Review: C’est Moi, C’est Chocolat!

Andrew Searles

Passed by Theatre Sainte Catherine to catch the opening night of Andrew Searles‘ headline show C’est moi! C’est Chocolat! after a long and trying week at work; I was in need of some comic relief and Andrew certainly did not disappoint.

I’ve known Andrew at least since 2000 as we went to the same high school in Pierrefonds; if I recall correctly we became friends during the production of Riverdale High School’s rendition of West Side Story – I was a Jet and he was a Shark and I think we shared all of a dozen words of dialogue in the entire show.

Andrew was a naturally-gifted comic all those years ago, keeping us in stitches behind the scenes as we dealt with the overbearing drama queen extraordinaire who directed the show.

A few years later I found myself regularly attending open mic nights at diverse local comedy clubs as he was just breaking out onto the local scene. Andrew was also a regular at the insular country club in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue where we found ourselves attending CEGEP, opening for the many local comedians who would come perform at the Agora for all those students so eagerly skipping class.

It’s curious now looking back, John Abbott has always been a preferred local filming location as either a typical American high school or rural college setting – I wonder if the sight of all those trailers didn’t subconsciously encourage students there to perform – as a school it’s turned out a lot of local artistic talent. In any event, hard to believe that was all ten years ago.

Ten years of dedicated work has its payoffs – the show was sold out and packed with fans, not bad for a guy from Pierrefonds. Here’s a bit of Andrew performing in Ottawa a couple years back.

Opening acts included Guido Cocomello and Rodney Ramsay, with host Franco Taddeo. I had a bit of fun with the host when he asked if there were any Francophones in the room, to which I responded with a bien niaiseux Ouay! As he had immediately prior been ribbing some guy in the front row whose name was Martin (who I suppose had strong enough French Canadian features so as to compel the host to label him token Francophone in an otherwise culturally diverse though predominantly Anglophone audience), when he asked my name I responded with a properly regional pronunciation of Martin. Got a good laugh, but as always, you had to be there.

Politics, society, culture, race, religion – everything pertinent was discussed. It’s good fodder for comedians, as there’s just so much absurdity, contradiction and idiocy to report on. Sometimes I feel the service best rendered by comedians is to simply report all the crazy, ridiculous shit we deal with on a daily basis. All four comedians did just that, rather expertly too, last night.

Theatre Sainte Catherine is located just west of Saint-Denis along one of several stretches of Sainte Catherine’s Street where the various linear poles of attraction and gentrification have yet to meet and interface, and as such retains some of the character we once associated with The Main. Close as it is to Berri-UQAM, speaking openly in English, to my surprise, elicited the attention of those walking past – no words exchanged but glances nonetheless. That said, during intermission as I was enjoying a puff outside, the biggest, scariest looking bouncer I’ve ever seen walked right up to me and politely asked my for directions (in English) to a club just down the block. He was a close-talker with a Christian Bale-era Batman voice. He nodded casually at two prostitutes who walked by.

Earlier, as I exited the public-transit Ellis Island Métro hub up the block I remarked on the fascinating juxtaposition unfolding before me, of well-dressed red-squared UQAM students passing down the corridors lined with well-appointed shop windows, buskers tuning acoustic guitars and a pants-less, underwear-less homeless man pulling his knees under an extra-wide shirt, babbling incoherently to himself.

It occurred to me – we haven’t lost our red light district at all – it just moved East. Our city’s two-fisted-rialto survives unscathed.

What can I say – it’s a good spot for a comedy show. I saw Sugar Sammy at Olympia a little while back in the same neck-of-the-woods (and on that note, Olympia is an excellent venue – highly recommended). An exciting part of town, but one where you keep your guard up. Not a place to stop and gawk.

The small venue was filled with transplanted suburbanites, friends and acquaintances from high school, now grown-up, modern Montrealers, mixed, mulatto, Métis – a racial, linguistic and cultural gray-scale of integration that permitted comedians who, despite vastly different backgrounds, could entertain an equally diverse audience with satire and parody that easily, deftly, transcended the barriers largely being erased within our own community. The Montreal brand of racial humour seems to have more to do with pointing out (even if obliquely) our similarities rather than differences, or at least reminding us of how differences are truly no more than skin deep, and that making a big deal about how different you are, why you and your people might deserve special treatment, simply isn’t cool.

As you might imagine, Pauline Marois was the public enemy number one of the night.

It quickly became apparent this theatre was filled with ardent federalists and committed Anglo-Québécois, a new generation that learned French and knows where their home is.

As host Franco Taddeo put it, “this show features two Blacks and two Italians, throw in a Jew and the OQLF would shut this down in a heartbeat.”

Though contemporary Québec politics and society were the favoured topics of the night, the show was ultimately wide-ranging, with reflections on the oddball demands of significant others, snotty children and their oblivious parents and why the Pope has the most boss funeral.

One of Andrew’s fortes as a comedian is spot-on impressions of the various peoples of the Caribbean (he himself is of joint Barbadian-Jamaican ancestry); his Caribbean Space Agency skit made my facial muscles hurt, his bit about how unintended sexual innuendo as a result of his mother’s broken English was one of the highlights of the night; quite nearly brought the house down.

Also of note Rodney Ramsay, another Riverdale alum, closed his opening set with a ditty where he read Craigslist casual encounters personals. Gut bustingly funny, though I really hope he was embellishing. Rodney also got on the anti-OQLF bandwagon with a series on ‘language cops’, which you can see here:

He’s also collaborated with local comic Mike Paterson on the Anglo video, which you can watch here:

All told – highly recommended, a lot of talent in a fascinating, exciting part of town. Shows tonight and tomorrow, see it if you can and buy tickets online as these shows are anticipated to sell out very quickly.

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