Greektown native Stavros Halkias is instantly recognizable, regardless of whether you’re from Baltimore. The portly comedian’s oversized glasses, gold chains and curly ringlets cascading from a receding hairline are noticeable from a block away.
He originally achieved celebrity through podcasting on a program with a title so dirty that politeness suggests we shouldn’t refer to it by name. More recently, he’s built up a presence on social media by posting hilarious clips of his improvised crowd work at shows and his diehard Baltimore Ravens fan character “Ronnie,” who lives and dies by every win and loss.
But Halkias’ roots are in stand-up comedy. He cut his teeth in the bustling Washington, D.C., comedy scene, and has built a business around an aggressive touring model, spending most of his time on the road.
His extensive fall tour seesaws between the Midwest, Florida and the East Coast, and it kicks off in his hometown at a theater he’s well acquainted with, for six shows at The Lyric that are largely sold out and run through Saturday.
Halkias, 34, sat down with The Baltimore Banner for a conversation about his upbringing in the city, his appreciation for the local arts scene, and of course, Ronnie. But one topic was fairly off-limits: his favorite local restaurants. He preferred to keep those hidden gems to himself.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity — and profanity.
You talk about being from Baltimore all the time. How do you think that shaped your career?
I think there are intangibles. The way I describe Baltimore is that it has two really important elements. There is that arts culture here, that history here, but also, it’s a blue-collar town. It’s not a high-class arts scene. It is a little rough-and-tumble. There is a lot of opportunity; there’s a lot danger too. S--- can go bad here. There’s a brutal honesty to the town. No one is overly polite. People don’t worry about manners too much. I think it’s a great mix to force you to become good at something, if you’re trying to do something artistic. There is art, but you also went through some s---. You have a story to tell, you have interesting experiences. But no one is going to give you credit if you’re not entertaining. They’re just like, am I having a good time? Yes or no. Especially doing comedy, it’s not, I mean, straight up, it’s not a great comedy town.
Washington, D.C., is more of the comedy town, right?
Right, so, what’s really great about Baltimore is that you have the audiences I’m describing: just blue-collar, don’t care, want to be entertained. You could probably get by by being crass. So you have that. You have the arts scene, which is maybe a little too theoretical. You can get away with complete bulls---: performance art stuff. But it’s also important to see that and make those people laugh, too. And then the D.C. thing was very interesting. Growing up here, I hated when people lumped us [Baltimore] in with D.C. But it is 45 minutes [away], you’re right off the highway.
Having access to those comedy crowds [in D.C.], which, you know, it’s a bunch of f---ing yuppies. Some of the most boring people on earth. They are very educated, but it’s like, you have D.C., Beltway, just complete nothing wet noodle type motherf---ers that won’t allow themselves to be just gutturally entertained, are constantly thinking about how are they being perceived for being entertained. So doing comedy in Baltimore gave you access to three very different and very important types of people and types of audiences.
When I would do stand-up at the arts scenes [in Baltimore], I’m the most traditional stand-up. When you go to like the clubs [in D.C.], and it’s like, ‘This guy’s a f------ communist.’ It was nice to always find your niche and try to figure out how to get those people to like you and also staying true to yourself. You didn’t always succeed, obviously. In fact, you failed most of the time. But shooting for that was really great from an artistic standpoint. Let alone, all the intangible stuff of just being from Baltimore. I went to public schools.
Which high school did you go to?
I went to Poly [Baltimore Polytechnic Institute]. I went to John Ruhrah Elementary, I went to Roland Park Middle. Just being from here, you kind of are a little on edge. You kind of do have to survive the school. It’s like: mock or be mocked. I’m a first-generation immigrant, my parents really wanted me to get a good education. I was one of those kids that was good at standardized tests. My mom thought I was a genius. It turns out that my brain worked that way. I wasn’t a f---ing genius.
I applied to a lot of the private schools. Baltimore public schools, it’s a constant struggle in this city. It’s something we definitely need to focus more resources on. She [my mom] was just like, ‘Let me see if we can get him into private schools.’ I got into one, one rejected me outright. But one, I got in, but they didn’t give me any financial aid. And we couldn’t afford it. It was like $13,000 in 1997, right? That’s f---ing crazy. But I’m so thankful that I didn’t go to private schools. I am so thankful that I went to public schools. Every kid kind of tries to fit in, but I’m so thankful I wasn’t trying to fit in with these sons of millionaires. That I was trying to fit in with kids that grew up with me.
Obviously, this tour is a big deal for you. Where do you feel like you’re at in your career right now? Do you feel like you’ve made it?
Yeah, dude, I’ve beyond made it. One thing I’ve said before on podcasts: When you grow up poor, your dreams are really attainable. I wanted to headline Magooby’s Joke House, you know what I mean? I wanted to be a regional headliner. I loved comedy. I just wanted to perform. And yeah, this year has just been insane. The last couple of years have been really crazy. I’m really thankful that people watch my stuff. It still blows my mind that people come out [to my shows]. This weekend in particular, it’s like somewhere between 12,000 and 14,000 people are going to come out. That’s wild, that that many people would know who I am, let alone buy tickets, get a babysitter. It’s a real commitment.
I like to stay busy so I don’t think about it, which is probably like, a psychological thing that I need to look into. But this is a really important weekend for me because it is the first time where I’m just allowing myself to think about the accomplishment of like, it’s your hometown. My mom’s going to be here. It’s one thing to be like, “Okay, I’m making money at comedy. I’m on the road all the time.” But it’s like, people I grew up with and the people that helped raise me. And to see it in a place where, in high school, I saw Chris Rock here. I was in the worst seat, I was all the way in the f---ing back. I put on a really s----y Sears jacket. I thought you had to dress up to come to The Lyric.
In terms of my career, it’s like, I didn’t do comedy to work hard. So this is kind of surreal, because there’s a lot of s--- to be done when you’re putting together a tour. I have a podcast. The way that I sustain my touring business is by posting constantly.
You’re huge on Instagram.
But that’s like a whole thing, right? It takes planning, it takes chopping up the videos, watching the videos, all that kind of s---. All I was looking for is connecting with a fan base, being able to make stuff that they like, make stuff that makes me creatively fulfilled, and that’s all I want to do. I want to act a little bit because I love comedy so much that I just want to be funny in different ways. I’m interested in acting, I’m interested in writing, making movies. But I don’t really have any ambitions to get like famous or anything like that. Even this is a little uncomfortable. On some level, I miss when no one knew who you are and you just show up and be funny.
I was going to ask about that. Do people stop you and recognize you in Baltimore now? Because the first time I saw you in my neighborhood, it was like the back of your head, and I was like, “That’s Stavy.” You’re kind of unmistakable.
I know. I don’t think I’m that famous, but I think that I just look so specific. If you just saw me at the deli, and then you saw me at Target, you’d be like, “Wait, is that the guy from the deli?” If you see me, it’s me.
Our assistant sports editor wanted to know: What will Ronnie do when Joe Flacco retires?
First of all, what he’s going to do is chain himself to the Hall of Fame in Canton and he’s going to go on a hunger strike until Joe Flacco is voted in. It will be a very emotional day.
How do you feel about the Ravens’ future under quarterback Lamar Jackson? I know we get Ronnie’s take a lot.
Absolutely, so like, that is the thing. The problem with Ronnie sometimes is that people don’t realize that I’m doing a character. Now look, when we [the Ravens] lose, some of my real frustrations will peak through, but I am the biggest Lamar guy of all time. We mismanaged his career in such a way where I think it f---ed our franchise. We were really stupid not to invest in the offense while he was on a cheap rookie contract. We were really stupid not to give him an extension the second he was eligible for it.
He should have gotten that Josh Allen setup, he should have gotten whatever he wanted immediately. He was an MVP so young. Even the last game against the Steelers, he was f---ing awesome. They dropped every f---ing pass. It was really brutal to watch. So I believe in Lamar fully. In fact, I was kind of checked out on the Ravens. I have a lot of problems with the way the NFL treats retired players. This was during the [Colin] Kaepernick era where they were just blackballing a guy who clearly should have been in the league. I was just like, I like basketball more. They’re grinding these guys into pulp and they don’t even get health insurance.
I was watching the NFL draft [when the Ravens selected Lamar]. Coming out of high school, there was clearly racially tinged shit about his skill set, how he can’t be a quarterback. And I was like, “That guy’s f---ing awesome.” I would literally watch his highlights. He kept falling and I was like, “No, this isn’t going to happen. What the f---? Are we going to draft this guy?” I was convinced he was going to be awesome. There’s also just something nice about rooting for your guy. Why do we have to f---ing overanalyze everything?
So where does Ronnie come from, then? Is it really just your view of Baltimore sports fans, basically?
Yes, purely. It’s just the hypocrisy of like two or three generations of white flight, the guys left over. It’s the guys who left Baltimore. I grew up, there’s a reason Todd Heap was everyone’s favorite player. And that’s kind of the story of Baltimore, too. It’s like, a lot of people who want nothing to do with the city, just because the football is awesome and the Ravens have been awesome, have a connection to the city.
I just wanted to poke fun at that specific guy. And people get it. Everyone knows that guy. Every town has this type of kind of boarish, racist sports fan, and Baltimore’s is a little trashier, gets up to a little more mischief. It gave me a lot to work with, comedically. I’ll never get tired of that character.