5 (hilarious!) questions for Paul Oswell as “Local Uproar” launches into 2017

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INFO:
“LOCAL UPROAR”
WHAT:
Weekly stand-up comedy show from Paul Oswell and Benjamin Hoffman, with New Orleans and touring comics
WHEN: Saturdays (8 p.m.)
WHERE: AllWays Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
ADMISSION: Free
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

Over the past decade or so, the comedy scene in New Orleans has enjoyed an amazing growth spurt that might be tracking in line with scenes in other U.S. cities, and the breadth and depth of it can be pretty amazing. On a lark I finally took the chance to sample another one of these: “Local Uproar,” which Paul Oswell and Benjamin Hoffman co-produce for the AllWays Lounge on St. Claude Avenue.

The 2017 debut show on Saturday (Jan. 7) featured a mix of local and touring comics, and a mix in performances as well. Approaches ranged from the absurd (New York City’s Gina Ginsberg) and sardonic (New Orleans’ Alex Luchun) to the subtly subversive (New Orleans’ DC Paul and the hilariously observational (headliner James Hamilton of New York City). (It should be noted DC Pauls’ mother was in the house, and didn’t act too embarrassed by the material.) Oswell hosts the show, deftly dropping in jokes in between sets and keeping the show moving, and Hoffman popped up for a set marked by a likable stoner vibe.

If the show weren’t free (and with free treats from sponsor New Orleans Ice Cream Company, as well as free red beans), you’d think it was still a bargain at most prices. But the goal of the show is to get people into the bar, and while the evening started out modestly enough, by the end, the place was packed — partly because of the popularity of this show and probably from the one following.

Regardless, the 2017 debut offered the opportunity to get Paul Oswell to review the show’s brief history and success, set against the backdrop of a continually growing New Orleans comedy scene.

How’d you get started in comedy, and, by extension, how did “Local Uproar” get started? (Especially against the backdrop of this growing comedy scene.)
I’d been doing long-form one-man shows for the New Orleans Fringe for three years, and someone suggested stand up and I tried to transfer my material and I was pretty awful. I didn’t go up much in the beginning (2014), but the only way to improve is to go up a lot, so I thought a start would be to run an open mic — I always remember some solid advice from Bella Blue: “If you’re not getting booked, produce the show yourself.” Anyway, I looked at what nights didn’t have a show (Saturdays) and what venues had regular slots and would be natural for comedy (The Allways). We started in May 2015. I co-hosted with my friend Tory Gordon and when she moved away after a couple of months, Benjamin Hoffman came on board.

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Benjamin Hoffman

It was OK — we had patchy attendance and for open mics, you have to stand by the fact that anyone can go up, so quality was inconsistent. At some point, I thought, this is people’s Saturday night, they (and I) don’t want to sit through very bad comedy, so let’s make it a booked show so we know what we’re putting out. One bad comic can drain the energy for the good comic following them, or people will just leave, so let’s avoid that. We did that about a year or so ago, and we haven’t looked back.

Crowds grew, bigger comedians asked if they could do sets, and now we have bigger names swinging by — they love the venue, and we have a packed, engaged room most Saturday nights, I’d say.

So it’s been an evolving thing, much like the scene itself. Talk about that. In your mind, how and why has New Orleans’ comedy scene become to vibrant and spread out over the past several years? Is this another post-Katrina phenomenon?
People like Leon Blanda and the Henehan brothers (Cassidy and Mickey) have been running comedy shows longer than I’ve lived here — I can’t speak to the early days as I wasn’t there, but the Henehans were there post-Katrina and Leon a couple of years later as I understand it. They laid the foundations and were there to give mic time to people like Mark Normand and Sean Patton. When I started out, the second wave was already in effect, with people like Andrew Polk and Joe Cardosi bringing people from outside New Orleans — touring comics from New York City and Los Angeles — into the scene.

Suddenly Hannibal Buress and Louis CK are dropping into New Orleans mics — and we’re still (to this day) talking about bar shows. There’s no comedy club here in the traditional sense. So I was lucky that other people had done the hard work, and me and Benjamin just kind of slotted in, did our thing and hoped we added to the variety.

A year after “Local Uproar” on Saturdays, we started “Night Church” at Sidney’s Saloon on Thursday nights — another booked show, smaller venue, lower key.

Mark Normand and Sean Patton — local comics who have gone onto great things, just for reference.

How do you book your talent? Just fielding applications on Facebook, or what? And, what do you look for in the talent, and how has your eye/ear for talent improved since starting this?
Our shows are a mix. Firstly, we have trusted locals who go up all the time and are solid comics, week in week out. We have a rotating headlining system, so at some point they can all go up and do longer sets (15-plus minutes). Secondly, we have visiting comics (either touring or on vacation) who come and ask us to go up as they’ve heard good things about us — we’re always open to visiting comics as it gives our shows variety and the regular audience members like that a lot. If they’re bigger names in town for other reasons (Tiffany Haddish springs to mind), we’ll let them headline and promo it. If they’re bigger name touring comics, we’ll think about making it a ticketed show — we’d rather have it be free and give all the tips to comics, but at some level pro comics need a guarantee and if that’s the way we can bring people to New Orleans, that’s how we’ll do it. Benjamin is a much bigger comedy nerd than me (especially for younger US comics) so I take his recommendations mainly. A few weeks ago he bought in Hari Kondabolu who I wasn’t aware of previously and that guy sold out two shows on a Sunday. So Benjamin has a better instinct than me!

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DC Paul

Last year we also bought in Joe DeRosa and, Shane Mauss and Billy Wayne Davis for ticketed shows. Sometimes they’re just in town on vacation and they approach us, or if they’re touring and passing through, say, Lafayette, their agents will approach us about adding a date. This year, we have Emo Phillips coming in (in June) And I couldn’t be more excited. We don’t earn much money doing this — we try and cover our marketing costs and pay the comics what little we can (a free show depends on bar splits and tips — we may get $100 on a good night total). This is very important: our great sponsors, New Orleans Ice Cream Company — make it easier for us. They not only sponsor us but they also provide ice cream, which we give away at every show — a big draw for us and we’d have less people without them.

When you’re not hosting and performing, where do you like to go for your yucks?
My favorite shows are many: weekly shows include “Comedy Beast” at The Howlin’ Wolf, “Comedy F*ck Yeah” at Dragon’s Den, “Bear With Me” at Twelve Mile Limit, “Comedy Catastrophe” at the Lost Love Lounge.

Some great monthly shows: “The Rip Off Show” at the Hi-Ho Lounge, “I’m Listening” at the VooDoo Lounge, “Stoked” The at Howlin’ Wolf.

There are so many now, I created a website for listings and occasional news: www.nocomedy.com.

I’m still trying to figure out how comedy became a “thing” in New Orleans. Was it just a matter of a few folks you mentioned previously lighting the fuse? It reminds me of the burlesque renaissance, which obviously is different and had been doing OK for several years (let’s say 1996-2005) but got really big after Katrina.

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James Hamilton

I mean, I’d imagine that stand up comedy has grown in every city, but the scene in New Orleans and the respect it gets from very good professional comics, is down to those people I mentioned — not only lighting the fuse, but making sure it stays lit. Stand-up comedy production is a grind — you have to be there week in week out whether it’s a crowd of two people (and we’ve done shows like that) or a full room. Stand-up comedy is showing up, it’s providing a regular spot and doing it in as professional a way as you can to make sure that the audience and the performers have a good time.

The Henehans and Blanda and Polk all worked the coal face, committed themselves to creating a scene with weekly booked shows and open mics, performing and producing even to five people on a rainy Wednesday, and I hope we’re part of the growing scene. They had people like Louis CK and Doug Stanhope and Bill Burr drop in — in the last few weeks we’ve had Sasheer Zamata (from “SNL”) and Hannibal Buress just swing by and do time at our shows, and I think it speaks well of the local scene, and to the people that put in the real work creating it. I feel like Benjamin and I are part of its maintenance, and hopefully part of its further growth. A real change would be for someone to open a downtown comedy club and it would be a risk but it’s a wide-open niche right now.

What’s the rush for you as a comic? What do you dig about it?
It’s an immediacy thing. Instant validation — laughter (or no laughter) is an immediate assessment of your material AND how you’re presenting it. It’s a challenge to match the material chosen and the way you present it to match the room you’re up at. I like that a lot. That said, I know my limitations as a comic and I’m not even top 20 in New Orleans. I’m OK with that, and though I do like the very clear ways in which I’m so much better than I was in 2014, I also think I’m better as a producer and host and that’s more my comfort zone. But I love being around very funny and talented people two or three nights a week and the mutual support our small scene affords itself. There are very few ego-driven spats, people are broadly happy when anyone advances their careers.

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Katie East on teaming up with Caitlin Brodnick to laugh at cancer in “Victory for T&A!”

katie-caitlinINFO:
VICTORY FOR T&A: From the Women of Sick Girl of Screw You Cancer
WHAT: In this show of two comedians, New Orleans’ Katie East (Sick Girl) and New York’s Caitlin Brodnick (Screw You Cancer) put a humorous spin on their respective battles with illness
WHEN: Sat. (Nov. 19), 8 p.m.; Sun. (Nov. 20), 2 p.m.
WHERE: The Theatre at St. Claude, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
TICKETS: $20
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

As a decidedly defiant dynamic duo, New Orleans’ Katie East and New York City’s Caitlin Brodnick have decided not to take their respective battles with cancer sitting down. In fact, they have no problem name-checking the sources of their illness in their comedy show “Victory for T&A.” Faced with a history in her family of breast cancer, Brodnick boldly decided to opt for a preventative double mastectomy in her 20s — and even had Glamour document the experience on a web series, “Screw You Cancer.”

East has been beset by a range of illnesses and more hardship, including bad surgical experiences and the discovery of cancer in her buttocks — hence the “T&A” of the title. And so she has turned her experiences into what she’s calling a “Coney Island-style freak show.” Here East discusses the show and their shared experiences before Saturday’s opening (Nov. 19).

(NOTE: East and Broadnick will discuss their show as part of a health-care themed episode of “PopSmart NOLA” on Saturday, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., at WHIV (102.3 FM). You also can stream the show live

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at http://www.whivfm.org.

Trace as best you can your health issues — when they started, what they were, and how they progressed over the years?
I’ve had so many! When I was 7, I had a severe kidney infection and ended up in the hospital for a week. I was so dehydrated they couldn’t get an IV started. It took like thirtysomething tries over 24 hours. I had four major concussions before I was 10, which led to scar tissue in my frontal lobe. (Maybe why I’m a comic? No filter). I broke my pelvis in middle school while doing a split. In high school, I had a urethral diverticulum that they said was so large it was only “commonly seen in men over the age of 80.” When I was 20, I got malignant melanoma on my butt, a place never seen by the sun. And two years ago they found a non-malignant tumor on my liver.

It sounds like “getting sick” was only one part of the problem, that you not only suffered from unusual illnesses but also that medical care either failed to help or sometimes exacerbated the situation. How frustrating was this?
A lot of people think doctors are gods. I have had some terrible doctors and I have had some amazing doctors. They are all people, though; they make mistakes. I’ve almost died from some of those mistakes, but I don’t shun the entire profession. My Mom and I have learned that you have to actively do your research. In the end, you’re in charge of your own health, and the doctor’s word is just an opinion. Get many. Finding a good doctor is like dating — shop around and don’t get jaded because there are a lot of terrible ones out there. Yes, it’s expensive; yes, it’s infuriating; and yes, it feels like it should be easier. But, it’s your life, and you have to work for your health.

Where are you now with your health issues? What’s your health status, and where do you see your health moving forward?
It’s all about balance. I hate to sound like Gwyneth Paltrow, but it’s what I strive toward and also struggle with. For the rest of my life, I will have to go to several specialists a year just to make sure I’m healthy. I have come to terms with the fact that doctors are not focused on my wellness. Their job is to make me better when I am sick, by any means necessary. I have to be the one to care about the side effects and keeping myself healthy and my future. Nutrition and mental health and physical activity are all things I focus on and will honestly never listen to a doctor’s opinion on the matter (except maybe mental health, if necessary). I listen to my body and I know what I’m supposed to be doing and when I’m off course.

What inspired you to not only turn this ongoing physical hell into a comedy/cabaret act, and especially with a “freak-show” approach?
In LSU Theatre, we had to do an “auto drama,” which was basically an autobiographical theatrical piece on something important in our lives. I did mine on having cancer just six months after I was diagnosed and a month after I finished treatment. It was a mess. It was so fresh and I was still so traumatized. I’ve worked 11 years to make that mess into a comedy. That’s how I deal with things. I use humor. For years I didn’t talk about having cancer because I hated making people feel uncomfortable or having people feel sorry for me. Now, I talk about it all the time. A lot of my friends kind of abandoned me through the process because it’s just a bummer when a 20-year-old has cancer. A lot of people couldn’t deal with it. I don’t want medical issues to have a stigma or sadness attached to it. I think now I can talk about it in a way that is matter of fact and hopefully will help other people to not run from friends who are dealing with illness.

The freak show idea came about because I think the hardest part for me dealing with my specific illnesses is that they were always bizarre. Doctors had “never seen anything like it” almost every time something happened to me. I have always felt like a freak, even though I look normal to most people. The message of this show is, we are all freaks, even if you can’t always tell at first glance.

How did you meet and collaborate with Caitlin and what was the main strategy to make something so serious so funny?
I met Caitlin in a one-person show class that Becky Drysdale taught in New York City. I already knew I wanted my show to be a freak show, but Caitlin was still trying to find her material. I remember thinking she was the most offbeat comic I ever met. She was so positive and sweet. I would have described her as a sprite of a woman at the time. A couple of years later she was diagnosed with the BRCA gene and she had a docu-series that followed her process of having a preventative double mastectomy. I have a stand-up joke that I hate when people call me brave for having cancer; I didn’t choose to have it. Caitlin chose to confront cancer before it could take her life. I think that’s insanely brave. I don’t think I could have made that choice.

Caitlin has toured around the world speaking about her experience with BRCA, and since she’s a comedian she made it naturally funny. She is a great storyteller. Her smile is infectious and she never puts anyone down to make the joke. When she was here for Hell Yes Fest last year and we were hanging out I convinced her to put together her stories about the experience and make it a show. This is the first time she will be performing it as a full one-person show. We are hoping we’ll be able to bring this to other theaters around the country.

Throwback Thursday: Trixie Minx’s “Cupid’s Cabaret” conjures images of the Orpheum Theater’s vaudeville origins

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According to historical reports, when the Orpheum Theater opened for New Orleans fans on Feb. 7, 1921, the focus was on vaudeville.

“Jewel and fur clad women and dapper gentlemen filled the Orpheum Theater, New Orleans’ newest and most fashionable theater where ‘good taste reigned everywhere,’” one report said. “This auspicious evening’s main attraction was The Singer Midgets, who were to enter Hollywood immortality nine years later as the Munchkins of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’

“A bit of incongruous perhaps with the ‘dressed-to-the-nines’ crowd, but this was the heyday of vaudeville and the Singer Midgets was a class act – and so was the Orpheum.”

Just under 85 years later, this is music to the ears of producer Trixie Minx and the Orpheum’s Kristin Shannon, who, over coffee inside the nearby Roosevelt Hotel, are giddy with excitement over the historic theater playing elegant host to “Cupid’s Cabaret,” a mix of variety acts that celebrates Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. While Minx has made her mark as a burlesque performer and producer — she literally performed on both the East Coast and West Coast when not in New Orleans over the course of 2015 — she is emphatic about extolling her vaudeville influences.

And while she is quick to note the vaudeville influences in her monthly, decade-old “Fleur de Tease” show at One Eyed Jacks, she wants people to think of “Cupid’s Cabaret” as a nod to those more purely vaudeville instincts.

“We want this event to be more than a show but an experience of what it was like to be in the Orpheum back then,” Minx said. “An interactive vaudeville presentation on a Vegas-size level … with a modern take.”

I’ll have more on that take soon, but first I thought it would be fun to present a little “Throwback Thursday” of historic photos, courtesy of the Orpheum staff, to remember a time when it was the likes of the Singer Sisters and Al Jolson who ruled the stage and not the silver screen that came to dominate as the theater entered the middle of the 20th century.

More on the overall show; for now, enjoy this little trip down memory lane. For tickets and more information, click here.

Read more about the return of the Orpheum and other historic New Orleans theaters in my Biz New Orleans piece.

Hail Cecile Monteyne, the queen of comedy in New Orleans

Cecile Monteyne in "You Don't Know the Half of It." (Photo by David Lee Simmons)

Cecile Monteyne in “You Don’t Know the Half of It.” (Photo by David Lee Simmons)

When I was asked at NOLA.com for ideas for possible 15 entertainers to watch for 2015, one name sprang to mind. It was pretty much a no-brainer: Cecile Monteyne. Actress, comedian, producer — she was becoming a major presence on the New Orleans entertainment scene, especially with her work with The NOLA Project and in the comedy world with machine A and especially her seasonal “You Don’t Know the Half of It” improv sketch show. I reviewed the show’s October 2015 show here.

(But first, an aside: There was another NOLA Project figure who, in hindsight, should’ve been considered. A.J. Allegra, The NOLA Project’s artistic director, is seemingly everywhere in New Orleans, acting and directing with the troupe, teaching theater to kids, and even appearing with the LPO. He is very much someone to watch.)

Monteyne and the “You Don’t Know the Half of It” crew marks four years on Sunday (Jan. 17) with a special show at Le Petit, and I profiled that in the New Orleans Advocate. And what I tried to drive home in the piece is how Monteyne — clearly a special talent and presence — often is at her best when trying to make everyone else look good:

When someone’s having a good night, it’s partly because you’re helping them have a good night,” the Tulane grad said. “It helps to work with other funny people or other straight people who can play that cold fish who doesn’t have to respond. I think comedy is at its best when everybody is working together to make one another look funny.

Her 2015 was as good as promised, highlighted by being named the Big Easy Entertainment Awards’ entertainer of the year. (She’d received acting nominations for performances in a drama and a comedy.) And later she delivered what will for sure be another nominated performance in The NOLA Project’s “Marie Antoinette.”

What’s really cool about Monteyne these days is the production she recently wrapped with her brother Jules Monteyne on “One Night Stand Off,” a romantic comedy in directed and co-written by Jules and Cecile, and starring opposite Ian Hoch. I hope to have a lot more about that in the coming days. But until then, go to Le Petit on Sunday and see what all the fuss is about.

Virginia’s Harem: Go West, young women, to SF Sketchfest (and be funny)

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UPDATE: Check out my feature of Cecile Monteyne in the New Orleans Advocate, which includes comments from Emily Slazer.

One of the many delights about finally being able to check out Cecile Monteyne’s seasonal “You Don’t Know the Half of It” improv show (now at Cafe Istanbul) is to see the now-steady stream of young comic talent — often as a continuation of sorts with The New Movement. (Monteyne is an alumnae.)

I’ll be previewing “You Don’t Know the Half of It” in a few days in the New Orleans Advocate in advance of the four-year anniversary show Jan. 17, at Le Petit, and in the process of researching story stumbled upon the work a few of her regulars are doing in the start-up sketch troupe Virginia’s Harem — most notably Emily Slazer and Valerie Boucvalt, who performed in the fall show, my first.

Seems the group landed a hard-to-land “showcase” spot at the prestigious SF Sketchfest in San Francisco this weekend — this, after forming just about a year ago. Along with several of the top sketch troupes in the nation, SF Sketchfest will serve host to several famous comedians, including Billy Crystal and Patton Oswalt as well as a reunion of “Waiting for Guffman” cast members and a tribute to “Funny or Die.”

Not bad.

“It’s really exciting,” said Slazer, a 26-year-old Slidell native who’s only been performing locally for about two years after graduating first from Centenary College in Shreveport and then The New Movement. “It is pretty prestigious for such a young group to get a showcase spot. There will be a mix of smaller groups like us and much bigger, nationally recognized comedians ,which will be a special experience for us to see what their comedy is like and what we can learn from it.

“We’re really lucky to be going,” she continued. “This is the first time I’m touring to do comedy so I’m very excited. It feels like a little bit of a legitimacy thing. It sets it apart from being a casual hobby. I never feel I have to make money doing comedy to be fulfilled. But this is more than just your friends thinking you’re comedy.”

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Jonathan Greene and Valerie Boucvalt

Slazer and Boucvalt are reason enough to watch this troupe; I couldn’t keep from laughing at just about everything Slazer did at Cafe Istanbul, whether pretending to be in double arm casts and dropping bizarro Sam’s Club references to her partner (the actor with the script) or simply rolling her eyes. There’s almost a hint of Lena Dunham’s best moments; Slazer has the kind of intuitive comic timing that I imagine one gets either through good genes or lots of training. But she’s flat-out funny.

And yet she was basically scared shitless to take an improv class as a requirement while at Centenary, despite being in theater since she was 10 years old.

“I was terrified and went in kicking and screaming, and fell in love with it after take the class,” she said. “What really appeal to me early on … was the failure of it. Learning how to fail and to be OK with that. If you fail as an actor there are ramifications. But if you do at improv early on, there’s an indication that you’re trying. You’re making big choices. You’re gonna fail at first. You have to learn it.

“I felt this is really cool that I can take big chances and make big choices and fail and it’s OK. I’m a much more brave person in my whole life than when I started improvement. It’s a good life skill.”

Check out this more timely video (released Tuesday, Jan. 5, above), the sketch “Stripping Badges,” a collaboration between Virginia’s Harem (Slazer, Boucvalt, Alicia Hawkes, Margee Green, Erica Goostrey and Liz Beeson) and fellow New Orleans sketch group Stupid Time Machine. It’s about a drunken bachelorette party that gets horrifically sober thanks to some traumatized cops turned strippers (CJ Hunt, James Hamilton). I’ll say no more.

And here’s a link to a scene from this past October’s “You Don’t Know the Half of It,” featuring Slazer opposite Corinne Williams.

Make it a burlesque New Year’s Eve with parties in New Orleans and beyond

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Considering what a big year it’s been for burlesque around New Orleans, it only makes sense to mark its end with a party, and a few of the area’s top performers and producers are sending off 2015 with burlesque-themed New Year’s Eve parties. And they’re not confining themselves to New Orleans; Roxie le Rouge’s Big Deal Burlesque will take their show to Marksville for a party, in keeping with her practice of exporting burlesque to the Southeast area. I asked some of the producers for their thoughts on their shows and their work in 2015, and will continue to update.

Here’s a roundup of the shows. Please feel free to add any others you know about tonight in the comments section, and they’ll be added in with the relevant information.

Also: Voting in the “best of New Orleans burlesque” polls will close today, Thursday, Dec. 31, at 5 p.m., with results posted Wednesday, Jan. 6.

House of Mayhem presents “A Gatsby Affair”
Thursday, Dec. 31, 8:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Mag’s 940, 940 Elysian Fields Ave.

Description: “Looking for a way to ring in the New Year in style? Want to have the decadent atmosphere without the decadent price? Then join May Hemmer for a New Year’s Eve bash that will bring you back … back in time to the 1920s. Join us as we transform Mag’s 940 into a speakeasy complete with music, booze, and burlesque! At midnight join us for the champagne toast and a different spin on the balloon drop. But before the festivities kick off, Mag’s Coffee House (which is right next door) will be having an hors d’oeuvres and cocktail hour before hand! Between 7pm and 8pm for only $12 you can get some tasty finger foods and two complimentary drinks on the house!! Be sure to get there early because space will be limited for this mix and mingle event.”

Lineup: New Orleans performers Nikki LeVillain, Roux La La, Grand Mafun, Persé Fanny, and touring performers The Baroness and Gabriella Maze

Dress: Cocktail, with 1920s-style attire encouraged. Tickets:

Tickets: $11.24-$82.99. Visit event website

From May Hemmer: “I feel that taking on a bigger production so early in my production career is a big step for me. After working in the corporate world for so long, I have become pretty keen on how to put out fires and handling tense situations. And trust me… I’ve put out some fires with this show. I’ve made mistakes and I will continue to make mistakes but that’s part of the learning process. The main component that I’ve learned is to ask for help; my production assistant on this wild ride, Tsarina Hellfire, has been there to hear me ask and express frustrations. This show is also going to be a catalyst of seeing whether I can to just do smaller regular shows or compete with the big dogs and focus on just a few events throughout the year. All in all, I plan on providing a fun environment not only for my patrons, but for my entertainers. I want them to feel as fabulous as they really are and I think I’m really stepping up the game when it comes to that for ‘A Gatsby Affair.’ That way people can walk away and say that they enjoy working with me not just because they know they will get paid … but that they are treated like the top-notch performers I know they are.”

Bella Blue Entertainment presents “New Year’s Eve at the Social”
Thursday, Dec. 31, 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Gravier Street Social, 523 Gravier St.

Description: “Join us at The Social for a fun and sophisticated evening of drinks, dancing and burlesque this New Years Eve. Burlesque presented by Bella Blue and sounds from DJ Otto. Great music to dance to in an eclectic venue with a cool crowd! 9 p.m. until late. Reservations: info@gravierstreetsocial.com or 504-941-7629.”

Lineup: Angie Z, Meredith Mon Archm, Charlotte Treuse, emcee Stevie Poundcake

Tickets: $45-$60. Visit event website

New Year’s Eve with Slow Burn Burlesque and Debauche
Thursday, Dec. 31, 9 p.m.

Hi-Ho Lounge, 2239 St. Claude Ave.

Description: “Ring in 2016 with Debauche and Slow Burn Burlesque on Thursday, Dec. 31, at The Hi Ho Lounge!”

Lineup: Sarah Duprix, Ladee Lucerne, Porcelain, Natasha Fiore

From Ben Wisdom: “The Slow Burn Debauche show will be an unforgettable way to bring in the new year. No where else will you be able to dance to a live DJ playing Balkan dance music, see a troupe of professional and sexy belly dancers, experience the hell fire of one of New Orleans most recognized burlesque groups Slow Burn and party with the wildest band in all the land Debauche! It’s a night of unique alternative entertainment unlike anything else in the city.”

“Mon Cherie Amour” featuring Roxie le Rouge & Big Deal Burlesque
Thursday, Dec. 31, 10 p.m.
Bailey’s on the Square, 113 E. Ogden St. Marksville, 318-240-3495

Description: Champagne toast, balloon drop, party favors, breakfast buffet. Benefits the Avoyelles Arts Council.

Tickets: $75

From Roxie le Rouge: “My number one goal since starting Big Deal Burlesque over four years ago, has been to broaden our audience bringing top notch burlesque, sideshow and variety acts to new audiences. I do enjoy performing in big cities and often do as a soloist but, it is so rewarding to give smaller cities a first time experience and build an ever-growing fan base. The level of enthusiasm is really on a whole another level and all the performers remark how great it feels connect with the audiences. We have met some of the loveliest people on the road. These trips are reminders of why I do what I do. It’s pure joy. I’m really excited for 2016! I have many things I would like to accomplish for Big Deal this coming new year including a new group act, new concepts, collaborations and an expanded tour. Personal goals include polishing up my business skills, a new act with a fantastic costume is in it’s infancy stage and the always and ever present lesson of balance between work and personal life. I’m finally getting the hang of it.”

 

 

 

John Waters has become a New Orleans holiday tradition, you sickos

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 3.41.31 PMOne of the first shows I got to enjoy after returning to New Orleans was the one and only, the delightfully raunchy John Waters — the director, the humorist, the author, and the general trouble-maker. It was at the Civic Theatre, and as if to remind me how fun it was to enjoy him in New Orleans (after a delightful interview, my second counting one while at Gambit Weekly), I got seated next to someone I’d met on New Year’s Day, 2006, a few months before leaving for Atlanta. (Here’s my preview for that 2013 show.)

Waters returns to New Orleans and the Civic tonight (Thursday, Dec. 17) for his annual Christmas show, subtitled “Holier & Dirtier.” (Check out the Facebook event page for details.) His years living here in the pre-“Pink Flamingos” days are so etched in our memory that, after recounting that period for Gambit in 2010, he’s grown tired of recounting them in subsequent interviews. Which is not to say Waters is hesitant to show his love of New Orleans and its sometimes-seedy ways (the whole world knows his favorite bar is the Corner Pocket), and always gives his props (as he did in 2013) to New Orleans audiences:

They’ve always been appreciative. They ‘get it,.’ I don’t ever have to worry if people are going to get it in New Orleans. Even though you are a city that does not participate in the rest of America, which I give you kind of credit for. You’ve seceded. Culturally, you always kind of had your own kind of world there, and you decided what was good there. You were not influenced by the rest of America, which I always find kind of amazing.

After all these years, he still delights in shocking people’s sensibilities, as he did when discussing Christmas on the eve of the 2013 show:

I love Christmas. I celebrate it. But I want the war on Christmas, if it’s [celebrated] on government property. I am against that. However, I decorate my house. I want to go Christmas caroling with crack addicts. I always wanted to go with crack addicts so you could go ring the door bell and really scare people. I’m for Christmas, but it should not have anything to do with the state. I do celebrate it. I even mock all the traditions of it. I decorate an electric chair in my house.

I got a chance to interview him once again in March for his traditional “This Filthy World” show at the Joy (which I missed). The highlight from that interview came when I asked him what he thought about a certain cultural shift when “more and more people don’t get mad at what you’re doing?”

It’s because I’m not mean. I think people, when they come to see me, want me to take them into some world where they might get a little uncomfortable in but they’re not uncomfortable with me as their guide. I have a lot of parents bring as a last-ditch effort bring their angry children to see me together. That’s touching. I don’t know if it works. I don’t know if they go home and discuss what “Ultimate Nudity” was and bond. Before when I was young and people saw my movies, they’d call the police. Things have changed but for the better, certainly.

And finally, enjoy one last New Orleans connection, however bizarrely:

 

“Clown Bar” sends in, and up, everyone’s favorite punching bag, courtesy The NOLA Project

There were plenty of things to admire about The NOLA Project’s current mounting of “Clown Bar,” from its fitting location (the Little Gem Saloon’s upstairs bar, the Ramp Room) and Adam Szymkowicz’s clever interpretation (clowns as mob thugs) to director James Yeargain’s staging of all of the above. He’s brought to life everyone’s worst nightmare of a subculture we’ve long loved to hate, ridicule and often fear even when the main objective has been to laugh.

These are clowns as Goodfellas, bottom-feeders from a pulp nightmare, and in “Clown Bar” Yeargain has created a most unhappy hour that’s filled with the darkest possible laughs. Clown rules line one wall of the bar: “There are no rules in a clown bar,” “You better not try nothin’,” “What’s your business is your business. Don’t get in my business,” and so on. It’s all menacing caveat: You come to the clown bar at your own risk, because more often than not, you’ll never get out alive.

Szymkowicz’s script is clever by half in telling the story of a former clown, Happy Mahoney, who tried to leave the life by becoming a cop only to get sucked back in to find out who killed his younger and brother, Timmy (Levi Hood), whose minimal talent becomes increasingly apparent as he falls into a rabbit hole of addiction. (The irony being, getting high is supposed to make him funnier; instead it makes him worse.) The murder mystery creates a bittersweet reunion in the joint, with mob flunkie Twinkles (Richard Alexander Pomes), hooker Petunia (Natalie Boyd), former lover and bar burlesque dancer Blinky Fatale (Kali Russell), bar crooner and often drunk Dusty (Keith Claverie), henchmen Giggles and Shotgun (Clint Johnson, Alec Barnes), sweet psycho Popo (Jessica Amber Lozano) and the boss himself, Bobo (Kurt Owens).

Happy has to both reunite with and navigate his way around all of these lowlifes, not the least of which is his former lover Blinky, who in a burlesque number reminds him of the happier times, so to speak, but whose too-familiar pleas to stand up to boss man Bobo (her current lover) help to bring back the pain.

So who killed Timmy? The mystery at the heart of the story really isn’t the heart of the story; if anything, it’s the play’s weakest link. The heart of the story is the way Szymkowicz plays with all of the clown archetypes and stereotypes — mostly for laughs, but almost at all the right times, for pathos — but also how the NOLA Project ensemble warms to the task. This is my third viewing of a NOLA Project show, in consecutive order starting with the 2014-2015 season finale, “Robin Hood: Thief, Brigand” and continuing with the 2015-2016 season opener, “Marie Antoinette.”

And while this might sound like a backhanded compliment, so far the greatest strength of the troupe isn’t its choice in original new works (impressive) or its savvy location choices (appropriate, always). It’s in the actual acting talent onstage. In both of the previous shows, The NOLA Project troupe does an amazing job of balancing star turns by the actors in the title roles with ensemble work that spreads the love around.

It’s that willingness to share the stage that helps “Clown Bar” to really take flight, because this really is built for an ensemble cast, and the payoff of for the audience (sprinkled throughout the bar, at tables and on the sides) is massive. Alex Martinez Wallace is fine as Happy, the nominal protagonist — yet he’s happy, pardon the pun, to be more of an ensemble performer. As the only one not in clown makeup, he all but lets the rest of the clowns run the show.

That allows brilliant little moments of laughter and, of course sadness. There’s Russell as the moll Blinky (her last name gives her away), both sexy and strong in her insistence that Happy grow a pair. Having been left behind once before by Happy, she’s seen what it’s like to be treated by a “good guy,” and prefers the security of the bad Bobo.

And there’s Pomes as the menacing Twinkles, with his ambiguous loyalties, trying to decide whether to kill or back Happy, all the while chewing on every possible clown pun the script allows. And Hood, as Timmy, dressed as Pagliaccio, is a sad, addicted clown indeed, feeding off his brother in every way possible in the flashbacks. (The most telling line for Timmy goes for everyone: “On a good day, anyone can be funny. The question is, how many days can you be funny?”)

Boyd as the floozy Petunia is all bounce and verve but with a surprising heart, flirting with Happy but knowing she’ll always finish second to Blinky. She’d like to bed him, but she really loves him.

Lozano as Popo is everyone’s split-personality clown nightmare, smiling and twirling one moment, flashing a gat and a killer’s stare the next. Just like the cast, you really don’t know what to expect next from Popo. As the mob boss Bobo, Kurt Owens comes off as a late-career John Huston (think Noah Cross in “Chinatown”), smiling because he knows he holds all the cards, and possibly Happy’s fate.

The cast features regular ensemble members, but there notable exceptions, including Hood, Lovano and Owens — each of whom acts like they fit right in.

If there is a scene-stealer in “Clown Bar,” it might be Keith Claverie as Dusty, a sad trombone of a character, but blessed with a golden-throated voice that shines on every song he sings (accompanied with melancholy on piano by Christopher Grim). Claverie can switch from funny to sad clown at the drop of a wig, and his singing just adds to the entertainment. The songs — “The Clowns Have All Come Home,” “Lois Lane,” “Clown Love” and “There’s No Heaven for Clowns” — were penned by Sweet Crude bandmates Jack Craft and Skyler Stroup, and when Claverie sings from his sad sack, you know he bears the weight of the world on his padded shoulders.

(Related: See Keith Claverie’s top 5 clowns.)

I’ve seen complaints elsewhere about the pitfalls of Yeargain’s staging up in the Ramp Room; the audience sits literally in the middle of the action, which swirls about the room and forces more than a fair share of neck-craning to keep up visually. On a packed night, it’s a challenge but well worth paying. Joan Long’s lighting and scenic designs gives a you-are-there feeling, and Lindy Burns’ costumes lend a distinct identity to each performer (especially those out-sized shoes).

There will be plenty of other opportunities to watch The NOLA Project showcase the best that it has to offer in new works, fun settings and sharp performances. But as more people are learning during this run, it’s never a good idea to miss it when the circus comes to town.

“Clown Bar,” which sold out its Tuesday (Nov. 3) show as it has done for most of its run, continues through the rest of the week with performances tied to the Faux/Real Fest: Wednesday (Nov. 4, 8 p.m.), Thursday and Friday (Nov. 5-6, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.), and on Sunday (Nov. 8, 8 p.m.). Click here for more details.

Historic New Orleans theaters come storming back post-Katrina. Now what? (Biz New Orleans)

Interior shot of the recently reopened Orpheum Theatre. (Photo by James Shaw)

Interior shot of the recently reopened Orpheum Theatre. (Photo by James Shaw)

New Orleans has a rich history of lovely theaters, many of which were laid low by the floodwaters following Hurricane Katrina. That’s why it was such a fun and challenging assignment to chart the post-Katrina renaissance of five of these theaters: the Civic, Saenger, Joy, Carver and, most recently, the Orpheum. This was for Biz New Orleans‘ November issue, which is out on the streets and available online here.

In “Encore Performance,” I try to place both the collective and individual resurgence of the theaters in an economic perspective, checking in with leading authorities in the New Orleans business community to try to figure out just how all of these theaters will continue to sustain themselves. Maybe it’s a matter of remaining viable in an increasingly competitive entertainment market, though just about everyone interviewed didn’t think their respective theater was in direct competition with another. More accurately, it seems, it will be about each theater establishing its own identity (or “brand,” if you will) and making smart bookings (and at the right price point) that speak to their particular audience.

I would say that three of the theaters profiled have a firm grasp on that identity: the grand daddy of them all, the Saenger, obviously is the go-to spot for touring Broadway shows, big-name music acts and other top-flight entertainers (with the occasional touring family-entertainment show); the Orpheum is the beloved home to the LPO and prestige touring acts that have marquee value but not big enough for the Saenger; and the Civic, which has become an indie-rock haven while also welcoming such quirky acts as the legendary John Waters and the nerdie podcast show, “Welcome to Night Vale.”

If you can’t tell, I remain a bit skeptical of the Joy Theater, which has occasional great bookings for music and comedy and cabaret (hello, Alan Cumming!), but needs more consistency; and the Carver, which, at press time, appeared to be undergoing yet another management change. Stay tuned on that.

There are other factors, as well, most notably a New Orleans economy that appears to be entering the next chapter of its post-Katrina recovery — one that won’t necessarily benefit from the kind of recovery, stimulus, tax incentive or other funding mechanisms that brought these theaters back to life. There’s the job market, and wages, and a housing market whose boom period might at some point head to a seemingly inevitable burst. (Doesn’t it always?) As Greater New Orleans, Inc.’s Michael Hecht put it:

“These venues, which not only are expensive to operate but also to maintain, will be the canaries in the coal mine for the health of the New Orleans economy,” Hecht says. “As we continue to add companies and great talent from around the country, we need to keep building a middle class that has more disposable income. If, in the post-Katrina environment, as the recovery money goes away that the economy flattens, these theaters are going to be one of the indications of that happening, because this is where that disposable income goes.”

I’ll have more stuff in upcoming issues of Biz New Orleans. So please stay tuned on that and other future work coming soon. In the meantime, enjoy the piece.

That said, which theater’s future concerns you the most? Which one do you worry might not make the cut? Take the poll below.

For ‘Clown Bar,’ Keith Claverie describes the ‘makeup’ of his top 5 clown characters

Full disclosure: I got my ass kicked by a gang of mean clowns on Lower Decatur Street. I had it coming; I’d asked Richard A. Pomes of The NOLA Project if I could come down and watch the extremely talented Mason Wood produce the trailer for the theatrical troupe’s latest offering, Adam Szymkowicz’s “Clown Bar,” a bizarro comedy with more than a passing reference to “Goodfellas.” The comedy opens Wednesday (Oct. 21) at the Little Gem Saloon, and for the trailer, Wood, Pomes and a whole mess of clowns filmed the trailer inside and near Molly’s at the Market. Pomes asked me if I’d like to be in it, taking a pie in the face from a clown, but instead logistics dictated I get assaulted on the sidewalk by this roving band of clowns.

Call it immersion journalism. But also call it yet another clever approach to theater from The NOLA Project, which constantly keeps audiences guessing what and where will come next. In Szymkowicz’s story, a clown turned detective must revisit his roots to investigate the murder of his brother. And that allows the audience to explore the darker nature of clowns, which long has transcended the Big Top and into popular culture. It seems like we talk about how much we fear clowns as much as we do laugh at them. (Sometimes both.)

So I asked NOLA Project regular Keith Claverie to serve up his top five favorite clowns through the years, and here’s what he came up with. (P.S. Click here for show details.)

Paul Beaumont, “He Who Gets Slapped” — “In preparation for ‘Clown Bar,’ I tried to study up on clowning and clowns, in general. Who better to research than the man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney? I caught Chaney’s silent classic ‘He Who Gets Slapped’ on TCM and was blown away. What Chaney was able to do, the emotions he was able to convey, with just a frown or — even sadder in several instances — a smile, is incredible. He is not your ordinary clown, but rather a brilliant scientist who’s life (and wife) is stolen from him so he becomes a sad clown that gets slapped to make people laugh. No spoiler alerts here, but it doesn’t end well for ‘He’ … or anyone else, really.”

Krusty the Clown, “The Simpsons” — “I’m not quite as big of a Simpsons fan as Artistic Director A.J. Allegra (or my wife/’Clown Bar’ makeup designer Leslie Claverie), but I’ve watched enough to know Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski, aka Krusty, is a gem. He’s dirty, dark, twisted, not what you’re expecting — everything you love about ‘The Simpsons.’ He’s a clown, sure, but he’s a bit off. Similar to the patrons of our ‘Clown Bar’ (shameless plug). Plus, that Krusty laugh — it’s just the best!.

Homey D. Clown, “In Living Color” — “Sticking with the ‘clowns that area bit off’ theme, we have Homey D. Clown — an ex-con who works as a clown as part of his parole. As if the premise wasn’t funny enough, Damon Wayans crushed it as an angry Bozo-lookalike who habitually smacked children with a sock, spoke out against ‘The Man’ and uttered his now-famous catchphrase “Homey don’t play that!” Homey’s attitude and his insistence on not doing standard clown gags is what made him so hilarious. Well, that and the sound the sock made when it hit people. Dude was popular, too — there were Homey action figures, balloons and even a video game!”

Twisty, “American Horror Story: Freak Show” — With the lack of Pennywise on this list, you can probably tell the ‘scary’ clown is not my preferred clown of choice. But I make an exception for Twisty. This burly bastard was truly terrifying on ‘American Horror Story’s’ fourth season (‘Freak Show’). He stalked … everyone for seemingly no reason. And finding out ‘what is behind the mask’ was one of the greatest storylines of the season. Once the mask came off, it was pretty gross — and, unfortunately, not nearly as scary anymore. Don’t tell Twisty I said that!”

Pagliacco — “The OSC (Original Sad Clown)! Pagliaccio (real name Canio) is the tragic character of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera ‘Pagliacci.’ And, man, is he tragic. While playing a Commedia character whose lady steps out on him in a play within the opera, Canio’s lady actually steps out on him. In the most iconic scene, Canio loses it while preparing for a performance singing ‘Vesti la giubba’ (‘Put on the costume’). I had heard the tune before, but when I saw the New Orleans Opera production in 2012 at the Mahalia Jackson Theater (featuring my sister, Kathryn Matherne!), I was blown away. I’ll never forget it. Plus, it’s like the shortest opera ever … soooo, bonus!”


BONUS: “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” — “These dudes (read: aliens in the form of clowns) are just ridiculous. Not especially scary – except for the whole cotton-candy cocoon thing – but definitely silly. The rock anthem that plays as they prepare to terrorize the town is forever ingrained in my brain.”