If this is what the New World Order looks like, then sign me up. I’m speaking, of course, about Illuminatease, the latest offering from Blood Ballet Cabaret running in Zoofest three more times this weekend.

The actual Illuminati could take few branding tips from Miss Bloody Maryanne and her troupe of burlesque performers. Freemasons, for the most part, aren’t known for being sexy, these performers most certainly are.

Blood Ballet Cabaret Illuminatease Zoofest

The troupe hasn’t performed together in a year and it has been even longer since I caught a BBC show. I’m happy to report that they haven’t lost anything, in fact they seem to have gained a bit in terms of energy and spontaneity.

unnamed (9)BBC has always been big on theme and this time they set it from the start, with four of the night’s performers clad in Druid-esque robes trying to crack a secret code. For world domination? Not quite, more like a hidden message to follow them on Twitter.

This opener was high on the tease factor as the performers didn’t disrobe (ha ha, get it, robe, pun fully intended) all that much. This would change very drastically and very quickly.

Soon enough we got to see Miss Bloody Maryanne shimmy out of a bathrobe (there’s that word again) playing a sultry Jackie O. More like Jackie-oh-yeah!

No more bad jokes, I promise, host Sherwin had enough of those. But his jokes they weren’t as much cheesy as they were perverse and at times self-depricating, though he really should be more confident, he has a fine ass as he demonstrated to the crowd.

Speaking of being in shape, new BBC contortionist Michelle Addessi certainly was. They may have faked the moon landing, but she didn’t fake the flexibility in her entertaining and clever moon landing skit or when she made enhanced interrogation sexy.unnamed (7)

Marilyn Monroe is already sexy, the challenge with bringing an interpretation of her to a burlesque show is maintaining her level of sex appeal while offering something original. Mission accomplished for Lulu Labelle Mirette, one of the new faces in the troupe.

Lady Josephine is a familiar face both in the BBC and to Montreal burlesque audiences. It’s that face’s expressions that I’ve always adored.

When she walked on stage decked out full disco, crazy 70s hair, glasses and all, I thought I wouldn’t get to see those facial expressions, but I was wrong. She delivered them and so much more.

unnamed (10)The show culminated with Miss Bloody Maryanne as the Virgin Mary. As far as the theme is concerned, I’m guessing this was a DaVinci Code riff, but it doesn’t matter, really, as it was the highlight of the show thanks to multiple performers (including Sherwin), audience participation and, of course, damn sexy dancing.

I’m glad Blood Ballet is back and in fine form. I thoroughly enjoyed their take on the Illuminati and other such conspiracies. My only complaint: no reptiles, next time, include lizard people! Sexy reptilians! Seriously, though, go see this show!

* Blood Ballet Cabaret presents Illuminatease runs Thursday July 31 – Saturday August 2, Agora Hydro Quebec de l’UQAM, all shows at midnight. Part of Zoofest, tickets available through Zoofest.com

* photos by Chris Zacchia

I thought this would be much easier. Sure. Just For Laughs is a huge, sprawling event, some might say Montreal’s largest festival, a distinction not easy to get in a city known for festivals.

But our focus is shows that feature lesser known comedians with a few of the big shots that have a unique appeal beyond the mainstream. Shouldn’t be too hard to focus in on a few good acts that fit the criteria, right? Wrong.

Turns out the emerging and underground acts, who are performing as part of the main festival and this year, for the first time, in OFF-JFL which is part of Zoofest, are as bountiful and numerous as the gala guys and gals. Our coverage team, comprised of Hannah Besseau, Jerry Gabriel. Chris Zacchia and myself, clearly had our work cut out for us, but we pulled through and now we know at least some of what we plan to check out.

It all starts with the Nasty Show, the fest’s annual below the belt kickoff event. Hannah Besseau already spoke with Bobby Slayton, leader of this year’s Nasty crew that comprised of Ari Shaffir, Kurt Metzger, Haley Boyle, Nick DiPaolo and local Derek Seguin. You can read her, um, interesting interview published today.

Later in the week, we get Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. Now Aziz may not qualify as emerging talent, he’s actually one of the biggest stars in comedy right now, but since I discovered him watching Parks and Rec and later his standup specials on Netflix, for me he’s a web comedian and therefore watching this incredibly funny man perform still counts as indie. Whether that justification holds water or not, this show is bound to hold my funny bone hostage.

Angelo Tsarouchas

The fest’s second weekend is when the Ethnic show starts. This year it’s hosted by Maz Jobrani, a prolific and very funny Persian comedian. I spoke with Angelo Tsarouchas, the show’s Greek representative, Montreal native and LA resident. You can read our discussion, where we touch on everything from the differences between the Montreal and LA comedy scenes to the best bagels in town next week.

In addition to Persians and Greeks, the show also promises Jews and Italians, but alas, the Irish are left out again. As someone who is proudly half Irish (or claimed to be until I had roommates actually from Dublin), I’ve got to say, c’mon JFL, geez, don’t your venues want to sell alcohol? (apparently the Irish perform as part of the British show, but I digress)

stand up strip down
Stand Up/Strip Down (Miss Sugarpuss & DeAnne Smith)

Moving along…the following week, the clothes are coming off, well, not DeAnne Smith’s (at least I don’t think so). You see, Smith, just back in town after reaching the semi-finals on Last Comic Standing, is the Stand Up part of Stand Up, Strip Down. The strip down part? Well, that’s going to be some of the top burlesque performers in the city, people like Miss Sugarpuss, L Diablo and Ruby Rhapsody.

Clothes will also be hitting the floor at Illuminatease, this year’s JFL/Zoofest offering from the Blood Ballet Cabaret. We’ve reviewed the BBC before (myself personally most of the time, it pays to be editor-in-chief) but we haven’t covered this show, their conspiracy show and now I get the chance! If you don’t think that the moon landing, religious conspiracies and celebrity assassinations can be made sexy, BBC begs to differ and their “family of dysfunctional yet lovable burlesque and circus artists” are here to prove you wrong.

Speaking of taking off your clothes, I’ve never wanted to see Lewis Black naked, but I have always wanted to see him perform live. This forever angry and funny man and Daily Show regular will be performing The Rant is Due in Montreal and I, for one, would like to see what he owes us.

And just who will be the Talk of the Fest this year, why it’s Nick Offerman, or at least he’s the one hosting the show with that name. Another Parks and Rec star, who’s also a published author and does run a wood shop, is returning to the stage and inviting some of JFL’s top talent to join him. He’s supposed to be quite like his character Ron Swanson, so I wonder what meat-intensive Montreal restaurants he’ll visit when in town.

Well, that wraps up only some of what’s out there in this year’s Just for Laughs festival. For the full schedule, please visit hahaha.com and keep checking FTB for our coverage.


Just who was Armen Ohanian? No one really knows, and that’s essentially the point of Dear Armen, a new play premiering in Montreal this weekend.

“She was very careful in the crafting of her self,” noted Kamee Abrahamian, the show’s co-creator, adding that Ohanian “left behind a mysterious trail which her biographers, and now we, are still trying to decode.”

What we do know about this turn of the century artist is quite an impressive biography. She survived the anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku and went on to have an international career as a dancer, writer and translator. Ohanian founded a theatre in Tehran, a dance school in Mexico City, wrote a collection of memoirs and had time for affairs with some of the biggest stars of the day.

“A friend of mine who runs the women’s resource center in Armenia told me about her a couple of years ago because she knew I was a burlesque performer and she thought I would be interested in the story,” Abrahamian recounts, “she was right, her story was completely inspiring.”

The first person Abrahamian called was Lee Williams Boudakian, who became her co-writer, co-performer and collaborator. Both are Canadian-based artists with Armenian backgrounds and they had found their muse.

dear armen logo

“Both of us were also really excited about the fact that we finally found such an enigmatic Armenian woman in history,” Abrahamian remembers, “I was drawn because of Armen’s performative work and nomadic life, Lee was drawn to the same I believe, as well as Armen’s supposed queerness.”

The product of this collaboration is described in their press release as “a blend of traditional Armenian dance, erotic performance, spoken word and live music.” For some, myself before this interview included, juxtaposing the term “traditional Armenian” with the word “erotic” clashes with some very prevalent preconceptions about Armenian culture.

Abrahimian is no stranger to the stereotype of a very conservative, religious culture, she’s dealt with it her whole time as an artist, as has Boudakian. In fact, it made things difficult for the pair as they started out as artists and, frankly, she’s tired of hearing it.

“It’s not just others who assume Armenians are typically conservative, but Armenians themselves fall into that cliche as well in their thinking and approach to family and culture,” Abrahimian argues, “I find these assumptions to be irresponsible, constricting and narrow minded – a trap that is heavily laden with learned habits and religious-patriarchal narratives, which is a subject that comes into focus in the play.”

“Our history is full of people who push the envelope like Armen Ohanian did,” she says, “Sergei Parajanov, Atom Egoyan – the fact that we chose to live in such derogatory frameworks, and why we don’t talk about the females who have been a part of these so-called progressive, avant garde movements in Armenian history, is proof that these traps exist. How about we stop referring to the Kardashians as the ambassadors of all Armenian people!”

Speaking of the Kardashians and pop culture (and admittedly reaching for a segue), Abrahamian is probably best know in this city for the Blood Ballet Cabaret, a show that took various pop culture tropes like fantasy/sci fi, high school graduation, Disney, video games, childhood fairy tales and slasher movies, infused them with some damn sexy and creative burlesque dancing and turned them on their heads. While that show may have been dormant for a while, it is coming back with shows as part of this year’s Zoofest.

Cher Armen is produced by Saboteur Productions, a company Abrahamian founded in 2013 with Blood Ballet alum Tiffany Golarz and Abrahamian hopes that the audience she has already developed will check out her new show, despite the different feel.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the BBC,” she comments, “it brought me to this point in my work today and I welcome the BBC audience to see Dear Armen for this reason. Yes, its a more thoughtful piece, but every art form has it’s own way of being clever or embodying a certain message. I’d like to think that we can be open to embrace and play with the different shapes these narratives take.”

The shape this particular narrative will take is one where the audience is expected to move around a bit. They’re calling it audience immersive theatre. The show’s venue was also a mystery for a bit (maybe not one akin to who Armen Ohanian was), one that has now been solved on the show’s Facebook event page.

If you want to immerse yourself in the world of Armen Ohanian and the daring original theatre created by Kamee Abrahamian and her team, there’s still time.

Dear Armen Trailer from Saboteur Productions on Vimeo.

Dear Armen runs one time only in Montreal Sunday, June 1 at 8:30pm (reception 8pm). Reserve your tickets through lorikamee@gmail.com