An English Comedian in Paris

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I do standup because I love comedy. Yes, I enjoy making people laugh and nothing beats the rush of being on stage in front of a great audience, however the real reason that I do comedy is just that it interests me so much, I’m willing to do anything to be a part of it. Ultimately, I’m just a fan that got way too involved. Now, I don’t know to what extent this is true for other comics; I’m sure some do it just because they crave attention or even use stand-up as a free (or even profitable) alternative to therapy. I’m not saying that this is wrong or in any way worse than doing it purely out of appreciation for the medium, I simply believe that someone’s motivation to write and perform comedy will be the main factor in affecting the end result.

Anyway, given my current situation, being a part of what we all appreciate as comedy is somewhat difficult. I’m living in Paris, France, a city that doesn’t instantly scream out light, low-brow and sometimes crude entertainment. But, as always, in order to do what you love, you make it work. Believe it or not, there is an English-speaking standup comedy scene in Paris.

Standup isn’t really a thing in France. Well, it’s a thing but it’s not as much of a thing as it is in other places where it really is a thing. And for those over here for whom standup is a thing, they usually only appreciate it in French. That’s why tourists, expats and locals alike are often surprised to find out that our English-speaking shows exist. They’re then even more surprised when they discover that one of the venues we play in is run by Just For Laughs and that we often attract big-name comedians to perform here when they’re passing through town (e.g. Judah Friedlander, Eddie Izzard, Jena Friedman).

Although, performing here is not easy, especially when we see the burgeoning comedy scenes in other capitals around the world. It can be frustrating to feel as if you’re stuck; stuck in an environment where the potential for English entertainment is higher than you’ll find in any other non-English-speaking city in the world, yet the population just don’t seem to want it.

Our English-speaking standup scene in Paris is in what should probably be described as a ‘difficult’ position in terms of where it lays on the Parisian social radar. However, when we think in terms of what Paris has to offer in the realm of entertainment in English, standup could be said to be fairly well established and have little competition.

Due to this lack of alternatives for the Anglophones in Paris, you would think that our rooms would be packed consistently for each show. You would think that… and you would be wrong. The crowds are getting bigger, very gradually and thanks to a lot of hard work, but they’re still not consistent. There are a handful of regulars but it’s honestly just dribs and drabs of tourists, expats and English-speaking locals that come to see us perform. This in turn has an effect on our material because, as I’m sure you will have guessed, we have to keep the language barriers, cultural differences and various expectations of the audiences in mind. In all honesty, we don’t always do that. Sometimes we let loose and do what most other comedians have the luxury of doing every night: we talk about what we want to talk about. It may not get laughs, it may not even be understood, but this is why we really do standup out here. We’re fighting for it.

It would be very easy to give in, throw out a few crappy impressions of what things are like in Paris compared to wherever we’re from, compile them into a weak hour and have a pretty successful one-man-show. That’s what’s been done in Paris in the past and this show is the only main rival of the standup scene in Paris when it comes to entertainment in English. Real comics don’t do this though. It’s not standup. Yes, it could be considered as ‘comedy’ because it can be funny but at the same time, it’s easy. We do comedy because we want the real experience, what’s more, we want the audience to have the real experience. We want our shows to feel like they could be taking place at the Comedy Cellar, the Laugh Factory or the Comedy Store.

The key word there though is could, because, in reality, we’re thousands of miles away from these places and we don’t want to turn into an exact replica. Perhaps the greatest thing about the Parisian English standup scene is that it’s still exciting. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s unpredictable. Someone can write a new set that totally changes who they are as a comedian and then they’ll be followed by a French guy doing a character of a very sensual Spanish painter who poses as an Italian. Comedy here can push the boundaries because, in the eyes of our audience, the boundaries haven’t been set. No one knows what to expect so as a comic, if you manage to ignore linguistic or cultural differences, almost forget about the audience and just do what you think is funny, you actually have the opportunity to experience total creative freedom.

Performing standup in Paris is fundamentally performing standup for crowds who either have loose or have never had any expectations of what standup is. To the masses who come just to see a show in English, we hope to educate; to the few true comedy fans who come, we hope to entertain; and for the even fewer who come that are thinking of starting to do standup but are worried because they’re stuck in Paris, we hope to inspire.

In Paris, we do comedy because we want others to love it just as much as we do.

For more information about English-speaking comedy in Paris, follow @ComedyParis on Twitter.

Henry Dean is a writer, comedian and filmmaker currently living in Paris, France. Follow him on Twitter and visit his website if you really don’t have anything better to do with your life.