By Aram Arkun
Demq: Laugh and the World Laughs with You
LOS ANGELES — Armenians have many tragic episodes in their history. Much of their music seems sad, and for many, black seems to be the color of choice. Are Armenians melancholy by nature? The writers and actors of the Demq group in California are doing their best to disprove this. In the past few years they have presented at least one stage show annually. It is different in scale from most other Armenian comedic shows, as usually at least 2,000 people assemble in a big auditorium. This fall they are preparing to present a new show, Cirque Demq Soleil, while, quite recently, some of their sketches have gone viral on social media (e.g. www.facebook.com/demqshow
According to one of the founders of Demq, Gor Kirakosian, he and a group of his friends began their collaboration in 1998 in Los Angeles. They were a group of Armenian guys just out of high school, 17 to 19 years old, and liked to joke around and do funny things. Most were born in Armenia but had moved to the US in the 1990s with their families.
They had an opportunity to participate in the Ashoun Voski or Golden Autumn concert, which had many different singers and performers. They did some small gigs here and there, and then, in 2001, they prepared a television program called the “Demq Show” for New Year’s. It was a success, and aired primarily on California Armenian cable stations for three years. They did one episode of this comedy sketch show every two months. It got very popular and they began work at many Armenian concerts.
Kirakosian remarked, “It is a funny thing that not too many people know us. As we got older, we were not doing much on the Internet. Just now, we put a few sketches we thought were funny there, and we got a huge response. We were not expecting this. Our Uber video received over 600,000 views only in the first few days.”
In the Uber video, the actors contrast the American driver with the Armenian one, with hilarious results.
Over the years, the group of friends changed. Some wanted to do other things and left, while new ones took their place. Kirakosian said, “When we were young, we used to get together a lot. We would meet four or five nights a week to write and do shows, but now everybody has work, family and kids. So we meet two or three times a week to write. Because we are friends, we also see each other all the time socially, but Mondays and Wednesdays are the days we meet to write.”
The process, he said, is the same: “We get together and talk about things. All of us are very creative, so everybody sits down, gets a topic, and tries to write something on it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t but it is a lot of fun.”
After a series of stage shows between 2003 and 2009, the group took a break for some four years. Kirakosian was busy working on movies and many of the other members were doing their own work too. They restarted in 2013 and now are working on a new show for the fall. This necessitates intensive preparation, so the group meets almost every night.
The current members of the troupe are Gor Kirakosian, David Tovmasyan, Levon Ter-Petrossian (not the ex-president of Armenia), Artak Gasparyan, Armen Darbinyan, Arman “Antic’ Margaryan, Martin Kestenian, Hakop Petrosyan and Karpis Kasabyan. Gor’s father Karo Kirakosian is producer, while Vache Ter-Yeghishyan is musical director.
As Armenians who came from the Republic of Armenia, they perform in Eastern Armenian, but because they grew up in the Armenian community they speak more as Glendale Armenians do, and slip in English words here and there. People who live in the US would understand some of the references better than those in Yerevan.
They have friends who are Persian Armenian, Lebanese Armenian and practically all other types of Armenians, so they have sketches in which they play each of these different types. They have collaborated with other Armenian comedians, like Vahik Pirhamzei (“Rafayel Keri”) or the Vitamin Club, in past shows.
Though many of the Demq actors work in different fields to make a living, Kirakosian went to film school and is able to specialize in writing and directing comedy movies. Most of his films concern Armenians. He is best known for “Lost and Found in Armenia” (2012), “Big Story in a Small City” (2006), “The Knight’s Move” (2013) and “Bilet na Vegas” (2013). Some of the Demq members have been in his movies.
Kirakosian said, “The sad thing is Armenian films do not have enough of an audience to make big budget movies financially feasible.” Therefore, most Armenian movies are made with small budgets. For this reason, Kirakosian and other Armenians who want to do larger scale projects have to look outside the Armenian realm eventually.
Another problem is that Armenians seem to prefer to watch only a limited number of genres. Kirakosian said, “There is no Armenian horror movie. They do not take this seriously. And Armenians do not have superheroes.” Similarly, Armenian language television is very limited, often with poor acting, lighting and editing. He said that this was wrong because it wastes an opportunity to educate teenagers and others who watch these shows.
However, he said, “I am not giving up, because it is what I love to do. My work and hobby are mixed together.” Among his plans are creating a movie based on fairy tales for Armenian children. This has never been attempted, even in Soviet times. He is also working on a movie script with the Demq group.
When asked what Armenian humor is, Kirakosian replied, “I think Armenians have a very good sense of humor. It is very strong. I have seen the humor of different types of cultures, but Armenian humor is unique. …When we get together, everyone is always happy. Everybody tells a funny joke. I don’t see that always with Americans in general. Even when there is a funeral, and most Armenians arrive very sad, the men go outside, start to smoke, and someone tells a joke. Armenians can take even horrible stories and make jokes or humor out of them so that it is not just sadness.”
Kirakosian concluded that Armenians both know how to party and how to think seriously. He said, “I don’t think we have a middle ground though. We are always at extremes.”
Demq’s next show, Cirque Demq Soleil, will be on September 18 at 7:30 pm at Pasadena City College. For tickets visit ticketmicket.com.