COMEDIAN VAHE BERBERIAN IN LONDON
“A joke is truth wrapped in a smile”, Sigmund Freud
The much loved Armenian artist, writer and comedian Vahe Berberian from Los Angeles appeared in London on the 22nd of October 2014 with his stand-up Comedy Show named “Sagain” at Navasardian Hall in West London. Tickets were sold out months before the event, and I was there to find out why…
Review by Hasmik Harutunyan, London.
Forgive me for ignorance, as I had not yet seen the well-known Armenian comedian Berberian on stage until the end of October 2014. When his much-advertised One-Man Show Sagain (However) arrived to London, I felt an internal urge to give it a try. I found myself in Navasardian hall, packed with at least three generations of Armenians: from students in their late teens to grannies and grandfathers in their eighties, a divergent and contrasting crowd to please. How was Vahe Berberian going to keep everyone happy here? The middle aged lady sitting next to me was from Cyprus, and she explained she had seen the show Sagain a week age in Nicosia, and now visiting her grown-up children in London, she had come to see the Show again. Well, I thought to myself, this could be either a pretty spectacular performance or one of those disastrously humdrum acts that unfortunately too often become popular (no names mentioned).
Vahe Berberian arrived on stage distinctively late, maybe to confirm his celebrity status, or perhaps he was genuinely stuck in London traffic, or at dinner table with Armenian hosts, who knows. Rushing the stage with his eccentric appearance reminding of his hippy days, with long silver hair in plats, part of his brand image, with a winning smile, he dived straight into his one and half hour monologue. It did not take him long to win over the minds and hearts of his very patient audience, including my sceptical self.
Vahe Berberian’s sketches were based on political, personal and existentialist issues that concern himself, Armenians and humans at large. Like his long plats, his stories effortlessly joined together and followed one another: from US politics to the Western craze for labelling behaviour problems, from God to the Bible, from masochistic love of tragedy to obsession with food.
“If God had sent his son Jesus to Armenia instead of sending him to Israel, he would have died at the age of 62 of cholesterol, and not at the age of 33, as he would have been eating “Last Supper” every single day of his life!”
During the entire evening, the audience did not stop laughing for a single minute at their own weaknesses, divisions and competitiveness. “When I was invited recently to New York, a couple picked me up from the airport to drive me to my hotel, and on the way showed me their Armenian church, then told me there was another larger Armenian church two blocks away, belonging to others. When I was flying back home, I still did not have a clue who they were, and who the others were, and for whom I had performed”.
Being a true professional of his craft, Berberian managed to please the viewers of all
ages and backgrounds by his restrained satire, not crossing the boundaries on sensitive topics such as religion, love, faith, Armenian language and human condition. As an avid reader and successful writer, Berberian showed his literary preferences by quoting Russian poet Osip Mandelshtam after his long journey to Armenia: “I have developed the sixth sense, the love of the mountain Ararat”. Like the Russian poet (who died tragically in Gulag in late 1930s), according to Vahe, Armenians everywhere in the world have fixation on Ararat, as it has become incomprehensible part of the Armenian spirit.
In every great joke, there is a grain of truth, and hopefully following this Show, audience would be reflecting on Vahe Berberian’s message to fellow Armenians: who cares which church or organisation you belong to, at the end of the day, once we take away Arabic, English, French, Russian and American cultures, we all have identical Armenian characteristics. The audience laughed and accepted temporarily the absurdity of our taboos, divisions and individual interests. Through his infectious sense of humour, winning personality and razor-sharp satire Vahe Berberian held the mirror to reflect not the handsome face of the ancient Armenian civilisation but the ugly face of our past and present failures. Quixotically, comedy acts like this, will transform us, individually and collectively.
As the Chinese philosopher Laozi has said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, everyone has to start somewhere, I guess. Personally, I have already detected metamorphosis in my own behaviour: every time I realize I am speaking to my UK born half Armenian kids in English language, I pinch myself and immediately switch to Armenian, regardless whether I am in a public place or in my own home. Thanks, Mr. Vahe Berberian, for reminding me!
While the curtain falls on his sold-out tour with “Sagain” from USA to Armenia, from Iran to South America, from Middle East to Australia and Western Europe, I will be waiting fervently for Vahe Berberian’s subsequent shows to come.
By Hasmik Harutunyan
24 October 2014