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‘Naturally funny’ TikToker is having a moment

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But who is Cyprus’ Pan Dragomir? THEO PANAYIDES finds an exuberant and business-like comedian on a roll after daring to do something

Pan Dragomir is having a moment – but who is she, exactly? More to the point, what does she do? She’s primarily a comedian – but she doesn’t do stand-up, or star in her own TV show (though she does appear on the venerable, and still highly popular, Louis Night Show). Some know her from radio: Kiss FM, where she’s a radio producer (a.k.a. DJ). Others call her an influencer, a term she dislikes – but she’s done collaborations with brands, and is looking to move from “content creation” to also encompass “brand ambassadorship”. She’s on TikTok, where she has 121,000 tiktok followers, and on Instagram (74,000 followers) – but is that a job, exactly? Does it pay the rent? She was working in fintech (financial services) till a few months ago.

In any case, her fame is exploding – at least by Cyprus standards, though a lot of those 121,000 followers are diaspora Cypriots. Three different people (all under 40, admittedly) recognised the name when I mentioned our interview. Kiss FM and Louis are recent developments (both approached her last year, based on her TikTok skits), and the latter in particular has unlocked a whole new – i.e. older – demographic that’s not necessarily on social media, adding to her brand awareness. “I did start getting recognised [in public] from the Covid days, which was amazing. But that only added to it.”

How often does she get recognised?

“Pretty much all the time! It’s quite frequent. I don’t go out as much anymore – but when I do there’ll be one or two people, at least, who’ll say something nice.”

Do they expect her to be funny?

She laughs – a brief, delighted snort that recurs often in our conversation. They do, she admits, but “I think because I’m naturally funny, maybe… Though I don’t want to sound too much of a diva, ‘Oooh, ay’m naturally funny’, I don’t mean it that way – but I always have something to say back.”

She does come across as someone who always has something to say; you can’t keep her down. Her skits on TikTok are unscripted, she just cuts loose and freestyles – though oddly enough it was a lack of self-confidence (the whole ‘What will people say?’ thing) that kept her from the public eye for so long. “I was so afraid to embarrass myself, and put myself out there, that it kept me back. And I had to wait for Covid, for me to actually be like ‘OK, the world is ending, you need to do something about this’. And that’s how it started”. In the first lockdown, feeling scared and on the brink of depression, she made a satirical video – a parody of a Giorgos Mazonakis rap song, with topical lyrics – for family and friends and it went, as they say, viral; the rest followed naturally. “It’s amazing what happens once you dare to do something.”

profile pan and her duaghter
Pan and her daughter

Even now, she’s not really a professional comic. I ask about influences – which is where the pros like to name-drop George Carlin or Monty Python – but she just shrugs; she was never a connoisseur growing up, she just watched Vourate Yitoni and whatever was on TV. Her comedy is unabashedly local, indeed some might say it panders to Cypriots’ rather inflated sense of their own uniqueness, the whole ‘only in Cyprus’ mentality. Some of her most popular TikToks compare and contrast the British and Cypriot ways of, for instance, giving directions to a lost tourist, or asking someone to move their car when they’ve blocked you in the parking lot – and it’s no surprise that ‘British’ Pan is polite and unfailingly obliging whereas ‘Cypriot’ Pan is loud and belligerent. The jokes are local too. “You will go from the Kalispera lights,” she instructs the lost tourist. “From the Good Evening lights,” she amends impatiently, noting his confusion – which is hilarious because the ‘Kalispera lights’ are indeed an unofficial landmark known only to Nicosians, and ‘Kalispera’ does indeed mean ‘Good evening’, but that gag won’t even play in Limassol, let alone to a global audience.

She’s funny, though, that’s the point – and effortless, which is much more difficult. Often, with skits, you sense the comedian straining to get the jokes across, but Pan just leans into the role and has fun with it. (Fellow comic Costas Pringipas recently called her “possibly the best actress on the island right now”.) It’s like she’s acting just for herself – which is actually what she did all the time, as a child. “I used to play pretend a lot,” she tells me, sitting in a coffee shop at the Mall of Engomi in Nicosia. “I was an only child, at the time” – she now has a 19-year-old half-brother from her dad’s second marriage and a 13-year-old half-sister from her mum’s second marriage – “so I’d spend a lot of time playing by myself. I would record myself and pretend I’m on the radio, I’d pretend I was on TV reading the news… I’d pretend I was an actress – so it’s pretty weird how things turned out.” Did she also give pretend Oscar speeches? “Only in the shower. In the shower I’ve been on all the awards – Oscars, Emmys, everything. And I always win.”

She was still Panayiota Charalambous in those days – though she switched to ‘Pan’ around 2007, when she was 14 (she turned 30 a couple of months ago), and used her Romanian mother’s maiden name when she started performing, maybe because she was still in the business world at the time. Surprisingly, she appears to have loved that world (indeed, despite her protestations of low self-confidence, she appears to have loved everything she’s ever done), and the business world loved her back: “There is no better content writer in the world,” raves one of her recommendations on LinkedIn, which may be more a testament to the fondness inspired by her exuberance than an objective fact per se.

She seems like a ‘big’ personality, I venture. Is she?

“I don’t know, would you say that? I don’t like labelling myself.”

Well, is she a take-charge kind of person?

“I like to be in charge of things,” she agrees. “And because I’m also a perfectionist, yeah I’m a bit bossy sometimes. My husband can confirm!” She keeps it bottled up at work, she sighs (you can’t exactly tell colleagues how to behave) – “but in my house, that’s different. I’m the CEO there!”.

profile pan on social media
Pan on social media

Maybe that also explains the compulsion to be funny – a mysterious urge that connects to different triggers in different people. Many comics learn the craft as kids, as a protective shield to avoid bullying – but Pan can’t recall being bullied, despite being half-and-half (and looking more Romanian than Cypriot, with her pale skin and vivid blue eyes), and despite being a kid from a modest background in English-language private schools. Others may use humour to deflect or escape trauma, like the trauma of a parents’ divorce – but hers divorced fairly amicably, she says; “I honestly cannot remember, it all happened so smoothly”. (It may have been a case – though she doesn’t say so – of partners rushing into a marriage when they were too young to know their own mind; her mother was only 19 when Pan was born.) Being funny may just be in her DNA: her dad – a former chef and butcher, now a bus driver – is also “a natural comic”, like her (they’ve done TikToks together). “We are very, very similar with my dad, we have the same kind of crazy. Good crazy! Not illegal crazy.”

Then again, as already mentioned, it might also be aligned with her take-charge, naturally CEO-ish personality. Being funny, after all, is a weapon; laugh at a comic’s jokes and you’ve let your guard down, you’re theirs for life. “I like making people laugh,” muses Pan, “that has always been my initiative, even as a kid. It’s like, in order to feel comfortable, I have to make you laugh”. One could even speculate that being half-Romanian, and bilingual (she’s happier in English than ‘proper’ Greek), is precisely why her comic persona is so Cypriot – she calls herself the sympethera, a village-y word with no obvious equivalent in English; it’s what one mother-in-law calls the other mother-in-law – as if to vanquish those who’d doubt her Cypriot-ness by making them laugh.

That said, Pan Dragomir isn’t an angry comic. A few of her parody songs have been angry, railing against corruption and so on – but her vibe is fundamentally feelgood, down to her appearance. Her tattoos are cute tattoos: her late dog Richard, two intertwined betta fish representing her star sign, a unicorn on her shoulder, an inscription in Arabic reading ‘God will make a way’ (something her aunt likes to say; she herself is not religious, she clarifies, just spiritual). Her nails are pink and blue, with a design that looks like spots but is actually doughnuts. She wears sneakers, and admits to “a little sneakers addiction”. (My name is Pan, and I’m a shopaholic.) She seems to value fun and friendship, in life too: her close friends are all people she’s known since childhood – and yes, she admits, she’s usually the life and soul when they all get together, “and I pick on my friends a lot; I’m an insult comic with my friends! But they do it back, so it’s fair”.

One of those friends was presumably Alex, the man who’s now her husband, given that they’ve been together for 16 of her 30 years – though the relationship had its ups and downs, and they broke up a few times before eventually realising they were good together. “We’re completely different,” she declares. “He’s an introvert, I’m an extrovert. He’s a nerd, I am not.” What he brings to the table – as well as a fondness for maths, comic books and video games, all of which she rolls her eyes at – is down-to-earthness: “He keeps me grounded. Which is very important, because I’m a huge daydreamer”. Alex also offers support in her new career, both moral and practical – especially now that they have a child, a 10-month-old daughter who sometimes appears (with subtitles) in her mum’s TikTok videos. Some might balk at putting their kid on camera, but “I’m one of those mums who will show their baby to everyone at every chance,” she guffaws – and there’s something else too: someone was bound to put a picture online sooner or later, in a place like Cyprus, and she’d rather be in control of the process. Once again, her exuberance comes with a take-charge, businesswoman’s quality.

She does talk like a businesswoman, when not making funny videos: “I like to focus on content that people can engage with,” she says, adding that she hasn’t ruled out a return to fintech or especially advertising, where she worked for a number of years. This is clearly a transitional moment, especially with motherhood also in the picture; in two years she’s become a public figure, recognised wherever she goes – yet it’s hard to say what she does, exactly, much less where she’ll be in five years’ time.

“I turned a passion into a part-time job, so that basically covers what I wanted to do anyway,” she shrugs. “I’m open to whatever life brings my way… I wouldn’t mind if things stayed the way they are, but at the same time I’m open.” She could focus on TikTok and become a full-time influencer. She could be an actress on TV, in a talk-show or sitcom. She could go into stand-up, or back to content writing – or something else altogether. “I’m a huge Eurovision fan, so I’d love to do the commentary or be involved in some way – like with the points, or whatnot. That is my dream. That is my far-fetched dream.”

‘Naturally funny’ is an unusual self-description – but the signs are there as we talk, an alertness, a sociable spark, an ebullience. She’s not boring, she picks up on things; I bet she could do a dead-on impression of me if she wanted (when she goes home, perhaps, to amuse the baby). “I go by ‘content creator’,” says Pan, trying to describe her professional status – but maybe she’s really just a character, I suggest light-heartedly. “I’ve been labelled as a character before,” she agrees. “I’m not sure what it means. ‘Re, you’re such a character!’.” Fun to be around, maybe? “I hope so! I want people to be around me.” Can you build a career on bouncy energy and a knack for playing pretend? Naturally, if you’re funny.

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