From Cabaret to Standup with Comedian Rachelle Elie

Rachelle Elie Rachelle Elie

With Off JFL/Zoofest starting today, we wanted to talk to a woman who appears in multiple domains at the fest, Rachelle Elie. The Canadian comedian has participated in the Montreal Clown festival and has appeared as part of the Montreal fringe Festival. Now, she’s heading to town to bring her stand-up show Lady Rash to the Zoofest free stage, as well as her multi-artist cabaret show as part of the Off JFL/Zoofest.

According to Elie, she began her career wanting to be a “serious actress” with a BA in drama and an acting degree from Studio 58 Theatre School in Vancouver. After taking a clown course with Gina Bastone and participating in Bastone’s CBC Gala at the Edmonton Works Street Festival, her direction shifted.

“It became really clear to me that was something that was very natural to me and I saw opportunities came much easier for me as a comedian. I got hooked on stand up comedy in the ’90s and had many wonderful opportunities early on,” she says. From there, she began to shift again and by 2000, she was writing, directing, and producing her own shows, including six one-woman character/clown shows.

It was this year, though, that Elie managed to do what she dreamed of. “This year I was in the Ottawa Fringe and wrote and starred in my one woman stand up comedy hour and that is what I will be doing July 20th at the Zoofest Outdoor stage,” she says. “It took me 20 years to find my own voice!”

“To create an amazing one woman show I found I almost needed to do it 100 times to even feel like I have figured it out,” she says.

The one-woman show, Lady Rash, has Elie as herself, not necessarily one of her characters. She explains that the name comes from a nickname she got as a kid. “My dad was from Haiti and with his thick Haitian accent my name sounded like RAsh-elle so now everyone who loves me calls me Rash,” she explains. The show’s focus is how she wanted to be a serious actress or a pop diva, like Lady Gaga, and accepting that she is not Lady Gaga. She says it is “the most me I have ever been on stage.”

I ask how she crafts her comedy. Elie notes that the process has changed over the years and the writing for a stand up show is different from a character based show. “My material used to come got the character’s point of view, but now I am the character, so it is my point of view,” she says. She says the process took time, “But once I found it it became easier to write and know what to write about.” 

In addition to the one woman show, Elie is also bringing her cabaret of artists. Her cabaret events are generally one nights and, in her own words, “[A]re very much about bringing a variety of artists together in an evening of fun and celebration.”

Elie says she loves variety and creating a variety show allows everyone to go home with different favourites. “Cabaret is appealing to most audiences because there is something for everyone,” she says. “I think it’s wonderful to have a variety because it pushes people out of their comfort level. I love pushing boundaries and surprising people and my cabarets always do that. I’ll never forget a guy who was very hesitant about seeing burlesque and when he finally saw a burlesque dancer and witnessed her final move he nudged his buddy and said ‘Now that takes talent.’ I love that! To change someone’s mind about something is powerful.” Other benefits she notes are that the  artists working on different art forms get to work and be inspired by other artists.

“I do it because it inspires me,” she says. “Also as I get to look good. I am at my best hosting and when things go wrong I am very good playing in the recovery. That is when I shine.”

Elie is a natural host because not only does she host her Rag Bag Cabarets, but she also has been performing at least 3-6 nights a week in a variety of different shows. “I am constantly exposed to new talent,” she says, and it is from this pool that she finds her cabaret acts. In coming to Montreal, since this is her first cabaret here, she got to “just pick favourites.”

No surprise, but Elie is thrilled to be part of Off JFL and Zoofest. “I have been attending it for years and envisioned myself as a participant so this year my dream is coming true!”

You can catch Rachelle Elie doing stand-up on July 20 at the Scene Bell Zoofest Outdoor stage at 9 p.m. Info HERE. Her Rag Bag Cabaret is on July 18 at the Mainline Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets HERE. OFF JFL and Zoofest start July 11 and continue in Montreal until July 27. Information HERE.

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