Fortunately, the crisis has not put an end to laughter. The Greeks laugh at their political leaders and at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, although they are sometimes a little wide of the mark, such as when they put a swastika on her forehead.

On television, the comic Lakis Lazopoulos, in his weekly satirical show, is soaring in the ratings. He is even on a world tour with his show "Sorry, I'm Greek". And all summer long audiences flocked to the ancient site of Epidaurus to watch the comedies of Aristophanes, which are often about debt.

But there is one sure bet, little known to the rest of the world, that makes Greeks of all generations laugh and that is enjoying a kind of revival since the crisis began. These are old comedies of the 1950-60s which are all over the television channels, especially at the weekends.

These films, in black and white or in lurid 1960s colours, make the Greeks laugh with stories about a country that is changing and modernising and where everything ends, for the most part, in song.

Local heroes

The comedies star great comic actors that are barely known beyond the borders. Greece has known dozens of De Funès, Fernandel, or Bourvils [great French comic actors of the 1950-60s]. Their names are Thanassis Vengos, Kostas Voutsas, Lambros Konstandaras, Kostas Hadzichristos and, for the women, Rena Vlachopoulou or Aliki Vouyouklaki. These stars were venerated in the cinema as well as in the theatre from where they often came.

Vassilis Alexakis is a Greek writer who lives in France and writes in French. In his most recent book, Le Premier Mot [The First Word], published in 2010, a Greek woman delights members of her family living in Paris by bringing them DVDs of these films. "The Greece of the 1950s, more than anything, needs a laugh. It is in a hurry to forget the Occupation, famine, civil war," says one of the characters.

Today, Greece is trying to forget the crisis by watching these films which are constantly, and successfully, broadcast.

In the past few years, these films from the "golden age of Greek commercial cinema", which chronicle the rise of the middle class, are being looked at more sharply. "There is a great nostalgia," explains film critic Michel Démopoulos. "It brings back a past when the living was good; when things were moving forward and which, today, seems like a tiny, lost paradise," he adds.

Homage to sly resourcefulness

The films make fun of family strictures and render homage to "sly resourcefulness, to the plan elaborated by the otherwise honest hero, to earn the little he needs to get out of a bad patch," wrote Elise-Anne Delveroudi in Le Cinéma Grec (Editions du Centre Pompidou, 2005).

The comic success of these films rests on the actors and the dialogue. "These films are not very original from a cinematographic point of view, but they are often very well-written with sparkling repartee that everyone knows by heart," explains Michel Démopoulos.

Thirty-year-olds of the 1970-80s generation organise karaoke outings where the lines are chanted in chorus. It's a little like the effect in France of [black-and-white French cult film] Les Tontons Flingeurs [literally, Gun-toting Uncles; released in English as Crooks in Clover], but a more "retsina" version.

Read the other parts of the series:

Kremlin remains well-spring for gags

Belgian punchlines – split personality

Lampoon culture thrives in Iceland

Deadpan comedy – a UK staple

Romanian jokes that got around the censor

Spain’s bawdy smash hit

The series that sends up the middle class

In Italy, the joke is on them

Tickling Germany's funnybone