Prepared to Fail

Stavros Halkias thought his comedy career wasn’t possible until it was.
Halkias
Photos courtesy Stavros Halkias

Comedian Stavros Halkias is ready to chill the fuck out. After blazing through the comedy scene over the past year—self-producing his debut comedy special, Live At The Lodge Room, and recently dropping his first Netflix special, Fat Rascal, just over a year later—the New York-based comedian hailing from Baltimore is ready to finally rest for a minute.

“I’m tired of hotel rooms and Delta lounges,” Halkias said during a recent phone conversation. “I’m looking forward to sitting on my couch, smoking weed, and just zoning out for a couple of months.”

It’s a well-deserved respite for a man who’s been in the spotlight seemingly overnight. But a look under the hood reveals Halkias has been hitting the road hard in preparation for his first Netflix special—shooting it less than a year after Lodge Room dropped—while simultaneously continuing with his podcast Stavvy’s World and writing and shooting an indie movie Let’s Start A Cult which is expected to drop this year.

Throughout our conversation, Halkias opened up on his path to success, his relationship with weed, and how thinking he wasn’t going to “make it” helped his comedy career unfold in a fun, organic way that ultimately led to success.

High Times Magazine: Growing up in Baltimore, was pursuing comedy always the goal?

Stavros Halkias: It was a weird thing because, in the back of my head, I knew I always wanted to pursue comedy, but it was this forbidden thing because I’m the firstborn son in an immigrant family.

I was good at school. I went to school on scholarship, and everyone expected me to become a lawyer or something. Comedy was something I could never fully admit to openly but was something I knew I wanted to get into.

My freshman year of college, there was an open mic night in the basement of my dorm, so I decided to try stand-up for the first time. It was a very friendly crowd, and it became sort of this secret thing. I don’t want to equate it to being in the closet—obviously, being queer in the closet is much harder, and I’m not saying it affected my life in a negative way—but it did feel like I was living with a secret that I didn’t want my parents to find out about. I knew it had to come out eventually, and I was always trying to find acceptable ways to flex that funny talent and desire.

You knew innately your calling, but because of external factors—namely your parents—you were stuck in the comedy closet.

I was, man. I really was. I was a lot funnier to be around when I didn’t have comedy because you’re trying to prove you’re funny and flex that muscle. I was always joking around in school and fucking with people—which is also a product of going to Baltimore City Public Schools—where you kind of have to roast for your life. You have to roast to make sure you’re not getting mocked, especially when you’re a fat kid—which I’ve been my entire life and have been pretty comfortable with. Humor is also a classic deflecting device and is a good way to endear yourself to people, so while I couldn’t admit that comedy was what I wanted to pursue, it was my strongest social asset when I was a little kid.

What helped you eventually embrace comedy as part of your identity?

My buddy Eldis Sula—producer of my podcast Stavvy’s World and my tour manager—is my best friend, who I met in kindergarten. He’s a very funny guy—even though he’s not a performer—and I used to run all my jokes by him. I remember doing that first open mic and then crashing Eldis’s apartment to do open mics in College Park, D.C. It was literally freshman year of college when I was no longer in my family environment, away from those pressures and expectations. In the same way, kids experiment with all kinds of shit in college; it was the same for me and comedy. The second I stopped living with immigrant guilt, I was like, “Fuck it, let’s do this.”

Was the validation from friends and peers for being funny the thing that gave you the confidence to keep going?

It’s not even a matter of confidence. I just don’t feel I ever wanted to do anything else. I remember doing open mics, being like, “Hey, if nothing happens from this, I will do open mics my whole life.” That’s what I thought when I was 22. You can think that when you’re 22, but it’s a different story if you’re fucking 40 and you have kids, and you’re missing soccer practice because you’re bombing at an open mic.

I never thought about “what could go wrong,” and really, I was just prepared to fail. I just assumed it wasn’t going to work out. My craziest goals were to headline really shitty clubs—I just wanted to find really shitty places to perform.

I never really thought about my career, never cared about what was going to happen, and I got very lucky that when the time came to start thinking about that stuff, my career started to do well.

While I’ve never come face to face with some kind of “needing confidence” moment, I did quit comedy after doing it at 19 for two years. Two years after starting, all that immigrant guilt came back. I fully quit comedy for a year and a half and dedicated myself to studying. I was in the public policy scholarship program, and I interned in the Maryland House of Delegates and was getting my resume together. I even went to therapy to try and work through my guilt issues. But I was so miserable for those 18 months that it was so clear I had to do shitty open mics. I was so depressed from trying not to be a comedian that I committed myself to comedy—with the idea that if it ever made me as equally depressed—I’d find something else to do.

Now you’ve got your special Fat Rascal out on Netflix. How did your journey so far culminate with this material and what’s the inspiration behind it?

I’m really proud of the hour. I worked really hard on it, and it really is the culmination of all of these different things.

After going on tour with Bobby Kelly, I was doing a podcast with Adam Friedland and Nick Mullen called Cum Town, and we started making money on it, which is where I had my first taste of a fanbase. So, as that grew, I started to post videos online, which became an online fanbase. That then powered ticket sales, which then helped power my first self-produced special, Live At The Lodge Room, which got over six million views [on YouTube].

Suddenly, I had all this attention from all of these different sources. I had planned to take some time off, but for the first time, I had a real demand. So, instead of taking time off, I stayed on the road that entire year and ended up developing a new hour faster than I’d anticipated. I thought, “Could I potentially get a Netflix special?” It felt crazy and farfetched, but I wanted to try for it—and if it seemed possible—I’d do it. It was like, “Fuck taking a year off, this could change my life.” I felt I had the opportunity to work on some cool shit, and you don’t get a lot of those chances. We put the pedal to the medal, and to my surprise, everything worked out. The flipside to that, though, was that I then had to do everything.

The material for Fat Rascal was really forged in the chaos of things popping for me and me trying to seize the moment—doing eight-show weekends so I could really hammer the material home while also doing a bunch of other stuff. A lot of it is about me giving into my vices—the portrait of a guy who’s all over the place, a little scatter-brained, traveling constantly, disconnected emotionally—who’s not doing great but is still trying to keep it together and make the special. It’s like a child born out of a dysfunctional family that you’re really hoping will grow up to be an honors student. That’s what this special is. Having said that, I’m really proud of it and I think the kid’s really smart—I think he’s really got somethin’ [laughs].

What role—if any—did cannabis play in your process?

A very prominent one. I’m a huge edibles guy, with weed being my biggest issue. They say there’s no weed addicts, but it’s pretty fucking good as far as I’m concerned. I love getting high constantly, and it was the kind of thing where I was having too good a time.

Still, when I’m stressed, the thing I like most is decompressing with a joint—even more so than pills or a couple of drinks. The ritual of a joint before bed is awesome, but that ritual turned into 50 milligrams before bed and getting Ben & Jerry’s. I could tell when I was getting serious because I was like, “Alright, weed’s gotta go for a second [laughs]. You know what I mean? I gotta lock up my friend and see him after all this work gets done.”

Food, weed, and girls—or just trying to have sex—is the best time in the world for me. Getting high with a pretty girl, splitting a fucking pint of Ben & Jerry’s—that’s the dream, baby.

Does it aid your creativity, or is your consumption mainly to reduce stress?

Weed is more of a good time for me, but when it hits in that creative zone, it feels great. If I smoke early in the day, don’t overdo it, and pair it with a coffee or ADHD meds—I’m in the fucking zone. My problem is I like it too much, and I think, “If I feel this good right now, why don’t I smoke even more? [laughs]” And then it’s like, “Fuck it, we’re watching Chuck Norris movies instead of working the rest of the day.”

This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.

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