NORTH FORK, NY — At a recent comedy night at the Greenport Harbor Brewery in Peconic, comedian Carie Karavas had the audience roaring as she riffed on the travails faced by a woman in her 50s — weight gain, menopause and that moment when marriage shifts from the the first blush of passionate make-out sessions to wondering if her fat, hairy hubby has brushed his teeth.
Karavas, 54, a comedian hailing from Bethpage, has her first TV standup special, “Men, Flaws and Menopause,” featured on Crackle, a streaming service owned by Sony, she said. The show was shot at The Argyle Theatre in Babylon — and marks a milestone moment in the career of a woman who’s worked for more than 30 years in comedy, and has the hilarious stories to prove it.
Sitting down to speak to Patch over lunch, Karavas is a study in contrasts. Despite her wise-cracking, tough talking demeanor — and known for her rapid fire delivery that keeps audiences laughing — she’s also a born nurturer, urging a reporter to eat while the soup is hot.
Karavas is an everywoman: Her stories are relatable; she touches upon the common chord women share in their life experiences — and finds the humor in a hot flash.
As a child, Karavas said, she was “loud. I didn’t know I wanted to be a comedian.”
Growing up, she looked to comedic influences such as Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. “Ruth Buzzi was extremely funny, too,” she said. “In those days, there weren’t that many women in comedy.”
As a young girl, Karavas said she struggled in school. “I didn’t really want to do school. I hated it. I was dyslexic and no one caught it. My first language was Greek — and I felt dumb.”
The daughter of Greek immigrants, Karavas’ mother grew up in a small village in Greece. Her grandfather came to the United States before he got married and “started building a little empire.” Creating his own American dream, he became a citizen, and opened a gas station before selling it all and moving back to Greece, after his brother died in the war, to see that all his sisters were married with a dowry. He and her grandmother eventually married and bought a little house on the water, where he opened a grocery store, Karavas said.
“This was during the Depression. There was no money. They didn’t even have a bathroom in the house; they had to shower with boiling water. It was pretty bad,” she said. “People would come and say they had no money, and ask if they could still get some eggs, and he would say ‘yes.’ He would always extend the credit. He truly was a saint. My mother was the same way. She’d give all the kids free candy.”
When she was growing up, Karavas said, her parents opened a restaurant in New York City’s West Village, the popular Taco Rico on Christopher Street — where her parents would feed the homeless who wandered in, calling them “Mama” and “Papa”; later, they opened a Greek restaurant in the same spot.
When all her friends were getting married, Karavas was searching for her career path.
She decided to head to Los Angeles, with the dream of becoming a makeup artist. “Greek parents are very strict,” she said. “I told them, ‘I’m going to makeup school in Los Angeles. And my mother said, ‘You’re not going.’ I told her that I was going, or I was leaving without her consent.”
Eventually her mother yielded — and came to the rescue with Western Union and unwavering support any time Karavas called in a bind. Her parents, she said, helped shape the woman she became — she, herself, is always willing to give a hand up to other women climbing the comedy ranks.
“My parents were the most giving, wonderful people. My mother still is, to this day. I grabbed a lot of that; my sister, my brother, grabbed a lot of that,” Karavas said. “I’m always for the underdog. I’ve always helped women in this business, in comedy. I would always bring them into shows. Back in the day, it was a male-dominated thing and they wouldn’t want two women on a show.”
Starting out in Hollywood, Karavas attended the Joe Blasco Makeup Artist Training Center, where she tied for first place as best makeup artist at graduation.
“Here we were in Hollywood, we were kids, we were out every night,” Karavas said.
She started spending time every day at The Comedy Store in West Hollywood, watching greats such as Sam Kinision, Richard Pryor, Gary Shandling, Arsenio Hall, Andrew Dice Clay, Roseanne Barr — “There weren’t that many women then” — before any of them had become famous.
“One day I said, ‘I really want to do this. I feel like this is for me,'” Karavas said.
Once she decides on a course of action, Karavas sets out to scale any hurdle. “I’m the type of person, I don’t think I can’t do it. I can do anything. You want me to build you a house? I’ll figure it out and I’ll do it,” she said.
So she packed her bags and headed back to New York, moving in to the apartment above her parents’ restaurant on Christopher Street. She was living in New York City in the 80s doing makeup for high fashion shoots when she took a class at The Comic Strip with Gabe Adelson. “I didn’t know what I was doing but you learn,” she said. “Whatever you’re supposed to do, you do.”
Being a beautiful young woman wasn’t always a good thing in comedy, Karavas said. “They said, ‘You’re too pretty to be a comedian. You can’t do this.’ I heard that all the time. Women back then had to look like Ruth Buzzi or Phyllis Diller — and Phyllis Diller was pretty; she just made herself look ugly. They all did.”
But Karavas, in true tough girl fashion, wouldn’t back down, staying true to her look and her vision. “I said, ‘I can do this — and I’m not too pretty.’ But I’d go onstage with a baseball cap and jeans and I’d dumb myself down.”
Doing her first show, she said: “I was so nervous I felt like I had to throw up. But the first laugh I got — I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I am meant to do this. I am so meant to do this.’ It was the most intense feeling. You felt euphoric, on Cloud 9. After that, there wasn’t a stage that I didn’t want to rage on.”
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, there were comedy clubs and stages on every corner. “People went out seven nights a week. Nobody goes out now. Everyone’s exhausted,” she said.
Karavas paid her dues at a carousel of clubs including Governor’s, Fast Eddies, The Brokerage, Chuckles Comedy House, and many, many more. “There wasn’t a lack of stage so you only got better,” she said.
After she’d been on the circuit for about two years, Andrew Dice Clay exploded in popularity, she said. “I’d look at him and think, ‘This guy is selling out Madison Square Garden in 15 minutes.’ So I decided to do a female character of Dice Clay, and I wore the leather jacket, and I went up on stage at Jimmy’s Comedy Alley and Joey Kola said to me, ‘What are you going to call her?’ I said, ‘I guess Andrea Dice?’ And he said, ‘No, Andrea Nice Day.’ I go up and I do the character. I light a cigarette — back then you could smoke in the club — and I started doing the nursery rhyme. The place erupted. My set before was funny, but this was an eruption. It was electric.”
From that moment on, Karavas was ignited with the fire to elicit that same audience reaction with her own material.
But it wasn’t easy to be a woman breaking down the walls in the world of comedy — in a realm where what she, and so many others, experienced wasn’t always funny.
“I worked so hard. You do get knocked down all the time. You always feel inferior to men. I had to put up with guys grabbing my butt and talking nasty to me — they thought they could, because I was outspoken. And because my material was also on the fence of being a little dirty, it was like they thought, ‘She can handle it. She talks about it,'” she said. “I had to deal with club owners that would say, ‘Come into my office and shut the door.’ And I would be afraid.”
But she had a longtime boyfriend who acted as her bodyguard. “He was scary looking, and that really helped me in all these places,” she said.
One time, she said, she and a friend went to Pennsylvania. “We were driving and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is so scary.’ I got to a double wide trailer, that was the venue, with picnic tables inside, and I had to perform. But I went up and I had the best set of my life. Those people loved me. It was great. Then we drove home, three hours’ straight.”
Sleazy types and sketchy destinations aside, Karavas never gave up, traveling for miles, doing a sea of free shows, going to White Plains, Oneonta, any place she could work her act for the crowds.
“I went to so many clubs. There was no place I wouldn’t go,” she said. “And I was never tired. Five in the morning? No problem, we’re driving.”
There were double standards for women, Karavas said. “I would lose jobs because they’d say, ‘You’re too blue.’ And I wasn’t that blue — there were guys bluer than I was. It was because I was a woman.”
But she refused to waver. “I will get punched as many times as you can, but you’re not getting me down. I’m like the character in Raging Bull: ‘You never got me down, Ray!'”
As a woman, Karavas has tried to pave the way for others in the comedy sisterhood, bringing other female comics on auditions and being genuinely happy if they got the gig, even if she didn’t.
One time another woman she’d brought got the job, Karavas said. “She was right for the part and I wasn’t. It had nothing to do with me. I wouldn’t have gotten it, anyway. That’s not how the universe works. If it’s meant for you to have it, it will happen.”
That pragmatic approach has served Karavas well, helped her to last in a business not for the faint of heart — helped her to keep moving ahead even when a sitcom she’d hoped to secure didn’t pan out.
“Your career goes up and down so much,” she said. “It’s a constant boxing match of punches in the face, in the gut. Of not feeling good enough, not feeling worthy enough. And guess what? After awhile, it breaks you down. You start to think, ‘Maybe I’m not good enough. Why did they get a break, and I didn’t?’ But that question is not for you to ask. You worry about you — and only you. If you consume yourself with what he’s doing or she’s doing, you’ll go crazy. You’re not meant for this business.”
Karavas does believe if you want something fiercely enough, it will happen. “I do believe if you ask for it, you will get it, but you really have to want it.” As soon as she opened her heart up and asked for a husband and her two children, that dream was realized, she said.
Along the way, Karavas explored other paths. Raising two small kids, she opened up two Gyrolicious restaurants in East Meadow and Jericho; she also earned a hairdressing license.
Running two restaurants with young children, though, along with both performing and teaching comedy, was grueling. “I was working morning until night and not seeing my kids,” she said.
So, Karavas said, she turned to prayer — and within months, her eatery sold. “That’s the power of pure prayer,” she said. Faith, she said, has guided her career “100 percent.”
About two and a half years ago, Karavas decided to turn her focus back full force on comedy — and once again, she turned to prayer.
“All of a sudden I got a call from Sal Governale of ‘The Howard Stern Show’ and he asked if I wanted to do his show at Governor’s,” she said. “God puts people in our lives to act as the angels to make it happen. He introduced me to David Ozer” — the CEO of Landmark Studio Group, which develops content for Crackle — “and David came to see me at The Brokerage one night. He came with his wife. I thought, ‘I’ve got to put on the boxing gloves on and make this happen. I can’t fail on this.’ And I did a good job. He liked it enough for him to tell me he wanted to give me my own Crackle special. I was so excited, I wanted to cry.”
Karavas refused to truly celebrate until the dream came to fruition. “In this business there are always let-downs. I cannot get excited over something until it actually manifests. But David Ozer is one of the most genuine, amazing human beings that I’ve ever met. When you’re in Hollywood, you meet a lot of people that are like, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re great,’ and then you never hear from them again. Then you meet a guy like David Ozer and you think, ‘Is this guy for real?’ And then he is for real. He’s the most genuine guy and he said, ‘I love your stuff.'”
Not only did he give Karavas a Crackle special but he hosted a screening party in New York at the Soho House. “He said, ‘This is so overdue, so well deserved.’ He has always been in my corner, since Day 1. I’m so thankful to him because he’s part of God’s plan. He came into my life to make my wish, my prayer come true. Angel Number 2.”
At the party, she said: “My husband asked, ‘How does it feel?’ I almost broke down but I didn’t want to cry in front of everyone. It was unreal. I worked so hard for this to happen.”
Karavas also thanked James Dolce, owner of Governor’s. “He’s always been my biggest confidence booster. He always said to me, ‘You’re 10 out of 10. You take it to another level.'”
Reaching that new level, Karavas said she wants to “help the new kids coming up. They’re looking at you the way I used to look at guys like Jeff Zabrowsky, Joey Kola, John Joseph, all these Long Island comics. I’d be in awe, hoping one day I’d be as good as them.”
Her mantra? “Opportunity meets preparation and you have to have them both. You have to be prepared when it hits.”
Karavas started out at the same time as Kevin James of “The King Of Queens” and his brother Gary Valentine, as well as Rock Reuben, who was an executive producer and writer on the sitcom. “We all worked the circuit together. We were in an improv group,” she said.
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One night after James and Valentine had found fame in Hollywood, Valentine and his wife came to Chris & Tony’s, an Italian restaurant on Long Island where Karavas was performing. “I hadn’t seen Gary in forever. I say to myself, ‘Oh, my God. I can’t eat it in front of Gary.’ So I went up. And when I know I have to impress somebody, I go 10 notches higher. After the show, he said, ‘Karavas! You got really good. You’re so funny.’ So I said, ‘Good, tell your brother to get me on the show.'”
Karavas said Pete Correale, a writer and performer on the show “Kevin Can Wait,” — she worked with him at The Comedy Cellar and at Dangerfield’s — then said, ‘Bring Karavas in; she’s great.'”
And so, she got the part on “Kevin Can Wait”. “I had a very small scene, but it was funny,” she said.
Having also performed at comedy festivals in Montreal and Amsterdam, Karavas said she’s poised for her next chapter. She’d love to be on a sitcom, a web series, and to do another special. “I want to go to the next level. Hopefully, it’s in the cards and it will happen.”
Karavas finds her inspiration in real life, in the moments that everyone can relate to — including babies and little kids coming home from school sick. “Every time they come home, you get another freaking plague in your house because they are walking petri dishes,” she said.
Describing the creative process, she said: “Here’s how I write. Something happens to me and I’m amazed by it. I write it in my head.”
Then, she takes the stage and the magic happens. When she talks about the horrors of the scale at the doctor’s office, or a husband who doesn’t notice when she’s lost 7 lbs. — and the whole audience finds themselves laughing right along, in solidarity, finding hilarious humor in the human truths shared by all.
In the years since she started out, comedy has changed for women, Karavas said. She and Patty Rosborough had a podcast; women like herself, like Rosborough and Veronica Mosey and so many others “paved the way for this new female comic today. The new girls going in are beautiful. They’re talking and saying whatever they want to say — and you know what? They’re getting respect. And people are dying, saying, ‘This girl is really funny.’ Because we are funny. Women today are really making a mark in this business.”
With a heart of gold, Karavas, when asked what moments have been the most meaningful in her career, points to two private performances she gave in living rooms for women battling cancer; one died just a week later. “I got a thank you note that she must have written right before she died. It said, ‘You made me laugh one last time.'”
To new comics just starting out, Karavas has advice: “Don’t give up on your dream because eventually it will be worth it, every penny. It’s an investment in yourself.”
Still, she said, it’s wise to have a backup plan. And, she said, she will never regret taking a break from comedy —by break, she means performing 2 nights a week instead of 7 — to have her children.
Because no matter what glory she’s achieved on the stage, Karavas said she finds her greatest joy in her children, her son and daughter, and in her husband, who works for the Long Island Rail Road — he is the one man, she said, who always, always makes her laugh. “He’s such a good soul,” she said.
Of the Crackle special, Karavas said it’s one of her life’s dreams realized — and the harbinger of her next act. “Hopefully, good things are coming,” she said.