Hot Brown Honey delivers anti-patriarchy deprogramming that’s punchy, colourful, and irresistibly fun

Hot Brown Honey - the Cultch

The much-lauded Australian hip-hop comedy group returns to the Cultch’s York Theatre after their successful extended run in 2018. Although the buzz around this show has been significant, Hot Brown Honey lives up to the hype. The show packs laughter and tragedy into a too-brief 75-minute performance that will leave you hungry for more.

Hot Brown Honey’s stated mission is to explore, explode, and defy stereotypes with “radical fierce love;” to “decolonise and moisturize;” and to show us that “fighting the power never tasted so sweet.”

Its accessible comedy and good-natured humour has a broad appeal – you don’t have to be well-versed in intersectional feminism to be won over by this fierce and funny group.

The show begins with an introduction and traditional welcome by Musqueam nation matriarch-in-training Quelemia Sparrow. Although land acknowledgements have become familiar with Vancouver performances, this opening night’s recognition of one group of indigenous women by another was uniquely moving.

“Moving”, in fact, describes the entire show. Pivoting at break-neck speeds from campy comedy routines to deeply disturbing acrobatic dance pieces, Hot Brown Honey’s pace never stalls. And the audience can’t rest either – our opening number is an instruction on how to make noise. Given a typical Vancouver crowd’s reluctance to whistle and holler, this was a necessary primer. Fortunately, the show is so good that the constant demands by host Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers to “MAKE SOME NOISE” never felt forced – although you may leave the evening hoarse from cheering. A note for those with sensitive ears – the Cultch’s staff offer complementary ear-plugs.

With the cheering lesson finished, we open to an enormous, dazzling hive, its yellow and brown honeycomb structure undulating with light patterns that flash, ripple, and occasionally spell out words. A booming and spacey disembodied voice of “the mother” provides a sci-fi touch in a firm, chiding, but maternal Australian woman’s accent. We’ve gone astray since our creation, reprimands the voice (and don’t we know how hard it was to birth all of humankind?) But we’ll soon be set to rights.

A panel in the hive shifts open to reveal a feathery fan-dancing flurry made up of our performers: Lisa Fa’alafi, aka The Game Changer; Ofa Fotu, The Myth Slayer; Hope Haami, One Hope; Crystal Stacey, The Peace Maker; Elena Wangurra, The Truth Sayer; and our host, Busty Beatz, The Queen Bee.

The vignettes that follow have something to satisfy every taste (with some delightfully and raunchily tasteless pieces besides). The audience is treated to hip-hop choreography, soulful singing, hula hooping, aerial acrobatics, and beatboxing, all in an endless array of phenomenal costumes designed by Lisa Fa’alafi. Busty Beatz presides as DJ and narrator, tying together the diverse performances with her own rhymes as well as quotes from writers and matriarchs of social justice including Audre Lorde and Lilla Watson. One quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie seems particularly apt: “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make the one story become the only story.”

The brilliance of Hot Brown Honey is that instead of decrying stereotypes, they present them in exaggeration. Colourful caricatures dance and bounce, pander and grin to the audience (sometimes while waving double-middle fingers in the air) and charmingly, winningly reveal their one-dimensional clichés to be ludicrous.

These loud, complex, and real women contrast the shallowness of stereotypes and show us how untrue this societal typecasting is. In their words, “too often we are portrayed as the savage, the maid, the victim, the perpetrator, but tonight we defy these labels. We ask you to celebrate with us. Celebrate all that we are.” You don’t get invited to a celebration this powerful, delightful, and thought-provoking every day. This one is not to be missed.