Brownstein: Franco audiences lapping up local anglo comedy at Le Bordel

“I really wanted to throw a wrench into that old misconception that the two solitudes don’t get along,” comedian Pantelis says.

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The hottest anglo comedy event on Tuesday nights in Montreal takes place at the biggest franco comedy club in town, Le Bordel on Ontario St. E. And here’s the kicker: the vast majority of patrons taking in the frivolity are francos. 

Who could have possibly seen this happening? 

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Pantelis, for one. The one-named Greek wit is host and organizer of this weekly spectacle. Pantelis performs both in French and English — and, given an opportunity, in Greek, too. 

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This weekly comedy congregation, appropriately called Tuesday Nights With Pantelis, has been packing in crowds for more than a year. And as much as francos are lapping it all up, appreciative anglo standups are lining up to perform there. 

Ben voyons donc. What gives here? 

“I really wanted to throw a wrench into that old misconception that the two solitudes don’t get along,” says Pantelis, holding court in Le Bordel with the club’s co-owner Mike Ward. “Franco comedy fans have been coming out in droves to support anglo comics here. It’s wild. 

“They’ve been falling for up-and-comers like Harrison Weinreb and George Assily. When I brought Joey Elias the first time to close one of the nights, or David Pryde, the audiences were freaking out, asking: ‘Who are these people? How come we don’t know them?’ These comics are getting respect from all over the city that they weren’t getting before and that they so deserve.”    

This Tuesday’s lineup at Le Bordel includes Elias, the king of the anglo comedy scene, doing an hour-long set, as well as other acts including the fast-rising Wassim El-Mounzer, plus Assily, Chris Ramsay and Ward, who is equally adept in either language. 

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“I am very excited,” Elias says. “It’s not every day you get to do an hour, especially in your hometown. And at a franco club. That’s just so amazing. 

“I really love Le Bordel. I’ve played the room quite a few times on Tuesday nights, and the vibe in it is just so good. What’s really special to me here is that the people who come out to catch me are mostly francophones. It’s a beautiful thing.” 

Elias points out that while there is so much talk about linguistic division in this province, it doesn’t seem to apply in his world. 

“Most comedians I know, franco or anglo, don’t focus on what divides us. The language we speak is funny, regardless of the language in which the laughs are delivered. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t need a good laugh these days. The audiences we draw at Le Bordel seem to be in complete agreement.” 

Ward attributes the impact of YouTube and streaming services like Netflix in turning on franco audiences to anglo fare. 

“I think that has played a big role here,” says Ward, who begins a mega franco tour of the province in January, including an extended stint at Club Soda. “The reality now is that French people in Montreal appear to be quite bilingual, as is the case with anglos. When I first moved here from Quebec City, I felt it was more a case of French people only speaking French and English people only speaking English. But that really seems to have changed now, and it shows at our club.” 

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Pantelis takes it one step further. 

“Our provincial government is trying to tell us that the big issue here is language,” he says. “That’s not it: it’s really government incompetence. Mike is trying to build this bridge between anglos and francos, and is proving it here with francos coming out to anglo shows and anglos coming out to franco shows. We get along much better than what some of our politicians may think. 

“In fact, what makes our audiences really laugh, whether delivered by French or English comics, are shots taken at our politicians,” Pantelis says. “There’s no judgment to the material the comics deliver — as long as it’s funny.” 

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Pantelis prides himself on performing in French as well as in English. 

“Mike forced me into it. I do my franco act in full French with my Greek accent, not a word in English. This is just another example of proving against the theory that francos won’t accept immigrants or anglos. I’m a Greek anglo guy who goes all over Quebec with my hour in French, and franco audiences couldn’t be nicer or more supportive,” says Pantelis, who also does an anglo podcast with Ward. 

Comics, regardless of language, marvel at Le Bordel. With its warm brick walls and the intimacy it generates, it is a classic standup venue. 

“It’s so cool here,” Elias says. “Hell, its green room alone is like a four-room apartment most of us comics would love to live in. But the best part is I’m meeting franco comics I never would have met otherwise, because we get to share the green room. Then I catch their shows and am blown away, as they appear to be with our shows.” 

Ward has a new mission now: “Our challenge is to get more anglo audiences coming out to show some love for anglo comics.” 

AT A GLANCE 

Tuesday Nights With Pantelis starts at 7 p.m. at Le Bordel, 312 Ontario St. E. Joey Elias headlines this Tuesday. Also performing are Wassim El-Mounzer, George Assily, Chris Ramsay and Mike Ward. Information: lebordel.ca or 514-845-4316. 

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