Exploring the diversity and precariousness of French stand-up

People of color helped establish the French stand-up scene, which is much younger than in the United States or Britain. Between 2006 and 2015, “Jamel Comedy Club” was broadcast on French television, hosted by Jamel Debbouze, one of the best comedians in the country. Himself of Moroccan descent, Debbouze has largely featured people of color on his show. It gave “a voice to ethnic minorities that they didn’t have on TV shows,” said comedian Paul Taylor, who performs in a mix of English and French.

Taylor said there were only four clubs in France that followed the English-language stand-up tradition, with a lineup of multiple comedians each night. Generally, solo shows are favored in France, a result of the country’s strong theatrical tradition. Besides Paname, the three other clubs have only been open for three years: Madame Sarfati, Fridge and Barbès Comedy Club.

The Funny Comedy Club in “Standing Up” was a purpose-built set, just in case Paris is in lockdown due to the coronavirus. The actors practiced their sets at the Barbès Comedy Club, which opened clandestine parties during the second Paris lockdown, with around ten comedians performing in front of around 30 spectators. Audiences didn’t know that the cast of “Stand Up” weren’t from the comics, or that they were training for a TV show.

When it came time to film the stand-up sets of the characters in Funny, the audience was made up of non-actors, with one camera pointed at the comedian performer, and another at the audience’s reactions. “There’s nothing worse than fake laughs and fake reactions,” Herrero said.

Well-respected French comedians – Jason Brokerss, Fanny Ruwet and Shirley Souagnon – wrote the sets for the characters. Like “Call My Agent!”, the show features cameos, in this case from other French comics, including Hakim Jemili and Panayotis Pascot, who perform set snippets throughout each episode. Unlike the appearances of internationally acclaimed actors in “Call My Agent!”, Herrero doesn’t expect French audiences, let alone Netflix viewers in other countries, to recognize these performers.

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