The Big Bad Armo Show: Delighting Audiences One Epic Character at a Time
As anyone who has gone through it can attest to, the Armenian experience is the perfect recipe for comedy, from the stylings of middle-aged women equipped with an arsenal of jewelry, evil eyes and comebacks for any situation, to the stereotypical expectations of doctorate degrees, marriage and an army of babies that will grow up to repeat the same process imposed on Armenian youth from adolescence, and all the quirkiness in between. But add on a layer of life in the Diaspora communities of America, and you’ve reached an entirely new level of entertainment.
Thankfully, The Big Bad Armo Show is around to bring insight into this crazy multidimensional Armenian-American world and let Armenians know that it’s ok to laugh at their own outrageous behavior once in a while.
Created by Lory Tatoulian during her time working as a journalist for the Armenian Reporter, the two-hour variety show — like an Armenian Saturday Night Live, is on its third production, featuring the playwright herself, and a charming ensemble of passionate actors, including Helen Kalognomos, Ludwig Manukian, Alex Kalognomos, Drew Droege, James Martin, Raffi Rupchian, and Robert Shampain. It recently lived up to its tagline of “Bigger and Badder Than Ever,” with sold-out shows that had audiences roaring with laughter at a warehouse close to the famous setting known practically all over the world in Armenian circles that was used for most of the skits: Glendale. And while many of the characters in Tatoulian’s show can be found on any given day in the Jewel City, the show does a respectable job of introducing instantly recognizable Armenian personalities from beyond Brand Boulevard, including the show’s openers — Marty and Vardy, an elderly, assimilated, third-generation Armenian couple who love their Armenian heritage cruises and ironically sing about the Armenian tendency to resist becoming part of the Melting Pot that is America. Then there’s the follically blessed, leather jacket-clad, rico suave from Fresno, who tries to woo a date with a ticking biological clock at Carousel Restaurant, the classiest Lebanese-inspired Armenian eatery, complete with belly dancing and all the mezzes you can eat this side of the Mississippi.
But, given that Los Angeles has the largest population of Armenians from every other diaspora community in the world, the most comical characters, like Tatoulian’s classic Dandeegeen, who has been the heart of the Big Bad Armo Show since its inception, and Sossi Hayrabedian, the one-woman leopard print-loving tornado straight out of the mean manicured streets of Pasadena who wants to be the city’s mayor, receive the most laughs.
Tatoulian’s execution of Hayrabedian, complete with a cigarette-tainted voice and highlighted hair that sits on her head as if she’s inserted her finger into an electric socket, is brilliant and spot on, reminding you that somewhere, at some point during your lifetime, you too have met a real-life Sossi Hayrabedian. Her catch phrase, “We can do it, mayreh taghem,” literally translating to “I’ll bury your mother,” and the desire to teach today’s youth real-life skills, including the art of being a barber, jeweler and, naturally, tavli player, had the audience in tears. If the Dandeegeen ever needs to retire, Sossi Hayrabedian, in all her elegant glory, should be the one taking her place.
The beauty of The Big Bad Armo Show is that it leaves no stone unturned where comedy is concerned in the Armenian community — not only parodying Armenians with roots in Beirut, Yerevan and Tehran, but poking light-hearted fun at old and young alike —from the antics of the elders at the all-Armenian assisted-living facility, Ararat Home, to a new generation of Armenians, whose be-all and end-all goal of marriage and procreation is played out in a segment called “Mating in the Wild,” a hilarious display of the intricacies of finding (and fighting for) a mate while mingling one night at an AGBU Young Professionals event, for example.
The skit, presented like a Discovery channel series documentary on animal behavior with your quintessential Australian host played by Shampain who has worked with Tim Robbins’ The Actor’s Gang theatre and appeared on CSI: Miami, features a group of scantily clad women and their pointy shoe-wearing, cologne-engulfed male counterparts vying for each other’s affection while the men confront the one wearing the pointiest shoe of them all: the Armenian alpha-male. And so, a steady fight of “Bro” smack talking erupts on stage, followed by a comparison of stock portfolios and chest puffing, until the alpha-male wins the battle, choosing his lucky wife to be, but not without the approval of his mother.
Another standout portion comes in the form of a driving class taught by a Glendale police officer portrayed by James Martin. Martin, who shines pretty brightly throughout the show, acts like a frustrated member of law enforcement, trying to teach a group of Armenian youths not to text while driving, not to speed or stop in the middle of the street to talk to friends in the adjacent lane — annoyances that spill over into him chiding the students for turning Vons into Jons, an Armenian-owned chain of grocery stores, and stinking up the streets of Glendale with the smell of kebab.
In its 2-hour slot accompanied by a talented group of young musicians, The Big Bad Armo Show is the kind of comedy you want to invite your non-Armenian friends to — if only they could understand more Armenian.
Tatoulian’s brainchild has filled the gap in comedy long absent within Armenian culture and executed it with precision and professionalism, providing a unique look into a culture where the funny flows as fruitfully as the sourj and chai. With its potential to break out of the Armenian bubble and increasingly attract more diverse audiences, The Big Bad Armo Show deserves all the support it can get.
The Big Bad Armo Show: World Domination took place on March 18, 19, 20, 25, 27 and April 1, 2, 3 ath 3229 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, California.