“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM), Ep. 7: Boyfriend, Michael Tisserand, OperaCreole and Virginia’s Harem

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Over the past few weeks as we’ve gotten “PopSmart NOLA” off the ground, we’ve focused almost every show on a certain topic, whether it’s challenges facing the transgender community, life for artists and the Affordable Care Act, or how the creative community deals with sexual harassment and assault. But as the holidays approach, we took a little break and had a little fun. On Saturday’s show we welcomed:

  • Boyfriend, the rap-cabaret artist who needs to hustle over to St. Claude Avenue herself for her “Bounce Around the Block” appearance at the AllWays Lounge.
  • Writer Michael Tisserand, author of “Krazy: George Herrimen, A Life in Black and White”
  • Givonna Joseph and Aria Mason of OperaCreole, the amazing opera troupe — dedicated to researching and performing lost or rarely performed music, and sharing with the community the contributions of our people to this musical art form, in New Orleans, and around the world.
  • The all-female comedy troupe Virginia’s Harem, which performs Dec. 17 at The New Movement on St. Claude Avenue


I was really excited to start off the show by welcoming Michael Tisserand, who’s been writing about New Orleans and Louisiana culture for some 25 years now, including a stint as the editor for Gambit Weekly (where I served under him as A&E Editor from 1998-2005). He literally wrote the book on one of America’s original music forms with “The Kingdom of Zydeco” and wrote the Katrina memoir, “Sugarcane Academy.” Now, after years in the woodshed, he’s come out with another definitive work, “Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White,” which captures the influence and complexities of the Krazy Kat cartoonist and New Orleans native.

We had Michael place Herriman’s life in perspective — especially as a New Orleans native who left the city as a young age, and his place in America’s pop-culture landscape in maybe the same way we think of such icons as Louis Armstrong.

Check out his reading from the book, as well. (I ran an excerpt from the book earlier this week.)


We were really thrilled to welcome Boyfriend, whose rap cabaret features some fascinating influences — from her time behind the desk and on the stage at Rick’s Cabaret as well as burlesque performances with troupes such as Trixie Minx’s Fleur de Tease, but also rap music that eventually saw her open for New Orleans’ own Big Freedia.

One of the many cool things we discussed was the nature of art and identity and the ongoing debate about burlesque (and stripping) as empowerment.

And, how so much of her work is infused with wit.


As noted in their biography, “Opera and classical music in New Orleans and around the world have always included the contributions of persons of color. Since the 19th Century, Creoles of New Orleans have made contributions to the music and culture of New Orleans. It is their participation in opera, as well as the music of Africa, Spain, and Haiti that contributed to the birth of jazz. OperaCreole is a non-profit company that’s dedicated to researching and performing lost or rarely performed music, and sharing with the community the contributions of our people to this musical art form, in New Orleans, and around the world.”

We were honored to welcome the dynamic mother-daughter duo of Givonna Joseph and Aria Mason to discuss how their work makes them something akin to culture detectives, given how much African-American culture has been lost over the years.

I also asked Givonna if there was a particular obscure work they found that they’re hoping to present soon, and loved her answer. (Hint: May!) 


Our final guests were from the all-female sketch group, Virginia’s Harem, which was formed in early 2015 and is comprised of Erica Goostrey, Alicia Hawkes, Kirsten Macaulay, Lianna Patch, Maggie Ritchie, and Emily Slazer. They met through taking classes at The New Movement-New Orleans, and that is their home base. Their shows are a blend of high-energy sketch comedy and short, low tech videos. Their aesthetic is accidentally 1090s-ish as it is shaped by their lack of technological expertise and an exuberant lack of concern about that lack of expertise. Their collective group personality is kind of like a weird, drunk aunt or Miss Havisham on one of her good days.

We asked the performers present — Erica Goostrey, Alicia Hawkes, Lianna Patch and Emily Slazer — to discuss their upcoming performance on Saturday, Dec. 17, at The New Movement for a “post-apocalyptic holiday romp.” Set in the very near future, “Season’s Greetings From the Bunker” is the holiday special no one asked for but everyone is living: manic, terrifying, and distinctly Trump-laced. Eggnog. Christmas carols. Nuclear fallout. Billy Joel. Santa Claus. Fascism. All of the holiday hits you know and love. Check out their Facebook event page for more info.

If you like what you’re hearing on this, the radio show version of “PopSmart NOLA” you can “like” us on Facebook. We’re also on Instagram at @popsmartnola, and I’m on Twitter as @dlsnola504.

Please join us next week for another edition of “PopSmart NOLA” — our special super-sized holiday edition, with special guest co-host and DJ Alex Rawls of My Spilt Milk and an appearance by the one and only Debbie Davis with “Oh Crap, it’s Christmas!” It’s all on WHIV (102.3 FM) — radio dedicated to human rights and social justice. END ALL WARS. You can also listen online at whivfm.org.

Thanks again for listening to “PopSmart NOLA,” and please remember to keep the intelligent conversation going.


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


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.”


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.