- 17, Sep 2019
- Theatre in Paris exclusives
- Jocelyn Wensjoe
Luckily Olivier Giraud had some time to fit us into his schedule and we were able to interview him and ask him a couple of questions about his life and what it was that inspired him to create the famous comedy show How to Become a Parisian in One Hour, a well thought out performance that even Parisians can’t get enough of. Throughout the interview, we had a few laughs, and Olivier cracked a few jokes about the differences between Americans and Parisians, criticizing Parisians but only for fun because in reality, he loves Parisians. As a big fan, I have watched his show and could not help laughing at how much resemblance there was with what he would say about Americans and Parisians considering I am an American living in Paris. Olivier is a humble person who has overcome a lot of struggles to get to where he is today. Born in Bordeaux, Olivier moved to Paris when he was 18 for three years where he studied hotel management and catering. After his studies, he moved to London for one year and then ended up moving to America for 6 years. He went into his field of studies because he was convinced that he would not make as a comedian even though it was his dream. After a couple of years, he realized he had to believe in his idea and followed his heart which led him to become one of the greatest hits in Paris with thousands of visitors per year. His one-man show became so well known that he decided to write a book advising foreigners visiting Paris on what to do and what not to do in the city of lights, for example how to dance like a Parisian woman which is also part of his act and it will have you laughing so hard your jaw will start to ache.
How did you first realize that you wanted to be a comedian? What is it that drives that passion?
Olivier: I’ve wanted to be a comedian for a really long time. The first time I realized comedy was my thing was when I was as young as eight years old. I told my mom that I wanted to be a comedian and her response was “no way this is not possible”. I kept her words in mind and said okay. Again at 15 I told her being a comedian was my dream, and again her response was “no way”. At 17 I started working as a restaurant manager for a long time until I was 27 or 28 years old. This is when I said alright, everything is possible so let me try this again. I quit my job in America since I was working in Palm Beach, Florida in a famous 5-star hotel. After I quit my job in the U.S. I came back to Paris and started working as a waiter to save up some money and this is when I wrote my show How to Become a Parisian in One Hour in 2009 and it was a success after one or two months.
We read that you had presented your idea to many theatres in Paris and it got rejected because it was a show in English. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Yeah, a lot of theatres rejected the idea telling me I’m French and this is France how is it possible that you want to act out a show in English? And I told them, yeah but there are a lot of people who speak in English here in Paris and they kept repeating no no you have to talk in French because we are in France and that’s how it has to be. It took me one year to finally find a theatre after I had presented my pitch to 20 to 30 different theatres telling me that my idea was stupid. A friend of mine told me about this one theatre that could be open to new ideas and let you perform your show for at least one night and it worked out, 10 years later and I’m still here performing for audiences from all around the world. The theatre that allowed me to make people laugh with my show was Théàtre de la Bastille. I created my own production called French Arrogance Production in dedication to all those theatres that did not believe in me.
How long have you been performing?
I remember the date well, I started on May 10, 2009, so a bit more than 10 years. Maybe 10 years and a few months.
Is there a particular comedian that you admire?
Not really one in particular. There are people I really like but admire not really. My job is to tell jokes if I were to say I admire someone who inspires my show its weird. I like black humor, I don’t know if you know Blanche Gardin, a French comedian, she is really funny. She’s been a big star in France for about two years. I really like her type of humor. Though I try not to be too dark with my humor when I perform my act considering I get a lot of American audiences and they have a very different type of humor in comparison to the French. As soon as I try to be sarcastic with an American, they don’t get it, and the French can be very sarcastic. For example, I would tell them “wow today is 40 degrees it’s so cold” and they would tell me really? Haha I’d say “no! not really” so I would try to be sarcastic and they literally would not understand that French sense of humor.
Getting back to the topic of you moving to the U.S. did you feel any culture shock when you arrived in the U.S.?
Well, I stayed in America for 6 to 7 years, and I really miss it. For example, New York and San Francisco. I’ve even been in Miami, about 200 hundred times and yeah you can feel the difference in cultures.
Do you believe your show How to Become a Parisian in One Hour can help visitors overcome cultural differences?
Oh yes definitely. Well, I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I believe we are very very different. As an example, Americans love working and it is very important for them to keep their job, for French it is different, like in the morning they’re always like ufff oh la la and they’re always waiting for some vacation time and bank holidays. Some people love working, but not too many. In America everything is positive, here if someone says wow what a wonderful day the sky is blue a Parisian will most likely say yeah but tomorrow it's going to rain, they can be pessimistic.
Where else have you performed your show, only in France or have you presented it in other countries as well?
I’ve played the show 15 times in London, then in Spain, Luxemburg and Belgium. It’s not the same though, it’s always better in Paris considering I talk about Parisians and every night there are always guests from about 50 different countries coming to see the show plus a lot of French as well. In comparison to when I present the show in England where there are only English people watching me perform my skit talking about Parisians, it’s really not the same because you need to be in Paris to understand everything and its funnier for tourist who are visiting the city because I get to give them some tips on how to not stand out amongst Parisians and its fun for them this is why I have currently only been staying in Paris.
What advice would you offer individuals who are starting out as comedians?
I would advise them not to listen to people, if they have an idea, they need to go for it even if people around them are being negative and telling them that they will not make it as comedians. They need to give it a shot and do it and they will not have any regret. In order to be a comedian you have to work a lot, people have told me that being a comedian cannot be that difficult because I only perform an hour per day, but what they do not know is that I work seven days a week. We don’t work 15 hours per day, but the show is always on our mind, and we receive emails or private messages through social media and requests for the following year and it’s a lot of work especially for French. Sometimes the content in my show can be the same, so I try to be a bit different than other comedians. It’s not easy to do something different especially when there’s a lot of competition taking into consideration that in France there are a lot of comedians, which is why I decided to do my show in English.
Do you ever get nervous performing in front of a big crowd?
By now I am used to it considering I’ve been performing for 10 years. I only get a bit nervous after the holiday breaks. I took a two weeks holiday break in August and when I came back, I was like wow, I have 500 people in the room, and I got pretty nervous thinking this job is crazy because people pay in order for me to make them laugh and it's unreal having that thought. After two weeks I start to feel better and I continue to make people laugh and try not to get too nervous.
Photo property of Olivier Giraud ©
Photo property of Olivier Giraud ©
How do you normally deal with harsh criticism?
I listen to the people who criticize my show and really try to pay attention to their comments. Sometimes they even suggest subjects I should talk about in the show and it helps me obtain more ideas. The show has changed a lot in the past 10 years, it’s very different. Sometimes you can feel destroyed by negative comments on the internet, but you cannot pay too much attention to that otherwise you’ll feel stuck. If I would have paid much mind to negative comments, I would be thinking to myself, okay that’s it I don’t want to perform again, I’ll just become a manager at a restaurant again, but no this is not an option for me because I love what I do. By now I am used to it, the positive outcome is the fact that I don’t have too many bad reviews and I am thankful.
What is your favorite thing about Paris and what do you despise?
I think Paris is really beautiful, I walk a lot for about two to three hours per day and I think Paris is incredible. There are so many options for restaurants, museums, movie theatres there are a variety of activities you can do like biking and going to the parks. People think that Paris is just a city, but there are so many big parks and you can even take the train and go somewhere outside the city near province. What I don’t like about Paris is the fact that people are too cold, in my building we only say hi we don’t truly know our neighbors. Every time I see my neighbor our only exchange of words are ça va and au revoir but we never talk about anything. We don’t really care about people. Even with tourist, were not too nice to them. If a tourist is lost and needs directions to go somewhere Parisians are not very helpful and this is why the show bloomed in order for tourists to be aware that not all Parisians are full of sunshine.
Now that you’ve got all the juicy details on Olivier Giraud’s background and why his show is acclaimed to be the number English comedy in Paris, how about watching him perform so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about? Just his facial expressions and his dance moves will have you cracking up.