Curiosity is Just the Beginning: Helen Kalognomos

By: Christine Soussa

Helen Linked in profile pic 2Helen Kalognomos is a creative, humble and funny role model.  I sat with Helen to talk about beauty, comedy, and her life’s journey. Born in North Carolina, Helen has lived in San Francisco, New York and currently resides in Los Angeles. An educator, make-up artist and comedian, Helen shares how her careers began, like many others, with curiosity. Thank you Helen for sharing some of your story with AIWA-SF.  www.makeupbyhelenk.com


How did you become the makeup artist to Nia Vardalos the star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2?

I met Nia Vardalos on a film titled Dealing with Idiots in 2012. After that she continued to request me for make-up and hairstyling for which I’m so grateful! I worked on her book cover for Instant Mom, several red carpet events, and most recently the poster for the highly anticipated sequel My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. It’s a treat to work with her because it feels like I’m helping a girlfriend get ready for a night out – it’s really fun!

You’ve moved around quite a bit in your career, what advice can you share?

Explore your curiosity. Wherever and however you start is fine – just start. I try very hard to stick to my hobbies and explore my interests because its like getting to know who I am. Of course, the first question many people will ask you is ‘can you make a living out of your hobby’. You may not have an answer to that right away, and that’s okay. You’ll figure it out. I think it’s important that you explore things for yourself first. For instance when I was in college studying education in 1998, I was set on becoming a teacher. During that time I also had an interest in make-up so I used my summer breaks to test with students photographers at the the Art Center in Pasadena. After graduating and working in education for a few years I came back to makeup (7 years later). Then, while I did makeup I became interested in comedy so I tried it and 6 years later I’m part of a sketch comedy show. When any one asks me for advice, I tell them to just try it. Find the will to try.

On Education…

I started my career in education early in college when I got an assistant teaching position at a preschool where my cousin worked. She said it was a great job so I gave it a try and I loved it! I graduated from CSUN and in 2001, moved to New York City and worked at the Metropolitan Montessori school in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I was there for 2.5 years and loved every minute. To my surprise, what I wasn’t sure about was doing it forever, so that’s when I decided to revisit the ol’ hobby I had – makeup. I moved back to California and went to the Make Up Designory in Burbank. I studied makeup and hair styling.

On Make-up…

I was the girl with the most makeup out of all of my friends. They would often ask me to doLarry David Rolling Stones their makeup or style their hair for parties. I even cut hair for a while in college without any formal training but people trusted me because they liked the way I cut mine. I think I had a confidence about styling and knew that it was a matter of time before I tried it professionally – it just had to be the right time. Fast forward a few years into my career a colleague sent me on an interview for a job – and that position was to be Larry David’s makeup artist on Curb Your Enthusiasm. The interview was more like a makeup screen test and by the end of the day I was filling out paperwork for the position. I couldn’t believe I had just been hired to work on the show. I worked on Season 7 and 8 and its one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

On Beauty…

I have a lighter touch when it comes to make up application. Since I worked so much in TV and film I learned to create characters and I apply those skills to everything I do. Even if I’m getting someone ready for a special event I look at who they are and design the makeup around their personality. I don’t use one formula for everyone because everyone is unique. People always ask me about makeup trends and while I think they’re fun to play with I encourage people to modify the trends to make it work for them. If the trend is highlighting and contouring, find a way to make it work for you. That said, the look for beauty and health starts from the inside. If you’re insides are healthy then your outside will reflect that.

On Humor…

I would call laughing one of my hobbies. I became obsessed with the original Who’s Line iskim&nene it Anyway and would watch the marathons on Sundays and laugh all afternoon. I was just fascinated with improv. For my birthday one year my friends and brother bought me a Groundlings Improv Workshop. I loved it so much that I took a class there as well.  A few years later, in 2007 I met actress, comedian, and writer Lory Tatoulian who was thinking about doing a sketch comedy show. I had zero professional experience in comedy but I told her that I would love to be part of the show in any capacity. 2 years later she called me and I have been part of The Big Bad Armo Show ever since. It was actually during Season 8 on Curb Your Enthusiasm that I started doing her show. I would work a 12-13 hour day on CYE and then rehearse for the BBAS. I remember one day I left CYE, hit the heaviest traffic, landed at the theatre, threw on my costume and jumped on stage just in time to start the show. It was a very fun time and we’re still doing the show today.

How it all came together…

My memory from childhood is being interested in several things. I think when I was young I wanted to be a figure skater and a research scientist. I have yet to fulfill those interests! I specifically remember not being able to chose one thing, and not wanting too. Funny enough until today I have a hard time thinking about settling on one career. Altogether, I see and live my life through my interests, so I look forward to what’s next.

On being Armenian…

I love being Armenian, and I love our culture. I’ve met so many wonderful Armenians over the years, in every walk of life, and they have made me love my culture even more. We’re a proud, loving, and crazy culture and its so much fun bringing it all out on stage when we do The Big Bad Armo Show. This may sound silly but when I’m on set and I see an Armenian actress or crew member I get very excited! I take a photo with them and I post it with the hashtag #ArmemiansOnSet. If you search the hashtag, they’re all my photos!

The non-Armenian Last Name…

One look at my name and people think I’m 100% Greek! I love it and I love my name. If I have a moment, I’ll let them know that I’m Armenian. My father’s Greek ancestors became Russianized after leaving Greece so the culture was unfortunately lost. My father’s mother was a Russianized Armenian so I actually have Armenian from both sides of my parents, along with Russian and Greek on my father’s side. My mom is 100% Armenian and her name is Medea Kalognomos, so you can imagine the look on a Greek person’s face when she says she’s not Greek!


To get involved with the AIWA SF affiliate, please visit www.aiwasanfrancisco.com or send an email to aiwasanfrancisco@gmail.com.

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