“Let’s do it”, just three words in English from Gad answering one of my messages on Instagram and voilà, we set up a phone meeting in few days for an interview on the blog. It all started when I found out that Gad Elmaleh, the big star of comedy in France, was planning to come to Australia as part of the festival Just For Laughs.
Many French people, including myself, adore the Gad’s humour. I saw him during a show in Marseille and I can’t get enough of it. Gad is the mate that you would love to have and for French people he’s the mate with whom you can be assured of having fun and serious giggles with. You just have to watch some of Gad’s sketches to pick yourself up. It’s often the case for me on the other side of the world here in Melbourne.
So I decided to do something I do rarely, I got out my IPhone, in Instagram mode, to send to him a message to offer him an interview on the blog. Then here I am speaking with Gad on phone. Oui oui I’ll let you imagine how surprised I was!
I have seen Gad on stage and on big screen with his timeless hilarious sketches “where is Bryan?” (a sketch about the French people learning English at school), the adventures of the blond (during his famous show “L’autre c’est moi”) and his funny facial expressions that make me laugh so much. When you see Gad, you are already smiling and getting an endorphin boost. He makes you laugh on stage and he is moving on the big screen. Gad is a comedian with many surprises, revealing to his many different gifts and talents to his audience.
The phone is ringing. Video call from Gad Elmaleh appears on my phone. I suddenly realise that all this is real. I’m meeting on phone with Gad who I hope, will allow me to learn more about him. A very Frenchie style with a hat, a smile that I have to confess, can’t live you indifferent, sweet eyes and most of all the feeling of speaking with a friend who puts you immediately at ease: Gad charms on stage and on the big screen, and in this case it was on the screen of my phone.
For you my dear Aussies who maybe do not know him, allow myself to introduce you Gad Elmaleh, an iconic face of humour à la française, a Steve Jobs of comedy who reinvented the one-man show in France, clearly accessible and j’adore. After a successful tour in US (New York, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Phoenix…), a duo with Jerry Seinfeld soon, Gad gives us the privilege to come to Australia and share his humour in English.
FCT: Bonjour Gad. First of all, a big merci for having accepted this random, unexpected interview and certainly a bit bold coming from me.
GAD ELMALEH: Social media are wonderful (with a big smile). We can maybe say You (well let me explain, in French we have two forms of you, one very polite that we use for people who we do not know, and one very friendly using for friends and family… Well I told you… a mate).
FCT: It is with an immense pleasure that I found out that you are coming to Australia, Melbourne and Sydney in September. I know you as an artist but my Aussies friends don’t know you and I would like to introduce you to the Australian audience, to share the Gad of the French and Moroccan people.
Indeed, to cut a long story short, Gad was born in Casablanca, Morocco. In 1992, he came to set up his life in France and study at the well-known Cours Florent in Paris. He became the assistant of Elie Kakou, another icon of French humour in the 90s. With the passing years, Gad then goes on stage, starting one-man shows and filling the biggest auditoriums in the biggest cities of France. He will also play different roles in cinema, like “Priceless” with Audrey Tautou that a lot of Australians loved.
But let’s get back to today with Gad, a random Tuesday in June on the phone to LA from Melbourne.
FCT: How did you become comedian? Who gave you the desire to do shows? Do you have someone special who inspired you, like a mentor?
GAD ELMALEH: I’m not going to go back to my childhood as I will bore you, however there is one person who inspired me, a source of inspiration who became also a friend and I’m who working with at the moment, it’s Jerry Seinfeld. I’m going to even do a show with him this coming summer (US summer). We are going to share the same stage in Montreal during the Comedy Festival. He has been a big inspiration for me but I have to tell, you don’t decide to be comedian. The big picture is you have it in you and I had it in me. As a child in Morocco, I started in my early years. (Indeed, Gad had a father who was a mime artist and Gad was on stage with his father when he was 5 years old). But the gift and the desire to constantly observe comes from who I am deep down. I don’t think there is one interesting comedian in the world who is not observer. For example, right now while I’m speaking with you, I’m observing everything around me.
There is one person who inspired me, a source of inspiration who became also a friend and I’m who working with at the moment, it’s Jerry Seinfeld.
FCT: I know that you get inspiration from what you see around, in the streets… by the way I do appreciate watching the short videos that you’re making on Instagram based on your surroundings because I can see that you get inspiration for future shows from them. I’m often wondering how you write your shows, what is the trigger and do you need special conditions to write?
GAD ELMALEH: I’m always observing, constantly and I note things in a random way. When I have time, I take a break and I gather all my notes in notebooks. Wait, I’m going to show you. (Gad shows me various little black notebooks, with writings in black ink that make me immediately think of a writer’s notebook, a Hemingway of comedy. I share this with him, he smiles and we laugh).
I have a lot of notebooks writing things in a completely arbitrary and anarchic way. In these notes, there are words, observations, ideas, emotions and I always say to myself that if I wrote this that means there is a reason; and I will see this reason when I gather all these ideas together. Sometimes I sit and I put everything together and it gives sketches that I have to try on stage before to know if it’s funny. I write a lot while I’m playing. I never know what is going to be funny before. i need to try it out before I know.
FCT: A bit like a writer?
GAD ELMALEH: The difference with a writer is that we comedians need a public audience. To give you an idea, if I do not have the public in front of me, I am unable to know if it’s funny. And you only know this when the public gives you his verdict so I need the public.
FCT: I didn’t plan to ask you this question as I’m going with the flow in our conversation but can you tell me if you could go without the public? Do you need at some point to take a break from the public? Maybe the US is a good opportunity for it?
GAD ELMALEH: It’s not with the public but more from the notoriety because I continue to play in comedy clubs here in US and people do not really know me. It is not a break from the public itself, it’s more the notoriety. But at the same time I have to be honest with you, I miss my public, my first public that allowed me to become who I am today. I miss them from time to time. However I have to tell them (smile), a bit like with marriage, we need to provide some thrills in our relationship (laughs).
FCT: Well which means when you return to your French public, it’s going to be more passionate.
GAD ELMALEH: Yes and it will and it will be so much better… I also like this idea of being totally anonymous. Right now, I am in a café at Los Angeles and look (he shows me around him), there is not one person who comes to me, who knows me and that’s quite nice. It’s a pleasant feeling. (He takes his coffee). I’m drinking a cappuccino, I never drink cappuccino (he’s telling me this in a funny solemn intonation).
FCT: Are you doing this since you are in LA like your LA signature drink? (smile)
GAD ELMALEH: No, I don’t know. I only wanted to say the word cappuccino. (That makes me laugh, I am definitely interviewing our French comedian).
FCT: That’s true Gad Elmaleh, it’s a really beautiful poetic word (smile). Gad I don’t know you personally but you give this feeling that you are an artist who likes to try everything. You know incredibly well how to make people laugh, you play music, you dance, you act. You seem like you always want to learn, you have a thirst for culture, like someone who wants to challenge himself. Is this how you came up with the idea of touring the US? Can you explain to me a bit about this challenge and what it brings you in your life?
Actually I don’t know if this challenge is linked with America. It’s more connected with myself. I wanted to push myself, step outside of my comfort zone.
You know one day I made Americans laugh in a comedy club who had no idea who I was then I called my sister who is a very gifted author and with whom I’m also very close and I said to her: “I’m a real comedian” and she said to me “what are you talking about?” so I told her “because I played in front of people who do not know me and they laughed.” Wow… she said “that’s wonderful”. I have the feeling that I have to earn these laughs.
I wanted to push myself, step outside of my comfort zone. So that’s the challenge.
To always be able to prove to myself that people really love me for what I really do.
It’s not only about notoriety. And I can see this in US every day because people don’t know me. Likewise in Australia. However the big chance I have in Australia is the support of the expatriate community who will be able to see me. The wonderful thing is… you know I have received a lot of messages from Sydney for example, people who want to bring their Australian mate, their fiancé, their roommate, their colleague from work to the show because through the language, you can share the French-Moroccan culture. This is really satisfying for me.
I didn’t realise the extent of this in Australia and I certainly may have to add shows as it’s been so popular. Crazy right… It’s amazing!
FCT: So what about making people laugh in a different language? It is difficult and I know it because when I came to Australia 5 years ago I was confronted with the culture shock of trying to make few jokes à la française and I felt pretty lonely so for you who already did shows in US, I am sure that you have noticed differences in humour.
Regarding humour I have to tell you that it’s important to speak about universal themes that touch Americans, Australians, and Anglophones. You cannot only use topics alone. There are universal themes, you just need to translate them. If you speak about couples, if you speak about being drunk, these things touch all the languages but once you speak about more specific things, you have to give the keys to your public to make them understand you. The comedians have to understand the culture of a country to mock them in a kind way and make them accept you. I am sure that there are a few things that will allow the Australians, the French and the immigrants to immediately connect. And I’m also sure that there are Australian specificities that French people struggle when they arrive in Australia.
I think the comedians have to understand that we have to understand the culture of a country to mock them in a kind way and make them accept you.
FCT: (Indeed, I share with him for exemple the article I wrote when I came to Australia about dating in a relationship as French people do not date. And here we are speaking about the differences between France and Australia).
There are a lot of French expatriates in Australia (between 60,000 and 70,000 people, around 20% of them in Melbourne and almost the double in Sydney), from now on you are also an expatriate in New York, what does it bring in your life? In one of your shows, you said “not everything is good but there are things to take”, what do you like in New York?
I speak more about my work. I believe that the French have a big complex with American comedians, American cinema, American theatre, American TV and I believe that the more I live in US the more I love them. I understand that I do not like everything in a unique, global, radical, unconditional, systematic way. There are things that I like, such as their efficiency, Americans are doers. But there is less charm, delicacy, fullness and I think that we have this in France and we have to be proud of what we are bringing too. We can’t have a complex about anglo-saxons and I believe that each identity can be strong. I do like the mix of both because if I make a show in a French way I would find it too long not efficient and in an American way too cold so I try to mix with both.
There are also Australian comedians that I admire such as Jim Jefferies or Carl Barron.
FCT: I remember a few weeks ago I commented for the first time on your Instagram telling you that you should come to Australia. Please tell me (smile) that the comment of FrenChicTouch had a little impact on your choice about Australia (French arrogance with a touch of humour)? (Laugh on my side)
(smile) I’m going to tell you the truth, Australia is a dream for me. I have never been. I always fantasised about Australia. There is something about the other side of the world of course. It was an opportunity. There are also Australian comedians that I admire such as Jim Jefferies or Carl Barron and I felt like I wanted to connect with a new public even if there are a lot French immigrants in my audience. I want to connect with them because they are proud to see one of them coming to do a show in their country, it’s live and not on DVD or on the internet, and as I told you it’s a challenge, to export my comedy to the other side of the world. I really can’t wait. There are two cities for the moment. We plan maybe to add a show in Sydney if everything continues to go well.
FCT: Well I should finish (oops I’m totally aware that I’m out of time).
Even CNN this morning took less time (laughs).
FCT: I promise, I’ll finish up. I can see that overseas people love France and French people and we often hear the expression “je ne sais quoi”, what is “je ne sais quoi” for you?
Je ne sais pas (which means I don’t know rhyming with je ne sais quoi and I can recognise the improvisation talent of Gad). I think something that we can’t explain which is irrational. Some charm, a form of elegance, something that eludes us that we can’t control and that is a part of the culture, it’s unconscious. It’s like elegance. There are always people who try desperately to be elegant and never will be and people who do not know it, but they are automatically elegant, refined. I find this in French people, ok they also have their faults but they have this je ne sais quoi.
FCT: In my blog and during my workshops, I speak to people about Style à la Française with a desire to speak also about femininity, I am curious… What is femininity for you?
Wow, femininity is not trying desperately to be feminine. Its’ within herself and it’s deeply feeling like woman and feminine that will make feel something feminine. Femininity is the consequence of something that you profoundly are and that you fully live out. It’s not an outward effect. It’s not a demonstration of femininity, it’s like charisma.
I believe that women that touch me more with their femininity are the ones who are at ease, comfortable with their femininity and their body, whatever the body. I say whatever the body because unfortunately nowadays femininity has some obsessions “you have to be like this or like that” but I often see women more feminine with rounded shapes who are magnificent and I see women totally into their workouts who want so much to show they are women but I can’t even look at them, I don’t understand. But I believe it’s like charm. A guy or a woman who says “I’m going to be charming today” that’s it, no way. However I believe that everything starts by working on ourselves, a work that I also do, this work is to be confident but that is the most difficult.
Voilà, this is how I ended my interview with Gad Elmaleh, well with few words and smiles exchanged and an “A bientôt in Melbourne”. Of course, you can imagine that I had plenty of other questions. Spending time with a French comedian makes you want to know more.
I was delighted to share this conversation with him who has for sure this unexplainable je ne sais quoi. Merci Gad for your time, your smile and your generosity. See you in Melbourne because of course I won’t miss out on this event.
And for you guys who also want to discover this comedian on stage, let be charmed by his French accent and this unconditional je ne sais quoi, laugh… come and experience his French humour in English, book your tickets now:
- Melbourne: Thursday, 14 September at Melbourne Recital Centre
- Sydney: Tuesday, 18 September and Wednesday, 19 September at City Recital Hall
“A dazzling versatile entertainer” – New Yorker
Visit the website gadelmaleh.com
Interview realised in French on Tuesday 13, June 2017.
Merci NHM Translation for your help with the English translation.