- 29, May 2020
- Theatre in Paris exclusives
- Sam Asher
Laughter is the best medicine. Though laughing is something we may not think twice about, it plays a large role in our social development as humans. It may be that laughter has helped human survival through the years with its signalling capabilities. For example, when a person laughs it indicates that they are willing to connect with another person. From an evolutionary standpoint, it is thought that the exchange of laughter acted as a litmus test for strangers: should I stick around with this person or not? Are they a danger to me? On top of all that, having a good laugh just feels good. It gives a boost of oxygen and endorphins, pushing some feel-good chemicals right into our bodies. It is no surprise that we humans have taken laughter and made an art out of it.
Today, we can seek out this comedic therapy by attending the many comedy clubs, bars, and circuits available to us worldwide. Comedians today have honed their craft; they land perfectly timed beats, they are masters of “blue comedy” which teeters on the range of decency, they work the crowds as if it were their job (well… it is). Now, we have found that the picturesque city we call home is becoming a hot-spot for comedy – we will tell you why Paris is the place to experience new comedy stars on the rise.
Where did the one-man show come from?
Stand-up and one-man-shows as we know them today have a very specific form. A room with expectant guests waiting to be tickled with laughter, a lonely stage hungry for a performer, and a single microphone. How did we get here? In the grand scheme of things, the idea of these formulaic one-man shows or stand-up sets are relatively new formats for comedy which have developed in the past hundred or so years.
Across countries, one-man-shows and stand-up performances evolved under the culture and government they exited in. In most countries, this form of comedy all took notes from similar areas: comedic monologues, vaudeville, burlesque, early variety shows and more. Over time, this specific way to express comedic art started refining its definition into one-man and stand-up shows. The earliest official stand-up sets can be traced back to the United Kingdom and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The existence of this performance style did not go unacknowledged by officials and societal opinion: humour is a risky business. In the United Kingdom, for example, censorship laws were put in place by the British Royal Household. All performers and comedians were required to submit their acts to the British Royal Household in writing before performing. Any content considered risky or salacious would be underlined in blue (this is where the term “blue comedy” is speculated to have come from) and any deviation from the edited version of their act was not tolerated.
Across the pond in the United States, we find comedic acts first centred around cheap and offensive routines which would be considered abhorrent today. Coming into the early 20th century, routines tend to shift toward quick-witted and slapstick humour. Moving further into the century, these one-man shows and comedy routines evolve into highly produced money-making productions. Across countries, we see “circuits” for stand-up start to manifest: staple venues for comedians to come and perform or test new material. It is no doubt that today the English comedy scene saturates a lot of media thanks to globalization and the power of Hollywood – but what role did France play in this?
Are the French funny?
If you are a native anglophone taking a stroll through Paris today, you may think “do the French laugh?” The answer: yes, but maybe not at the jokes you are telling. It is no secret that French humour differs from English or American humour. Is it simply the cadence of each language? English pronunciation leaves more room for speakers to play with their words, whereas French is less forgiving. To the English ear, walking through the streets of Paris could give the impression that everyone is in the same exact mood judging by their tone of voice. Or perhaps it is the lexicon of the languages that set these two cultures apart? With nearly 41,000 more words than the French language, the English language is freer to experiment with word endings or the creation of new words in favour of absurdity – which is less tolerated in French, favouring jokes rooted in logical wit and through-line stories.
While the anglophone comedy world was developing in the 20th century, France had some notable figures rise onto the scene. Robert Lamoureux – a famous comedian who began to enter his prime in the 50s – started as a cabaret performer with songs. Sometimes, he would experiment with comedic monologues and before long he became known as a prominent comedic figure in France. Lamoureux wrote a sketch which coined the term “and the duck was still alive,” which is still moderately well known today. Another star who made his name known in the 50s and 60s was Fernand Raynaud. Known to act out funny stories for audiences, he became renowned for his appearances on television through sketch comedy. Beginning as a lover of theatre, he went on to invite the first comedic one-man-show at the Theatres de Varietes. Later, he began to make his name known by opening for various acts at theatres around Paris. Before long, Raynaud had made his mark on the comedy world, experimenting both in classic comedy style performances and comedic theatre.
Fashion week? More like laughing week
Is it funny in here or is that just the globalization? Today, we are experiencing a prominent amount of crossover between comedic worlds here in Paris. The rise of comedy in Paris is evident from small bars offering stand-up nights for amateurs to up-and-coming comedy clubs for rising stars. This crossover appears to be manifesting from two sides: a shift in French comedic narrative and the rise of international comedians based in Paris.
If you’re a Francophile on the internet, you’ve probably seen viral videos of French comedians performing stand-up. What’s great about these viral videos is that they’re usually subtitled and accessing a large non-French speaking audience: French comedians are entering a new phase of comedy that is accessible to a wider audience. On top of that, we are seeing these comedians be recognized for their talent and being put on platforms such as Netflix. With translations of their comedy specials readily available, French comedians such as Fadily Camara or Fary have caught the world’s attention. These comedians who grew their career out of Paris are now turning new heads toward the City of Light.
What if you are in Paris and do not speak French? Today, we are also seeing a lot of internationals inserting themselves into the scene. Paris is portrayed as the epicentre of French culture, but after visiting, one may notice that not a lot of people are tried and true Parisians. Many people are from other French cities or even other countries. This is the case for Sebastian Marx, who we have partnered with in the past. Marx went viral for his bit on why the French language was so annoying to him. This type of international inclusion in the Paris comedy scene opens the way for other non-French speaking performers and audiences alike. In the name of accessible theatre, we love to see the joy of laughter in Paris cast a larger net for the people who set foot in the city. If you are visiting Paris in the future or even live here, you might be thinking: “where can I find this comedy scene?!” Two theatres we partner with often set the stage for French and English comedy shows: Théâtre des Nouveautés and the Théâtre Bo St Martin. Further, you can check out our list of comedy venues small and large on our other blog about the subject.
Looking to dip your toes in the comedy scene here in Paris? We recommend checking out future dates for these one-man/woman-shows!