Even if it’s not the most famous French export, stand-up comedy is an essential part of France’s cultural landscape. Comedy in France has a long tradition of playing with the language in savvy and playful ways. Comedic wordplay can be a great resource to study the language, French comedy can also provide a glimpse into the evolution of the country. In recent decades, humor – including stand-up comedy – has broken barriers in France and expanded people’s horizons.
With that, here are seven French stand-up comedians we think you should know. Each person below has contributed to the culture of France through their performances and quick wit.
- 1. Raymond Devos, the French pun maestro
- 2. Pierre Desproges, the dark comedy prince of French stand-up comedians
- 3. Florence Foresti, the naughty comedian of the noughties
- 4. Blanche Gardin, the new star of French caustic stand-up comedy
- 5. Jamel Debbouze, the melting-pot comedian
- 6. Gad Elmaleh, the master of improvisation
- 7. Paul Taylor, the franglais stand-up comedian
Ready to start learning with Lingoda?
1. Raymond Devos, the French pun maestro
Only in France would stand-up comedy be elevated to an art form! Some French stand-up comedians like Raymond Devos have even achieved literary fame – compiling their sketches into books that oftentimes rank alongside the most renowned French writers. While the expert use of the language may require a more advanced level, such books of sketches make it easier to understand and learn everyday vocabulary and idioms.
With a ferocious appetite for puns, Raymond Devos is quite likely the most highly regarded wordsmith among the old guard of stand-up comedians from France. In his sketches, he loves to play with the French language, for instance by mixing homophones or by taking idioms in a literal way in order to create nonsensical monologues. Among many others, his sketch Parler pour ne rien dire (literally “to talk to say nothing”, or, to use a more common phrase, “to talk for the sake of talking”) sums up his love of the French language and of a good pun.
2. Pierre Desproges, the dark comedy prince of French stand-up comedians
Famous for his dark, caustic sense of humor, Pierre Desproges often approached subjects that other comedians prefer to avoid, like religion, incurable diseases and death. He combined this predilection for difficult topics with a strong command of the French language, mixing together various linguistic registers, from the most vulgar to the most refined. Such is his sketch Les cintres (The coathangers): in describing the daily fight of the man trying to grab his trousers in his wardrobe in the morning, Desproges alternates between lyrical flights and mundane observations, while also adding puns that would have delighted Raymond Devos.
3. Florence Foresti, the naughty comedian of the noughties
Over the past few decades, a growing number of female stand-up comedians have risen to fame, on stage, on television or in cinemas. Since the 1980s, household names on the comedy scene have included women like Muriel Robin, Michèle Laroque, Anne Roumanoff and Mimie Mathy. No style or no topic is off-limits, from hilarious descriptions of everyday situations to acerbic comments on both feminist and female issues.
The list of female comedians wouldn’t be complete without Florence Foresti. She’s probably the first female stand-up comedian to have gained success in the 2000s in France. The multi-talented artist has appeared in films, TV shows and theater plays. Her sketches are often inspired by her own life and are peppered with feminist snark. For instance, in La vérité selon Florence Foresti (The truth according to Florence Foresti), she plays out what it would sound like if a woman decided to tell the truth for a whole day, be it at work or at home.
4. Blanche Gardin, the new star of French caustic stand-up comedy
Even more recently, Blanche Gardin has made a name for herself, with her caustic sense of humor. Her comedy style is most definitely not for the faint-hearted. Taken alone, her famous sketch Être une femme / Être un homme (To be a woman / To be a man) talks about sex, extra-marital affairs, erections, menstrual cycles and the #metoo movement. You’re warned!
5. Jamel Debbouze, the melting-pot comedian
With his unmissable laughter and infectious energy, Jamel Debbouze brings a childlike innocence to his stand-up act and to his characters in such quotable French movies as Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie) and Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre (Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra). His own life story is one of multiculturalism: Originally from Morocco, but born and raised in a poor suburb of Paris, Jamel Debbouze is now happily married to Mélissa Theuriau, a well-known journalist in France. Unsurprisingly, this originally led to a choc des cultures that inspired one of his funniest sketches.
6. Gad Elmaleh, the master of improvisation
Alongside Jamel Debbouze, Gad Elmaleh is another French-Moroccan stand-up comedian who started his career in the 1990s. He is most famously known for his improvising style, picking up on the public’s reactions or whatever slip occurring on stage. If you are currently studying French, you might particularly appreciate his sketch on learning English in secondary school. Thankfully, Elmaleh has gone a long way since his school days: The comedian has done stand-comedy both in French and in English and toured in America, as proven by his shows on Netflix.
7. Paul Taylor, the franglais stand-up comedian
Although he is British, Paul Taylor has made his way into our list: The comedian has crossed over to perform stand-up shows in French. With a foot in each country, he is able to make fun of both cultures. In one of his sketches, he explains with hilarious effect how his unusual command of French, which he speaks with no accent while still making beginner’s mistakes, is a source of confusion and perplexity. Surely, any person studying French will relate…
The final punchline in our list of famous French stand-up comedians
Obviously, this short list of seven French stand-up comedians is far from exhaustive. But it is a good start to give you a fair idea of some important trends that make humor on the French stage so unique and representative of the evolving society and culture in France.
Ready to start learning with Lingoda?
Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.