Recently I was watching Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill concert on YouTube, where some copyright-ignoring scofflaw has generously uploaded it. Several scofflaws, to tell the truth. One day they’ll be called to account for themselves, and will have to face the ultimate choice: cake, or death.
Anyway, as a casual remark in the middle of another point he’s making, Eddie says, “There’s no stand-up in France.” — meaning, no stand-up comedy. And he doesn’t appear to be joking there.
I find this statement impossible to believe. I know the French have a healthy sense of humor, as strong as ours here in the Anglosphere, and they certainly have other forms of comedy. And, stand-up hardly demands expensive production costs like a play or movie can. The comedian just gets up on stage, no sets, no costumes (except Eddie), and makes them laugh. A pretty simple idea.
So, what is Eddie talking about, and what’s really going on? Is there a definitional problem here?
I don’t know the answer to your question, but I have to be there person here that points out that Eddie Izzard doesn’t wear any costumes. Unless every single person that chooses clothes for stand-up is wearing a costume. He’s a transvestites, it’s not just for the show. it’s what he wears. I think he’s even occasionally shown up in a dress and then changed into pants for his stand-up routine. There’s a point there, and it’s mainly that it’s all just clothes to him.
Anyway, a google search for French stand-up comedians does give a few hits with names, so it looks like they do exist. I’m sure someone will be around shortly with more detailed, better information on it though.
One of Eddie’s shows in France is on a couple of his DVDs of english shows (I’m pretty sure Circle is one, but I forget the other; it’s the same show, anyway).
Bosstone - IIRC, he brings the subject up in terms of “I went over there to do it, and they don’t really have stand-up there”.
I would say in my experience there seems to be a lot of kinds of foreign humour that I just don’t get (even with subtitles) and raucous audience laughter suggests is funny. I don’t really have any problem believing stand-up isn’t a type of humour that’s all that common there.
I was discussing French stand-up just the other evening with a French friend. She said that it does occur, but that it’s rather behind the times, and that the comedians tend to rely on swearing quite heavily to get laughs. All sounds rather vulgar…
There is a lot of French humour involving a single performer talking to an audience. There are a number of differences with traditional American stand-up, though. For one, the comedy club culture doesn’t exist. Heckling is essentially un-heard of. There is also much less importance placed with always coming up with new material. As a matter of fact, French stage humour is really an extension of theater. The texts are very important and people don’t mind hearing comedians performing the same monologue word-for-word for 20 years, so long as it’s worthy of being considered a classic. There is also the element raised above: most French stage comedy involves the performers slipping into a character. However, it should be noted that the character will usually always be the same.
It’s not France but Québec is an interesting case humour-wise. Comedy is very, very big in Québec. The largest comedy festival in the world is held in Montréal after all. There is a spectrum of stage comedy in Québec that ranges from true American-style stand-up (“so I was walking down the street the other day…”) to French-style comedy that sometimes rides the line between comedy and poetry.
For the record, as someone who grew up with French-style comedy, I don’t “get” most stand-up. I tried, but I only find Eddie Izzard mildy amusing. I really don’t get what so great about Bill Hicks. The same goes for Chris Rock. It’s not just that they’re not to my taste, I sincerely fail to see what people find funny about their routines. However, there is stand-up comedy I enjoy very much but it’s much closer in form and essence to French comedy. I love Emo Phillips for instance. George Carlin’s monologue about baseball and football is great…
There are no stand-up clubs where you can go and see a handful of different comedians (unknowns or those starting out) in a single evening. There are some comedians who do large venue shows over a number of evenings but these are essentially “I’m already a star” no risk type things and may include sketches and props.
The shows at the Hotel du Nord have changed venue and, as you can see here, are essentially English speaking comedians for an English speaking audience.
On the other hand “Slam” evenings are very popular. People get up and recite their own poetry, most of it pretty edgy political stuff but some with a humourous twist.
There’s a chapter in Dave Barry’s book, Dave Barry Does Japan, in which he talks about comedy in Japan and goes to the nearest equivalent he can find to American stand-up comedy. What he describes is more like theater-in-the-round storytelling, with some plays on words that don’t translate into English, and the story that got the biggest laugh was pretty weak by Western standards. From another site, it was essentially this:
Anyway, it seems that there are cultures where the American style of stand-up just hasn’t caught on. Maybe the audiences just don’t know what to make of it yet, or maybe there aren’t enough performers who are willing to do the intimate, “this is what my crazy life is like” material that we in the West take for granted.
And to bolster matt, I’ve seen bits of the Montreal Comedy Festival from year to year, and Canada’s got some funny stuff going on. Any nation that produces the Kids in the Hall is OK by me.