Author Unknown – AFP – Friday, December 10th, 2004

      PARIS, Dec 10 (AFP) – Stand-up comedy – edgy, tribalistic and a part of Anglo-Saxon culture – has taken root in Paris. And – don’t laugh – it’s in English and it’s got the French chuckling, too. Of course, the French have plenty of comedy of their own, so it’s all the more surprising they go for this fast and furious, politically incorrect and off-the-cuff humour.

      Big names in US and British comedy come to Paris to play two or three nights in a small room at the back of the Hotel du Nord, the setting for the classic 1938 French film of the same name.

      “Je suis un comic qui a gagne des prix – malheureusement les prix, c’est pour la natation,” British playwright and BBC radio presenter Arthur Smith quipped at a recent gig, translating his own joke: “I’m an award-winning comedian. Unfortunately the award was for swimming.”

      Most performers take a shot at speaking at least some French on stage, and one Frenchman seated near the front at Smith’s show found himself a part of the act when he admitted to not following every word.

      Smith, a self-confessed lover of the French who put on the show during a weekend in Paris to celebrate his 50th birthday, is in good company. A raft of award-winning comedians have lined up to be pioneers of this kind of stand-up in Paris – Eddie Izzard, Greg Proops, Ardal O’Hanlon, Alan Davies, Reginald D. Hunter, Dom Irrera and Rich Hall.

      Behind it all is Karel Beer, a 57-year-old Brit living in Paris for nearly 40 years, who set up ‘Laughing Matters’ and has been bringing stand-up comics over to perform in Paris for nearly 10 years. Eighteen months ago, he began doing the same in Milan. “Paris is a pretty sexy destination, I think it’s probably the sexiest destination for comics to perform,” Beer told AFP, adding that comedians also relished getting to do a gig lasting two hours or more. “In addition, they get the space and time to try out and develop new material, and don’t have to worry about using old gags and don’t have to share the bill with other performers,” he added.

      Smith, whose first stand-up show in Paris was done all in French in 1994, said the buzz of spending time in Paris was reason enough to come and entertain up to 120 people at a time. “I don’t think comedians would come here particularly for their career as such, or in order to get spotted, or to be on French TV, I mean that’s not going to happen, is it?” he said.

      The Eurostar rail link between London and Paris has helped, and with gigs over three days comics have found new material by the second day of being in Paris which they can then use in their shows. About 15 percent on average of audiences are French, Beer said, admitting to getting a kick out of “turning the natives on to a particular form of your own culture they have been aware of but not involved in.” “They realise they can be… an integral part of it. The language barrier disappears in the end.” “Bonsoir, nous sommes des pionniers” (“Evening, we are pioneers”) was the first thing Izzard said when he went on stage in Paris, according to Beer. US comic Greg Proops is among those to have played the Hotel du Nord on the picturesque Canal St. Martin more than once. Although he includes a lot of gags about French culture and Paris, his material also targets US politics.

      “For Americans there is a sense of liberation being overseas,” Proops said adding there was “more latitude to say what you feel”. He said you could spot the Parisians in the audience as “they confer after each joke”. Certainly none of the French members of the audience at Arthur Smith’s show seemed to take umbrage. On the contrary, Frenchman Kenny Sanchis, a 35-year-old policeman, said getting the French involved in the act was “cool”. “The English humour is always on the edge, not vulgar but it makes you think it’s vulgar,” he said, adding that French humour was “not so sharp”.

      Jean-Francois Rudler, 32, who inadvertently found himself involved in some of Smith’s gags, said he understood only 50 to 70 percent of the show but still enjoyed it.

      French comedienne Anne Roumanoff, who performs in France, Montreal, and has done a show in English at the Hotel du Nord, characterised Englishhumour as deadpan and with a sense of the absurd, as in Monty Python. “In truth, the real difference is that until recently French comics did sketches with characterizations and did not involve themselves personally in the jokes,” she said. Five years ago, stand-up comedy was not generally known in France, but has now become trendy. “It’s become very snobbish to say I do stand-up.”

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