They say they’re the best burlesque show in America. Burlesque performers say they’re giving the industry a bad name.
Red Velvet Entertainment claims to put on the ultimate variety act in more than 30 cities across the US, but showbiz insiders allege the company is a racket that uses devious internet marketing to sell overpriced tickets for hypothetical events listed at unassociated addresses, effectively turning Eventbrite into a shell game — three-card Monte for the burlesque set.
“Red Velvet Entertainment combines the very best in burlesque and cabaret performances to provide an experience unmatched by any other production company,” the Eventbrite bios say for every one of the 35 shows currently listed, all for multiple dates and identically described save the adjusted location. “Once you visit Red Velvet Entertainment, you will never need to see another burlesque show … We offer only the best from the industry and all of our clients leave feeling satisfied.”
All tickets have a strict no-refund policy and range in price from $15 to $638. Listed performance spaces include a Brooklyn laundromat, a Queens eyebrow-threading salon and a Dallas sports bar. (When reached by The Post, three listed venues were alarmed to learn they were being used to promote an event they’d never heard of. One subsequently contacted Eventbrite and was able to have the listing removed.)
Also listed as occurring at many of Red Velvet’s locations are Diva Royale, “the ultimate drag dining experience” and Hunk-O-Mania, “the ultimate ladies night out.” Both properties, as well as Red Velvet, are owned by Armand Peri, 57, a New Jersey-based bodybuilder who has been running the male strip revue since 1998, the drag brunch since 2014 and Red Velvet since 2021.
Online platforms are littered with negative reviews of Red Velvet, which Peri told The Post is only put on if enough tickets sell for him to at least break even. The bizarre venues, he acknowledged, are placeholders meant to game internet search results. If enough tickets sell, customers are given a different address, often for a more established location (in New York, outer-borough ticket buyers are redirected to Red Velvet’s show at Manhattan’s Harbor NYC Nightclub). In at least one case, the owner of an unaffiliated venue claimed that Red Velvet ticket holders were directed to his business on a night when it wasn’t even open. (“We would never direct our customers to Duane Park or anywhere else for that matter without first calling the owner and getting an ok from them!” Peri texted this reporter regarding the matter, which he called “a total lie just like almost everything else, all the negativity you’re hearing comes mostly from the competition.”)
Incensed that an allegedly profit-obsessed startup is damaging the genre’s reputation and luring away their own business, a national community of burlesque performers has rallied together against the company, reporting it to various ticketing and payment platforms, alerting their attorneys general and blackballing anyone who works for them.
“They’re tarnishing the reputation of the entire community with what they’re doing,” said Los Angeles-based ballerina, burlesque performer and producer Lola Demure. “My career is legitimate and I’m not going to let that go without a fight.”
“He’s a pioneer,” Jeffrey Wachman, a managing partner in the companies, male model and the author of “Confessions of a Jewish Teenage Drug Dealer” told The Post of Peri, adding that the burlesque community is just jealous of their success.
“This is a one-man tap dance,” performer and “godmother of LA burlesque” Lili VonSchtupp said of Peri’s theatrical empire. “It walks like a scam, it talks like a scam – like a house of cards waiting to come down.”
Burlesque as an art form has spent the last two centuries falling in and out of favor with America’s performative preferences, Puritan values and police prosecution. After entertaining crowds with its vaudevillian striptease sketches through the dark days of the 1930s, it was vice-hounded into oblivion in the ‘40s and remained mostly gone and forgotten until it was revived in the ‘90s, growing into what is today a small but thriving showbiz niche with a fiercely loyal US community devoted to its quirky, nostalgic version of theater.
The coronavirus pandemic put many performers out of work these past three years and then, as numerous burlesque performers tell The Post, just as COVID-19’s grip at last began loosening in November 2021, a new enemy emerged: A production company no one had heard of claiming to be the best in the business and offering solid cash for an obscene amount of scheduled shows. Performers immediately flagged the company for its aggressive advertising and lack of knowledge or vouchers in a small industry that prides itself on being transparent in its business practices.
“They were punching down at literally every other show,” said performer Matt Finish of Red Velvet’s claim to be number one in every North American city. “That part got under my skin.”
He and other performers looked into the show’s website and Eventbrite listings, never having heard of anyone capable of running weekly burlesque on a national scale. They were shocked to find bizarre venue locations — parking lots, bail bonds centers, a taco shop — and little evidence that listed performances actually happen, save the bad online reviews.
The company was also confusingly using the same name as a long time, well-liked burlesque community member, despite having no affiliation.
“It’s been horrific,” described the performer Red Velvet, a 53-year-old bank regulator who’s been performing internationally under the name for over a decade and is regularly contacted by customers who confuse her for the show. “This week I had somebody emailing me to complain about a show they paid $300 for and basically sat in a dive bar watching a bad show with two glasses of cheap champagne and I was like, ‘I’m really sorry and I do hope you get your money back but I don’t have anything to do with this company.’”
Red Velvet — who asked to only be identified by her stage name — secured an attorney to help her with the issue but lacks the funds to sue. Eventbrite denied all responsibility for the show’s listings, and the situation remains an ongoing nightmare.
“Ultimately, this is a legal matter that is independent of Eventbrite and is therefore required to be resolved independently of Eventbrite,” the company told The Post in a statement.
Finish and others have reached out to Red Velvet the show, to alert the newcomer company to its problems. According to dozens of performers, Red Velvet has been unrepentant and at times responded to outreach with insults and legal threats.
After Finish began publicly putting down Red Velvet on social media, he received a cease and desist from their lawyer, via Facebook Messenger and addressed to his stage name. Other performers report being called “fat b–ches,” “looser [sic]” and told “no one wants to work with you anyway ‘cause you’re ugly” by recruiters after turning down last-minute job offers.
Performers — many of whom had extra time on their hands during the pandemic — mass-reported the company on various platforms, warning others not to work for them. “It became our ‘Tiger King,’” one performer who asked to remain anonymous told The Post of the way the burlesque community became “like Nancy Drew mystery kids” to solve their own true crime story, the “Fyre Fest of burlesque.”
Following the fallout, performers allege recruiters began using fake names (“A lie,” Red Velvet partner and former Hunk-O-Mania performer Dino Campagna responded to the claim), booking entertainers through a third party site called GigSalad (“Our local managers use GigSalad,” Campagna admitted) and rebranding Red Velvet as Red Lace (which the company has submitted a trademark for).
“The only people they end up working with are community pariahs who have been ostracized,” said Bella Sin, a Cleveland-based burlesque producer, performer and activist.
Despite the controversy, thanks to Peri’s search engine artistry, Red Velvet has gained a stronghold on Google’s burlesque show search results — allegedly pushing all other performers and venues into distant pages — as well as a large social media following.
“It makes it challenging to find actual shows and book gigs,” said burlesque performer Dottie Dynamo, who lives in a van traveling the country and, until Red Velvet, performed in the cities she drove through. “I kind of have stopped because it’s become so difficult [to find shows] because of how much they’ve taken over the [search-engine optimization] thing,” she explained.
On Instagram, Peri boasts more than 10 million followers with whom he shares photos of his lavish life sponsoring hair transplants, modeling new watches, living in a McMansion, gracing the cover of trade magazines and traveling extensively.
“The fact that their people can make a living and get hair transplants or fly to Italy – we can’t do that. But the fact that they can is mind blowing,” said David Brouillard, the director of Lower East Side performance venue Duane Park.
When contacted about Red Velvet, Brouillard was shocked to hear anyone claimed ownership of the company, which he was unaware had ever actually produced a show. Once, he said, Red Velvet ticket holders showed up to Duane Park on an off night, expecting to see a performance only to be left confused. He’s also had to remove more geotags than he can count attempting to link his renowned Bowery venue with Red Velvet. (The owners of Red Velvet denied using social media to associate themselves with unaffiliated entities.)
Houston-based Purple Heart veteran Timothy Colomer and his wife love going to burlesque shows together, so when Timothy learned about a new one in town, he dropped $359 for the pair to attend as VIPs on May 21, the week of his wife’s birthday.
The pair hired a babysitter and dressed up nice for their night out but when they arrived at 6 p.m., they were surprised to find that the venue was “tantamount to a strip club.” They took their seats, which Colomer describes as broken bar stools at a dirty high-top table, and proceeded to watch four acts totaling 35 minutes before walking out: The first was a woman “dancing with a broadsword” followed by a Brazilian duo “trying to do a Carnaval-type dance” and, subsequently, two strippers. Deeply disappointed, Colomer attempted to speak with management but couldn’t find anyone who’d take ownership of Red Velvet, although staff offered them complimentary tickets to the next two shows – Diva Royale and Hunk-O-Mania. Colomer’s subsequent attempts to get a refund were unsuccessful. “The quality was extremely poor. It was like sitting through a bad movie. The performances were terrible,” said his wife, Samantha Colomer.
Timothy plans to sue.
Colorado homemaker Susan, 40, and her partner, maintenance technician Mike, 42, bought tickets for a Thursday, July 21 show in New Orleans. When contacted via text about switching to that Friday’s show, they agreed, but asked for an email confirmation of the change, only to be denied. The couple managed to reach a representative on the phone, but the conversation devolved, with the rep becoming “really mad.” They got a refund via their bank.
“Including me and my husband, there were eight people there. The show consisted of two girls doing two short numbers and one drag number,” wrote another unhappy customer.
“Absolutely the worst show I’ve ever seen,” wrote a one-star reviewer. “They only had three girls in the show and two of them performed twice for a total of 5 acts. Show was advertised as an hour long but turned out to be 35 minutes. Definitely not worth the money or time.”
This reporter purchased a ticket for a Friday show in June only to receive a text that Tuesday apologizing for the fact that “the show is getting canceled for Friday due to low ticket sales. Are you able to come Saturday evening in NYC instead?” After responding that it did not, I received a full refund.
The bodybuilder behind it
Armand Peri grew up in Portugal until age 12, when his family moved to a one-bedroom basement apartment in Newark. The way he tells it, he was poor, skinny and bullied for not speaking English, but through hard work and talent he managed to pull himself up by the bootstraps and become an iron-pumping, jetsetting father of four. A former club owner, his big break came when he realized his promoters were bringing in more cash and, unlike him, weren’t on the hook for rent, insurance and electricity – so he switched over from owning clubs to producing shows.
He is proud of his ticketing model, which he takes credit for creating: While most producers go on operating at a loss and allowing for customer cancellations, he has decided not to leave success to chance, instead planning for profitability with his strict no-refund policy and refusal to put on a show at a loss.
“Obviously we need a certain amount of tickets to break even. I’m not gonna lose money. I haven’t lost money,” he told The Post. “Because we only do a show when we have enough tickets sold. When it makes sense financially to do a show.”
Asked about his annual earnings, he responded “let’s just say, I’m blessed to make more in one month than most people make all year.”
Peri sees the burlesque community’s complaints about his shows’ quality and ticketing practices not as actionable critique but baseless negativity, the same kind of adversity he learned to thrive off of when he faced it following the launch of his other properties.
“I remember when we first started promoting [Diva Royale] in San Francisco the whole community over there was against us. It was crazy. Very similar to the burlesque community,” he recalled, adding that Hunk-O-Mania, too “had a lot of adversity in the beginning,” but he has since acquired those rival revues.
Peri’s collaborators all agreed the critique is solely born of competition.
“The only people that have expressed anything negative about us are competitors that are spreading misinformation and lies,” said Red Velvet partner Dino Campagna, adding that “People have been attacking my personal life and family over this controversy and it’s very difficult for me, I hold myself to [a] very high moral standard.”
“They’re trying to create something to stop it and that’s the real story behind it,” said Sharay “The Punisher” Hayes, a male stripper who became a partner in Hunk-O-Mania during the pandemic. “They don’t understand that these things are manipulated by competitors.”
Those complaining that Red Velvet is “a scam and stuff like that,” he added, are being misled by fake reviews. Rivals, he claimed, are distributing false information about performances. “You have scenarios where to this day people will go online and change the address of my event, change my phone number,” he said.
Armand’s wife, Francielle Peri, commented that “Jealous and angry because of our Red Velvet Burlesque Show’s growth, these people are attempting to undermine our successful business – which prides itself on excellence and complete customer satisfaction – via a campaign of misinformation.”
Managing partner Jeffrey Wachman compared the current situation to being the target of a witch hunt. “Back in the day, when they used to burn women at the stake because they were too smart – ‘Oh my God, she’s a witch.’ This is what I’m feeling right now.”
Those enjoying a steady paycheck as a result of the show had only glowing reviews.
“It’s been a great experience. I come in, I perform, I get paid and I leave,” said one performer who requested anonymity for fear of backlash from the burlesque community, which she referred to as having a “high school mean girls” culture. “I’m not gonna turn down a paid gig that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with because a group of people who don’t book me think no one should take the gig.”
“It’s worked for their other companies for 20 years,” said an anonymous performer who has long worked for Armand’s various properties. As for the dazzling promotional material, “We claim to be the number one in everything but everybody lies about that cause there’s no way to fact check those things.”
Performers’ rates, all said, are not impacted by the number of tickets sold.
After initially cooperating with The Post, doing multiple phone interviews, praising this reporter’s past work, emphasizing that he was “always available to speak if you need help confirming anything” and suggesting that “maybe I can write a positive story about you one day” Peri began repeatedly delaying and then not responding to scheduling requests for a final read back call — an industry standard — to comprehensively go over all claims pertaining to him in this piece.
“Claims made about me? Lol who made those claims? You are really something,” he texted this reporter over iMessage in response to a scheduling request. “Just remember there are always consequences to your actions so choose wisely…You’ve heard the old saying, ‘Bad Press is Good Press’ Everyone Knows ‘Red Velvet Burlesque Show’ I can’t wait for the article to come out.”
A legal perspective
According to entertainment lawyer Michael Lawrence, Red Velvet’s practices potentially subject them to legal jeopardy by, among other issues, not revealing they only intend to put on a show if sufficient tickets sell and using superlatives including “the best” in promotional materials.
“To the extent that Red Velvet Burlesque has business practices consumers aren’t aware of…that lack of transparency is at the very least unethical and may rise to fraud in certain circumstances,” said Lawrence.
That Red Velvet has not already been held to account is beyond the company’s critics, many of whom admit that, despite their objections, the ticketing model and lack of location are clever — their transience granting Red Velvet a certain amount of anonymity and preventing offended parties from having a central location to contact.
“I have never once in my life heard of people getting tickets for something and it either not existing or existing at a different location,” said Brouillard, of Duane Park. “Their avoidance of location, it’s actually quite smart of them. I’m not interested in being that kind of person but it’s quite smart.”
Although impressively bold and enduring, performers agreed Red Velvet is beyond bad for business: Their shady practices make them unbeatable among earnest artists looking to reach the top of their niche through talent alone.
Many customers would likely not purchase tickets if they were aware shows only happen when the producer deems it profitable to do so, a tactic that cleverly skirts the safeguards of consumer protection law, leaving audiences hustled but with little legal recourse. It is the perfect confidence trick in the age of online event listings, using shiny marketing, a third-party ticketing platform and the strength of numbers to shirk responsibility and manipulate the trusting fun-hungry into buying entry for a shell of a show.
But Peri has no interest in putting on the best show in town, only the most lucrative — and critics charge Red Velvet for introducing corporate greed to a grassroots world, milking fans for money through a bureaucratic web of online listings and degrading an entire genre of show business in the process.
“We have viable producers in every city that work really, really hard to gain the venues and acceptance as the producer and give great shows,” said Veranda L’Ni, a Cleveland-based performer of 14 years. “It’s just so sad.”
The situation, many added, is especially sad for audience members looking for a little lightness at the end of a tough day only to get strung along.
“You know, if the world continues to do what the world continues to do, going out and having a good time is actually quite important to a lot of people,” said Brouillard. “[Depriving] them of that is pretty low.”