughter.”
After dropping out of school in year 10 to study hairdressing (say no more), I was curious to know what Effie’s family, especially her mother-in-law, thought about her career in the entertainment industry.
“Well, you know, look, Greeks are such theatrical beasts. We are very loud. What I say about the Greeks is that we are all on stage; it’s just some of us are in coffee shops, others are in houses. We are animated. We are very much about expressing our feeling. We are happy to be looked at. We invented theatre, as well as a millions of other things, but let’s not brag too much….philosophy, mathematics, homosexuality, all those good things. We are pioneers. We are happy to be socialising and taking the stage at any given point. So back to the question: I think it was natural for me to become successful in the theatre, and on TV, because I’ve got nothing to hide – I’m very expressive and I speak on behalf of the majority, even though I suppose I represent the minority.”
Effie (and Mary) will be performing on March 18 – 20 in The Spiegeltent at The Garden of Unearthly Delights.
“My new show, It’s called ‘Hello Good Thanks – Better Out Than In’, so it’s all about saying the things that need to be said, you knows? And I think we all need to come out of the COVID closet and be out and proud and relieved. We need to fill ourselves with laughter. With my shows there is always a huge element of surprise, because half the show is improvised every single night. I’ve always done that with every show for the last 30+ years. People love it. The show is very raw, and it’s very funny. Anyone who came and saw my show last year, which I did plenty, and the reviews, well I don’t need to say it myself, the reviews have said it all. I’m top of the pots, I’m not a legend by accident. People who have seen my shows come back again and again, and for good reason. You will get your money’s worth, and I get your money.”
Tickets to Effie’s new show are selling fast, with additional shows added. Book through FringeTix or via https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/hello-good-thanks-better-out-than-in-af2021
Interview by Ben Stefanoff