The wave of Italian immigrants who arrived in Australia after World War 11 produced a generation of highly successful Italian-Australian stand-up comedians. Although Italians had been settling in Australia since the 1800s, this large influx of escapees from war-torn Europe changed the face of the country as its descendants came of age. And one place this is very evident is in the field of entertainment.
Earlier waves of Italians had a tendency to keep their heads down, work hard and raise their families, while their children made an effort to become 'Australianized', a response to the open hostility often shown towards 'foreigners' at that time. These Italians had quietly assimilated into Australian society by the time the post WWII influx arrived. Now, city streets were once again ringing with Italian (and other European) accents, and whole neighborhoods and school districts assumed a predominantly 'wog' character.
Enter The Greeks
Fast forward to 1987 when two Greek-Australian comedians, Nick Giannopoulos and George Kapiniaris along with Spanish-Australian comic Simon Palomares changed the face of Australian entertainment when they created a stage show called Wogs Out Of Work. In a series of comic sketches, the cast poked fun at the foibles of their families and friends, at the same time taking the sting out the word 'wog', an equivalent of the American term 'wop' which was considered the ultimate insult by Italian-Australians. The show used humor to highlight the inherent racism in the host culture. Audiences loved it.
Wogs Out Of Work was an instant hit, touring the country and becoming one of the highest grossing Australian live shows of all time. Their next project was a 1989 television sitcomtitled Acropolis Now, which featured Greek-Australian characters running a café in Melbourne. Nick went on to produce and star in a feature film called The Wog Boy (2000), which co-starred Vince Colosimo. The film became the 15th highest grossing Australian movie of all time, and the pair recently reunited for Wog Boy 2: Kings of Mykonos, which was released in 2010.
The Italian-Australian Stand-Up Comedians
Around the early 1990s, a number of Italian-Australian comedians were making a name for themselves on the comedy circuit and on television. These included:
Frank Lotito: Frank is a writer, producer, actor and stand up comic. Producer of the 8-part series Stefano's Cooking Paradiso on the Lifestyle Food Channel, Frank starred in the romantic comedy feature film Big Mamma's Boy, released in 2010.
Bruno Lucia (born 1960): Bruno became popular in the early 1990s with his role as Wayne on the television sitcom All Together Now. He's currently based in Los Angeles, and performs comedy internationally.
Vince Sorrenti (1961): Vince performs at many high profile functions and events, and writes an opinion piece for The Daily Telegraph. Vince's wit is often very biting, and he often makes outrageous observations that would have been impossible to voice 20 years earlier.
Joe Avati (1974): Joe performs his comedy routines in Australia, as well as in Canada, the USA and the UK. He was a member of the Il Dago comedy team with George Kapiniaris, Simon Palomares and Nish Selvadurai. Joe's sharply observed comedy has prompted comparisons to American comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
The Italian-Australian comics have allowed large numbers of young Australians who share an Italian heritage to laugh at themselves while retaining a feeling of affection for their parents' and grandparents' culture. And Australians of other backgrounds 'got' the jokes as well. Their brand of comedy reflects a new, more confident version of Australian 'wog' culture that has emerged since the 1950s. It's a testament to the power of laughter to help affect social change.