Benefit shows can be slogs. But All for Armenia, a comedy show on Friday, Nov. 3rd at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater, was anything but. It managed to raise money for a vital cause while also being very, very funny.
The show was hosted by comedian and master impressionist James Adomian, who along with producers Sam Varela of Naked Comedy, Chris Tcholakian of the Everything Now Show and stand-up Armond Gorjian, put together a stellar lineup of comics and character performers, jammed into two hours.
All proceeds for the show went to All for Armenia, a nonprofit that provides humanitarian aid to the estimated 100,000 Armenians displaced from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, also known as Artsakh, after being pushed out by neighboring Azerbaijan. All told, the show raised over $1,700.
Adomian kicked off his hosting duties with a short set that included his best-in-the-biz Bernie Sanders impression and musings about his (one-quarter) Armenian-ness.
There wasn’t a dud in the program that followed, with stand-ups Aparna Nancherla, Nate Craig, Chris Estrada, Alice Wetterlund, River Butcher and character performer Alyssa Limperis all bringing their A-game, with punchy sets that delivered the goods.
The charming comic Mary Basmadjian gave us a gut-busting look into the trials of dating as an Armenian woman. Guy Branum didn’t shy away from the topic at hand in a brilliantly dark set that tackled, among other things, the popularity of genocide.
Actor and LA radio legend Phil Hendrie also performed in character, and in a moment of nostalgia for the LA talk radio faithful, gave us a spot-on Tom Leykis impression. Leykis, the shock jock from the 90s and aughts, infamously tweeted, “Angelenos don’t give a SHIT about Armenia” — a sentiment quickly debunked if you talk to anyone from LA.
Lory Tatoulian was a showstopper, reprising her character Sossi Hayrabedian, a Ross Dress for Less-clad Armenian running for president, who harangued the crowd and left us in tears. And Reggie Watts closed out the night with his signature bizarre observational stylings.
We talked with Adomian afterwards about what it meant to produce a show benefitting the Armenian cause.
“We’re seeing all this bad news in the last two months, and in the last three years, from Armenia and Artsakh — the ethnic cleansing that happened, the massacres, the torture, at the hands of Azerbaijan,” Adomian told us. “And people don’t know what to do besides retweet something or like an Instagram post. So it was really nice to give people a chance to help directly with the refugees from Artsakh.”
It’s been a grim few years for the Armenian community globally and locally — LA County is home to the largest concentration of Armenians outside of Armenia.
Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of disputed territorial claim, has been de-facto governed by ethnic Armenians as the independent Republic of Artsakh following a 1994 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenians have been living there thousands of years and made up a large majority of its population.
In 2020, the neighboring oil-rich and authoritarian Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, launched an offensive that took effective control of the region. In the ensuing years, they blockaded the region and terrorized Armenians living there with documented accounts of torture.
Then in September of this year, Azerbaijan fully invaded Artsakh and ethnically cleansed it of its Armenian population, forcing an estimated 100,000 its Armenians to flee to Armenia — a massive number considering Armenia has a population under 3 million — resulting in a humanitarian crisis.
The events are a stark parallel to the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by Turkey, which started in 1915 and resulted in the killing of over 1 million Armenians, primarily through death marches. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan deny the Armenian Genocide.
But you’d be loath to find any of this in newspaper headlines or on cable. With wars in Ukraine, Africa, and now, the Middle East, there has been little to no coverage of Armenia’s turmoil in our media.
“There’s next to zero news coverage outside of like KTLA locally,” Adomian explains. “The State Department has a shameful policy of just playing both sides. And so the Armenians have been very depressed worldwide, feeling like there’s no support from any quarter — ganged up on by Turkey and Azerbaijan and Russia together, and the United States and Canada doing nothing.”
“But then you realize on the street, among the real people, wherever there are, people love them and like them and want to support them. So we don’t have a lot of support at the highest levels of media, state departments and other foreign ministries and other countries, but we do have a lot of support with real people.”
Adomian thanked the UCB Theatre where he has performed since it opened in 2005. “When the ethnic cleansing started, they were very, very accommodating, and then the conversation started immediately about doing a fundraiser there.”
For a benefit with such a bleak backdrop, it felt good to laugh. And it definitely helped that the show was stacked with comedians who can do what comedians do best — make light in darkness.
“It was a little bit emotional for me because it was the first time I got to see firsthand — not just on the internet, but in person — people come out who weren’t Armenian to support the Armenians in a time of great tragedy and crisis,” Adomian reflected. “And I was kind of amazed that nobody was afraid to laugh and have a good time. It was a fun night.”
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