It can be difficult to find foreign comedy funny. If we try too hard, dissecting each sentence, we lose sight of the surprise. It no longer smacks us in the face; instead it just politely taps us on the shoulder. The trick is to delve into it with little thought and approach it with no fear.
Pierre Desproges: comedian
Pierre Desproges had no fear; that’s what made him so funny. A French humorist from the 1980s, his humour extended into literature with Les Etrangers sont nuls, a catalogue of cultural criticisms written for the weekly satirical newspaper Charlie-Hebdo. He holds no hesitation in calling the reader an “imbecile,” while he himself poses imbecilic questions such as “are the English creatures of God?” Dehumanization is his strongest weapon as he replies “even the hyena and the sly jackal are creatures of God.”
La minute nécessaire de Monsieur Cyclopède is like a shot of fast-acting, pain-relieving humour, in which Desproges’ comic genius is squeezed into a sixty-second TV slot as he resolves absurd issues such as “how to make King Louis XVI fireproof” and “what nationality Superman is.” In one episode, he investigates the intellectual capacity of Beethoven by asking him how many apples are on a table, proceeding to prove that Beethoven wasn’t deaf, he was just rather stupid.
English is often regarded as the golden language. Pierre Desproges challenges this belief however, with a short and comical scenario involving a helpless English woman, a park bench, a murderer, and the woman’s fatal inability to speak French.
“Help!” A woman is being strangled and shouts out for help in English.
“Pardon?” Desproges, a Frenchman sits down next to her on the bench.
“This man is trying to kill me,” she gasps. The Frenchman frowns, unable to understand and somehow unable to notice the pair of hands wrapped around her neck. He walks away without a second glance.
The casual “c’est dommage” that ensues with a helpless shrugging of shoulders contrasts with the violent shriek of a violin to make this a dramatically absurd, but nevertheless amusing, watch.
Le Dîner de Cons: film
I’ve watched this film no fewer than three times, and with each viewing the laughter keeps getting louder. The idea is simple: a dinner is hosted between a group of friends where each guest must bring along a randomly recruited idiot, and the person with the most impressive idiot wins the prize.
The goofy grin, the splatter of laughter like an asthmatic dog, and a love for matchstick models; we can see why Pierre Brochant, played by Thierry Lhermitte, thinks he has found a “world-class,” potentially “world champion” idiot when he is introduced to François Pignon, played with the tragic lunacy of Jacques Villeret. However, this “idiot” becomes a catalyst for disaster that brings Brochant’s world tumbling down.
Directed by Francis Veber in 1998, the film begins with a boomerang hitting someone unexpectedly in the face. This unexpected chaos runs parallel throughout. With an injured back and a broken heart as Brochant’s wife suddenly declares the end of their marriage, they never actually reach the dinner. Instead, the film becomes a comic chase to renew Brochant’s broken relationship, its fate wobbling unsteadily in the hands of a matchstick maker who can’t grasp the difference between a first and last name.
The moment when François backs into the corner like a whipped dog is classic. The wife had made a return and the idiot had chased her away. As part of the chase, they must tape a game of ice skating, make a phone call pretending to be Belgian movie producers, sit and watch a football match, cook an ommlette, taste wine, and spring clean the house in preparation for an unexpected tax audit. Just as a glimmer of hope finally appears, the idiot once again blows it, leaving the viewer nothing to scream at the TV screen but “quel con!”
I lost count of how many times François says “au revoir,” packs up his pictures and prepares to leave – and then doesn’t. He gets swept away by his imagination. One step forward, two steps back. This film is a never-ending circle of comedy with a laugh hiding around every corner.
Max Boublil: music
Max Boublil is outrageous and represents comedy at its cringiest. He’ll make you smile with the thankful realisation that life could be worse. It could be as much of an embarrassment as the scenarios in his songs, where the majority of his characters are struggling to avert the embarrassed glance of society as they teeter on the edge of social acceptance.
Releasing a new song every first Saturday of the month, he calls himself a one-man musical challenging a variety of issues. These range from the suspected homosexuality of his flat mate (Mon Colloc) to Susan Boyle, the world of Chatroulette to world peace (Montrez les nous). But be prepared for absurdity – to describe his plans for bringing world peace as radical would be an understatement.
“I saw your mum on Chatroulette.” It’s a catchy chorus. The modernity of Boublil’s comedy, littered with the French slang word “meuf,” an equivalent to “chick,” and frequent references to Facebook, is partly what makes him so popular, along with his blatant disregard for social conventions. This is demonstrated in Prête moi ta meuf, translating as “lend me your girlfriend,” and J’aime les moches, in which Boublil leaps onto a table to declare his love for “ugly people.”
The videos are just as ludicrous as the lyrics themselves, with Exhibitio dance being the most shocking of them all. An oversized trench coat, black gloves and a luminous pink teddy are all he wears. Oh, and a suspicious, gigantic grin. He loves to surprise and sings with such energy, describing himself as having “more energy than an energy drink,” that it’s difficult to resist letting loose the lunatic inside. If Max Boublil can’t tug at your cheek muscles, I honestly don’t know who will.
Finally, here’s a French joke. Clearly, this is French comedy at its most impressive:
A: Quelle souris marche sur deux jambes?
B: Je ne sais pas.
A: Mickey Mouse. Et quel canard marche sur deux pattes?
B: Donald Duck?
A: Tous les canards.
[Insert laughter here]