|LETTER FROM PARIS
|By MERVYN ROTHSTEIN
Olivier Giraud started performing his one-man English-language comedy show How to Become Parisian in One Hour? in July 2009 at a 235-seat theater in Paris's 11th Arrondissement. Word of mouth was good, and audiences started coming from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Latin America and of course Paris.
In July 2012, he moved to the 600-seat Theatre des Nouveautés on Paris' Grand Boulevards. He's still there – with good reason. To put it briefly, he’s funny. His routine simply makes you laugh, as he describes how Parisians and their reserve, cynicism and unique humor are so very different from so many other cultures. His comically expressive face and body movements help illustrate the difference.
More than 500,000 people are said to have seen Giraud’s show, and they continue to come from everywhere. At a recent performance, audience members in a nearly full theater shouted out their home countries, which included Canada, Britain, the United States, Holland, Australia, Norway, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Russia, South Korea, Germany and Saudi Arabia. He’s also traveled with the show to England, Belgium, Spain and Portugal.
When the curtain rises, there’s just Giraud, dressed in black, and a black leather chair. His English has a distinct French accent but is totally understandable. There’s much audience participation, almost all voluntary, and the show can vary each night depending on the reactions he gets. Immediately he begins to explain how to – and how not to – behave like a Parisian. Topics include how to dress in Paris (“when it’s cold, wear a scarf; when it’s hot, wear a scarf”) and how to deal with uninterested clerks in a store, bored waiters in a restaurant and rude drivers in a taxi. Then there’s life on the Métro: Always keep a depressed expression on your face, and never give a pregnant woman your seat (“it’s not your fault” she’s pregnant).
Later on, the show gets enjoyably sexy – how to kiss a Parisian woman in a nightclub, how to understand sexuality in Paris, how to fake an orgasm like a Parisian woman (he does it well). You learn how to communicate with a Parisian (“in Paris, the only time you hug is when somebody dies”) and how to use the phrase “ooh la la.” Finally, and most importantly, he discusses how to find an apartment in Paris, a city with famously small and pricey flats (“keep smiling even if you want to hang yourself”).
It’s all in good fun. The audience, of all ages, has come to laugh, and does so eagerly and heartily. Although the humor is basic, even at times unsophisticated, I found myself smiling and laughing too.
Giraud got the idea for the show while he was managing a top French restaurant in South Florida and noticed the distinct difference between the American and French clientele. He had always wanted to be a comedian, and felt he had to give it a try. When he presented his idea – an English-language comedy show in Paris, which doesn’t have much English-language theater – he was met with disbelief, and many rejections. But one theater manager gave him a chance, and people came.
I interviewed Giraud back in 2011 for Playbill, and he described it this way: "It's the best way to attract more people — get them to laugh a lot. Even the French like to laugh about themselves.” Eight years later, they’re still doing it.
The show is 75 minutes. It’s offered four nights a week, Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 6. The theater’s bar opens 45 minutes before curtain time, so you can get a drink beforehand, and when the comedy is finished you can head out for dinner in Paris. And you’ve just learned how to get the waiter to take your order.
Theatre des Nouveautés is at 24 Boulevard Poissonnière, 75009 Paris.