They’re inspired by Charlie Hedbo and tell jokes that would get British comedians cancelled. Our writer spends a week watching French standups
A plagiarism scandal has swept French standup in recent years, with many of its biggest names being accused of having stolen jokes from their British and American counterparts. Some of the examples – posted online by anonymous whistleblower CopyComic – date from 15 years back, before the internet made the exposure of joke theft far more likely. Big-hitters implicated in the scandal included French-Moroccan superstars Jamel Debbouze and Gad Elmaleh, who are said to have ripped off Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld respectively. Debbouze responded by saying he was inspired by, but did not model himself on, Chappelle; while Elmaleh claimed the accusations, while partly true, had been blown out of proportion.
It’s a story that is, paradoxically, a gift to comedy. The standup Shirley Souagnon refers to it at the start of her Netflix set, joking that she’s going to be performing Chris Rock jokes, the better to preserve her own material’s shelf life. It’s also a story that shores up our Anglo-Saxon sense of comic superiority. It’s an English-language artform, right? And we Brits are uniquely funny, n’est-ce pas? To many of us, the beginning and end of French standup is probably Eddie Izzard’s famous 1990s routine about “le singe” being “dans l’arbre”.
Read more: theguardian.com