Gad Elmaleh: a foreigner with local colors

Posted on juin 4, 2010

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I may be late but I can’t resist the envy to blog about Gad Elmaleh a French humorist originally from Morocco that studied during 5 years in Canada. On May 27 and 28th, the 12 000 Montrealers that came to meet him did more than just bursting out laughing. The crowds moved along to see him perform the last dates of his 3-years old show « Papa est en haut ».

On January, the Bell Center already announced full house for Elmaleh’s show. The Bell Centre is said to be the busiest arena in North America and the 5th busiest complex in the world.

The Montreal version of the Métro newspaper proclaimed that it was an accomplishment for a French humorist to fill the Bell Centre on his own. To me it’s a miracle – not an accomplishment – to see an African artist gather so many people from different backgrounds. Most people forget that Gad was born and raised in Morocco. Studying in Quebec and living in France has undeniably defined his art but his little observations of the everyday betrays an African essence, especially when he describes his inferiority complex towards « the blond ».

The blond, blue-eyed American Dream

Gad vs Blonde

Gad feeling weak in front of "The Blond"

One of his most famous character is simply called « the blond ». « The blond » is this perfect, ideal dude that all women dream about, he is the one that makes you feel so small because he is so perfect. Do I need to mention that he is blond?
The blond doesn’t get dirty while eating because you will never see his tomatoes stick their heads out of the sandwich to say « hello ». The blond looks gorgeous even in the most ridiculous outfits, the type of sunglasses that makes you look like a mosquito simply look good on him.  The blond doesn’t fear for his life while on a plane and he skies gracioulsy. His kids are very disciplined. When they color, they make sure they respect the border of the drawings – unlike your kids who are proud to show you how they colored all over the place.
To me this fascination for this Brad Pitt with a Arnold Schwarzy temper is much like some African (or even French foks) that are left flabbergasted by the American Dream.
But after years of relentless endeavors, Gad has finally made it to the States (that he pronounces the Stiiites) to perform in L.A.

But how has a guy from Casablanca managed to become a real scream to all the French communities in the world, be dubbed the French Jerry Seinfield and become the favorite humorist in France?

Metis

Gad Elmaleh mimicking French people

Gad Elmaleh mimicking French people

No he’s not café au lait a la Obama but his a pure product of multiculturalism. When you’ve been to many different places in this planet, you always feel like you can laugh about anyone.

Because most of Gad’s jokes are cultural, I have always thought that a good understanding of what’s happening in Africa, in France and in Quebec was required to enjoy his humor. But my theory found opposition in the testimony of guy from Louisiana that mumbles barely French. He explained that he even though he only understands 50% of the show, he laughs non-stop because of the hilarious features and body language of the humorist.
For every different nationality counterfeited, Gad modifies his facial appearance and the tone of his voice.
When he caricatures American people, he stands up straight and flaunts himself with an airy and snobbish look.
On his previous show, he used to make fun about French people who take English courses and have to read generic sentences from their coursebooks such as « it’s raining » or « Where is Brian? Brian is in the kitchen ».
The anecdote that became know as Brian is in the kitchen is so famous that it has even sparked a Fan page on Facebook. Unfortunately for him, he will never be able to surprise people with this part again. His DVD became so popular that no matter where he performs on this planet, he can’t finish the sentence « where is Brian? » because the crowd would have already answered Brian is in the kitchen! If you want a good idea of how he cries in English, I suggest that you listen to « Where is Brian? » via Youtube.

When he does a Morrocan or an Arab character, he moves his tongue and hands vigorously and speak in a broken French with a bad accent. But he doesn’t only mocks the accent; he goes as far as mocking their French. He also told us that after a show in Morocco a lady explained how he made her family piss laughing:

She told me: You have pissed us laughing. You peed us all. You peed my husband, you peed my children, you peed myself, you peed my neighbors, you peed everybody. It’s quite simple,  when I see you, I pee, I pee, I pee.

It obviously takes a reasonable dose of self-derision to appreciate his humor.

Throwing flowers or tomatoes?

One of the most screamingly funny and moving moments last Friday was when he let the music take over. I already knew he was good singer and that he could handle the guitar well but I wasn’t really expecting some piano notes. It was phenomenal! But I knew I shouldn’t give in. Gad is a humorist, not a singer. His ultimate goal with all these touching moments was to parody musicians and singers who exaggerate an affected or contrite look as they hum stupid songs.

Instead of being in awe because of his voice (clear and melodic) we doubled up with laughter because the lyrics were in gobbledygook and his facial expressions and body language was just ridiculous.

Besides, when he began his career, he used to perform Petit oiseau, a song that he wrote years ago. Even though he has written other songs for most recent shows, the public is still hung up on Petit oiseau. He even complained about the fact that he gets booed if he refuses to sing it again. I was actually among the spectators in Montreal that kept shouting Petit oiseau and that started to boo when he tried to ignore our request. When he finally agreed to play this stupid song, we sang along with passion for about less than 1 minute; this is how short the song is!

Other than singing, we have also enjoyed seeing him move to the music. His dancing is actually bad but since he has no complex, it becomes funny of course.
He closed the show as he opened it; he was gesticulating on Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough … Oh and he came back wearing the jersey of the Canadian hockey team. At the back it read, « Gad # 1. »