le stand-up

I went to Paris at the weekend and met a French stand-up comedian.

It wasn’t intentional. Even going to Paris wasn’t planned, it was just that Nan got offered some eurostar tickets that were too cheap to refuse; so we got up at 4.45am on Saturday and went.

We arrived in Paris, still tired, to find it pissing with rain but not as cold as Paris is capable of being in January. It was, at least, warm enough to sit outside a cafe. And regular readers of this blog will know how much I like cafes. So we went up to Les Abbesses, sat outside a cafe, and ordered cafe cremes and a croque monsieur.

And then a man came and sat down at the table next to me and took out two things. The first was a little computer translating device. The second was Logan Murray‘s book about Stand-up.

I know Logan’s book well, because as well as being a super comic, Logan is also something of a comedy sensei. I’ve been on three of his courses and every time have come out of them as a better, more inventive, more confident comedian. His book is also quite good. So I thought I’d better say hello to the man sitting next to me.

It turned out that his name is Francois Winz – you can see from his website, which I just found, that he is essentially an observational-style stand-up who has achieved some impressive acclaim in France by dissecting the minutiae of life – fragments of his dreams, how women speak, the details of topical issues – in a humourous way.

What is wonderful about this is that it seems stand-up is still so new and exciting in France, that this kind of thing doesn’t seem hackneyed or cliched there. This is partly because I get the impression from talking to him that Francois is quite good at it (he’s been doing it seven years), but also because stand-up is still developing there – it never had a big boom in the late 80’s the way it did in London. I think Jamel Debbouze is working pretty hard to break it in, but there’s still work to be done. So while monologues and sketch comedy are enormously popular, the idea of a guy talking, as himself, in what appears to be a genuine dialogue with le public is much rarer.

Admittedly my understanding of comedy in France comes almost entirely from Eddie Izzard (who Francois is also a fan of) and from reading Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island (which everyone should read, but especially men, women, and stand-up comedians); but Francois pretty much confirmed what I’d heard.

From what I understood (he didn’t really speak much English and my French is woefully stilted so our conversation was a little fumbled), he was telling me that his training in theatre comedy means that it’s hard for him to go off-script, to engage with the audience, and that anyway it was quite rare for there to be what he wonderfully referred to as ‘ecklerrs because French audiences don’t expect to be part of the show. I told him there are plenty of comics in London, too, who are terrified of going off-script and that I’ve known really great acts be stumped by a simple comment from a punter.

But it seems a shame that gigs like my ‘monkey dance’ gig from the other night – which felt so spontaneous and natural and…alive! – could be rarer there.

I told Francois he should come to London – after all, everyone else seems to – or better still, go to Edinburgh.

He seemed keen.

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