It’s the King and Queen of Best of MTL

We spoke to Julie Paquet and Michael McCarthy, the two Montrealers who collectively earned the most votes in this year’s Best of MTL readers poll.

Julie Paquet and Michael McCarthy. Photo by Tristan Ginger

There is no question that two people owned this year’s Best of MTL readers poll.

If you take into account the individual categories that they placed in, the ones related to nights or events that they run in the city and those associated to their workplace, Notre Dame des Quilles, Julie Paquet and Michael McCarthy placed in 20 separate categories in this year’s poll.

Cult MTL readers voted McCarthy as the #2 Best Bartender and Paquet as Most Desirable Woman #5, Best Dressed Montrealer #2, Best Waitress #1 and Best Drag Queen/King #3.

Their vaudeville performance-based collective Glam Gam was voted #2 Freakiest Local Act, Best Theatre Company #2 and Best Dance Company/Choreography #2. Not to mention that the lovechild of their two favourite pastimes (karaoke and getting naked), Bareoke, ranked as Best Pick-up Spot #2 and Best Club Night #2.

And continuing to be a Montreal favourite, Notre Dame des Quilles nabbed Best Bar #1, Best 5 à 7 #1, Best Pick-up Spot #5, Best Gay Bar #2, Best Lesbian Bar #2, Best Pub Grub #1, Best Cheap Eats #4, Best Late Night Eats #4, Best Hot Dogs #4 and Best Sandwich #5.

I had a chat with McCarthy and Paquet last week about their friendship, the many events that they run in the city and what we can expect from them in the future.

Bareoke. Photo by Tristan Ginger
Bareoke. Photo by Tristan Ginger

Kayla Marie Hillier: How did you meet?
Julie Paquet: We’d see each other at parties and when we’d go out. We were part of a lot of the same circles. We knew each other’s names and we’d always say, “Hey, how’s it going?” I think I was sort of intimidated by him. I think I thought he was too cool for school or something. So I’ve probably known Michael for about 10 years, just out and about. But then about five years ago, we connected at a Christmas party.
Michael McCarthy: Yeah, the one where we tore down the Christmas tree?
JP: Yeah we bonded over tearing down a Christmas tree. Then we just started having friend dates.

KMH: How did you start performing together?
JP: Michael was part of this burlesque show and it was the first time that he’d performed like that on stage and he took his clothes off and everything. And I went to see it and I just thought that it was so much fun. A few weeks later, he got an email from someone looking for performers. Michael and I were hanging out and I think we were taking a bubble bath and he said, “How would you like to perform/do a performance?” It was Michael, his best friend Sarah and me who decided to do something at this queer event called Up Yours which no longer exists. It was supposed to be a recreation of the bubble bath that we were having at his house. We had this pool that we were supposed to fill up with water — the venue had told us that we could but then when we got there they said we couldn’t do it. We took a dry bubble bath and said, “Well this sucks. But we like to perform. Why don’t we start up something of our own?” And we did. We called up a whole bunch of artist friends and threw together a show called Tits the Season and that was it. The rest was kind of…
MM: History.

The King & Queen. Photo by Steve Walls
The King & Queen. Photo by Steve Walls

KMH: Do either of you have a background in theatre?
MM: When I was in Newfoundland, I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to be a creative person but I was doing a chemistry major and taking all these math classes. Then I came here and I took theatre school at Dawson but I really didn’t like it. I just felt it was too Shakespeare heavy. We were doing sword fighting and this and that. I dropped out and I vowed never to do anything like that again. I don’t consider myself to be a good actor, so I was thinking, “I can’t, I can’t I can’t…” That’s when — Julie was just talking about that burlesque show — my friend asked me to perform and I was really adamant not to do it. But then when I got on the stage, I realized that with performing and burlesque you can be campy, you can do improv, you can be funny — and that’s what I enjoy doing. But yeah, that’s my background in it. I wasn’t in all these plays or anything. I like to go out to a party and have fun — I never really thought that this is what I’d be doing with my life, but I’m happy about it.
JP: I played an orange energy crystal in the Grade 3 play The Missing Magical Energy at the hippie elementary school I went to. And I dabbled in tap dancing for many years, but yeah, no I don’t really have a background. It’s just something that I was drawn to. We just kind of created our own brand of theatre.
MM: Our shows are often well received, but critics — well, one person said that Sir Laurence Olivier couldn’t save one of our plays. But we don’t proclaim to be something we’re not. The best realization for us is that you don’t have to be an actor, singer or a dancer to be a performer. A performer is a combination of stage presence, sense of humour, ability to captivate an audience —
KMH: Pretty much if the audience is enjoying themselves, you’ve succeeded.
MM: Exactly. Until the day people stop coming to our shows, we’ll keep doing it.

Photo by Guillaume Bell
Photo by Guillaume Bell

KMH: So did Glam Gam start with that first show Tits the Season?
JP: Yeah, that’s when Glam Gam was born. It was kind of something that kept growing and we have a very extended family just from people wanting to join in on the fun. It’s changed over time but we’ve stayed with kind of a core group of people — but we’re always excited to have new people and fresh performers.
MM: At other events that we do, like when we do the 24-hour shows — that are really fun — this is kind of how we meet new performers, with these open calls. The same with karaoke. These people are not really being auditioned but we do take note and say, “Oh wow, this person would be a great performer!”
JP: Yeah, Bareoke works as a great place to recruit performers for sure.

KMH: How did Lipster come into play?
JP: We just had our one-year anniversary at NDQ but Lipster has existed for quite a while. It was born around the same year that Glam Gam was. A karaoke host quit at this bar in the village, Woof Bar, back in the day. And they were like, “What are going to do now? We don’t have a host!” And I was always there because my friend worked there, and I said I’d host. And because I had a day job and I had a lot on my plate, I didn’t always want to host. So I asked Michael to join in and sometimes he would be my replacement host. So then we started doing it twice a week and then we’d co-host… We’ve done Lipster in three locations: Woof Bar, the Royal Phoenix and then we moved it to NDQ — so that’s its current home. Then, from Lipster was born Bareoke.
MM: Which is probably one of my favourite things that we do. We get to fulfill our need for performing, and whereas doing five big shows and performing is really stressful, this is low key, improv, not high expectations. And you can also let other people perform with you. It’s a fun event.

Photo by Guillaume Bell
Photo by Guillaume Bell

KMH: You both seem to have, for lack of better words, a very body positive image. Were you always super cozy with your bodies?
MM & JP: Oh God no. No. [Laughs]
KMH: I’m super surprised by that. I just figured you both came out of the womb loving what God gave ya.
JP: I wish it were that easy. I’ve had a life-long struggle with body issues. It’s just doing all these things has really helped me overcome a lot of those issues. It’s — how do I even explain it — it’s really powerful to take your clothes off in front of a group of people and have them cheer you on. Especially growing up as a fat girl and having these issues and taking dance classes as a young kid and having to get a bigger costume than the other girls. Thinking that there’s something wrong with my body my whole life and all of a sudden just realizing, “No. Everyone can be beautiful and sexy.” Owning that moment, becoming kind of a rockstar on the stage — it’s been transformative.
MM: For me it’s the same thing. Whenever I tell people I’m shy they’re like, “No! You can’t be shy!” But I’m actually super shy. When I was growing up, if I was going to the swimming pool, I would go into the bathroom stall to change and there was never pictures of me without any clothes off. Now, I forget sometimes that not everyone is comfortable with being naked. Like one time after a show I was completely naked and I went to hug somebody and they had to remind me I had no clothes on.
I’ve come to realize that there is no shame in being naked. The moments when people tell stories like, “And then my roommate walked in and I was naked! I was so embarrassed!” For me now, I can’t imagine feeling that way. I’m often more comfortable being naked than doing something else that someone would find totally normal like speaking in front of a crowd of people.
JP: And because Michael and I, not only do we work together and perform together, we live together — it just became very normal that we have a very naked household. It wouldn’t even be a second thought. But Michael’s younger brother moved in with us this year and all of a sudden I have to remember to come out with a bathrobe on…
MM: We’ve said this before, but it’s always the most rewarding thing when people come up to us after a show and say, “Thank you so much for being comfortable as a bigger sized person, or a hairy person, etc. and showing that anybody can be sexy.” When somebody says that to us we think, “Wow, our job is done.” ‘Cause that’s the most important thing — we want to make people laugh and entertain them — but we want to also challenge the notion that one certain thing is sexy.
JP: There are so many bodies that exist and people like to see their body type represented on stage. Then they can think, “Hey, they’re not that bad. They’re sexy. I must be sexy too.”

Photo by Jason Sellars
Photo by Jason Sellars

KMH: Can you tell us anything about what you’ve got planned for the Fringe this year?
JP: We have a few tricks up our sleeve if you will [laughs]… the show is called Turning Tricks. It starts off as something and then turns into something completely different. We encounter an evil cyber force that changes everything —
MM: I can say without giving away too much that it’s a commentary on social media and the magic of technology. We started off with the idea to call it a magic show, then the show just turned into a travelling freak show.
JP: Which is kind of what we are, a travelling freak show.
MM: It’s exciting, it’s going to be our last big production for — not forever — but for a while. I don’t think we’ll do a show in the Fringe next year. It takes a lot of time.
JP: We don’t have plans to do another big scripted show like this for a long time.
MM: We always say stuff like that and then we end up performing. But we want to get back to our roots of more variety themed shows.
JP: We have our hands in a lot of cookie jars. Which I like, I like having my hands in many cookie jars, I like cookies. So taking the time with such a big group — we write the shows together — it’s a big endeavour getting together with all these people and all of the cooks in the kitchen. I think we’re just going to take a little break from that.
MM: We have a lot of good cooks, but it’s a lot of different styles of cooking. It’s not always the easiest thing but we’ve been doing it for about five years. The last two years at the Fringe we’ve taken a piece that we’d already done as a smaller, low-key burlesque show and re-vamped it. This is the first year that we’ve taken a brand new piece. So we don’t know if people are going to like it or not — we hope so.
JP: Now for something completely different… ■

Every Monday you can get in touch with your inner-elderly at Notre Dame de Bingo with Matante Julie, 7 p.m., $1 per card or 4/$3, all proceeds go to a local charity. And every Sunday you can sing your heart out at Lipster, 9 p.m., no cover. Notre Dame des Quilles (32 Beaubien E.)

The second Thursday of every month (that means tonight), you can partake in karaoke strip tease Bareoke at Cabaret Playhouse (5656 Parc), 9 p.m., $2 before 10 p.m./$3 after

And you can check out Glam Gam at this year’s Montreal Fringe Festival with Turning Tricks at Café Cleopatra (1230 St-Laurent), June 7–21.

(You can also follow Glam Gam on Twitter and Instagram and check out some of their videos via their YouTube channel.)

To see the complete results of 2014’s Best of MTL readers poll (Top 10s in 150+ categories), click here.