After music, humor has undoubtedly become one of the most diversified artistic mediums in France. The place of laughter has become essential in the entertainment offer of French society.
On TV as on the radio, the columnists who come from the one man show are more and more numerous. Comedians join the castings of series and films. Performance halls dedicated to the open stage have become as popular places to go out as traditional theaters.
With the emergence of this young and funny scene, we have also been able to see that of a class of humorists from immigration to France. Driven by the work of Jamel Debbouze – whether through his Jamel Comedy Club or through the Marrakech of laughter – this trend of humor tinged with foreign cultures, notably North African, continues today.
Among the artists widely followed in France and sometimes even beyond the French borders, we find a large number of actors and actresses of Algerian origin. Their humor and their game is tinged with Algerian culture acquired during their childhood in Algeria or sometimes by family heritage.
Algerian comedians who expose themselves without filter
The excessive pride or the legendary nervousness, even eccentricity of the Algerians, the flag waved on all occasions… These themes have become recurrent on the French stand-up scenes. Whether the artists who evoke them have a link with the country or not, the Algerian subject makes the public laugh. No teasing, no, but rather an affectionate and fascinated laugh.
How did these themes infuse into the French comedy scene? The first one man shows recounted the difficult childhoods as a child from an immigrant and modest background. Sketches around the cultural difference between the first immigrant generation and the following ones. It is these first elements that slowly introduce an unknown although composite culture of French society. Laughter made it possible to universalize certain themes and above all to show more diversified faces.
“Algerianness” very quickly found an echo first in the major French cities and then throughout the country. We discovered the self-mockery of the Algerians, the “tmeskhir”, a very important feature of Algerian culture.
This is how a multitude of actresses and comedians of Algerian origin emerged who played on their origins to make audiences laugh. Redouane Bougheraba, Melha Bedia, Ahmed Sparrow, Malik Bentalha, the Count of Bouderbala, Lamine Lezghad called Naïm, Wary Nichen, Réda Seddik… Finally, we have the impression that this scene is a late takeover of the work started by fellag in France.
Even artists not cataloged as “Maghrebs” or “Algerians” do not hesitate to mention their friends of Algerian origin who marked them during their lives. Thus, Roman Frayssinet recounts his admiration for the children of immigrants who manage the administrative papers, including their parents’ tax slips, from an early age. Bun Hay Mean makes fun of the “Adam’s potato” of the Algerians who replace the Adam’s apple as they are known for their nervousness.
The Algerian assumes himself entirely on stage and without filter, with his faults and his qualities. Something to counterbalance the anti-foreign debates that are plaguing France. This Algerian and North African scene, too, helps to highlight a reality, one can be French, proud of it, without ever concealing one’s part elsewhere.
A reinvented language, a rediscovered culture
Humor is a vehicle for recounting the true journey of immigrants and children of immigrants. Ask the right words about their reality and their difficulties in French society in which they have been given a very controlled place.
Stand-up or comedy has also allowed these artists to rediscover a pride in being bicultural. The fact of recounting his private life and therefore his family history makes it possible to go against the erroneous beliefs that a North African origin is not of great use, even that it is a shame. An idea widely developed in France. Take for example speaking Arabic and especially Arabic dialects. This skill is absolutely not valued in France, unlike English, German or Spanish for example.
“I remember a scene in college, when we were starting to learn foreign languages. Our English teacher had asked us if we already spoke another language. I spontaneously replied that I spoke Algerian. My teacher had simply said: ‘I speak a real language’. From that day on, my understanding of the darija was silenced,” confides Halima, a 32-year-old young woman from Lyon.
Many North Africans like Halima have never dared to highlight this language. The stand-up made it possible to assume it. The comedians do not hesitate to use Arabic on stage and to explain certain symbols represented by words or expressions in classical Arabic or Darija. As Wary Nichen does on stage and through videos.
The comedy scene takes on a sort of ambassadorial role, which certain musicians or actors of foreign origin or even professional footballers may have had. Thanks to their talent, which made them universal, they were able to highlight their dual culture, their intimacy and their heritage.
Since that’s what it’s about, telling the multiplicity. These comics are inspired by their origins, but do not make it a unique subject. On stage, they also tell what a life in Paris or Marseille entails, as Redouane Bougheraba does.
What the arrival of an Algerian student in France implies, as Réda Seddiki has already done. Their Algerian or North African origin is only a bias to tell a part of their life. Like any work, it necessarily resonates with other people, whether they are Algerian, French or of another nationality.
Moreover, the formula does not only work with an audience of North African origins. Certainly the personal stories of the comedians echo millions of journeys of children of immigrants. But this humour, which is a form of sociology of dual nationals, also makes it possible to create a link with other populations.
Sometimes it even creates a bridge between the country of origin and the country of immigration. Many comedians of Algerian origin have been able to come and play on the lands of their ancestors. Sometimes even in their hometown where an audience was waiting for them.
A player in the events sector (in France and in Algeria) believes that these Franco-Algerian stand-up artists manage to reach a North African audience for a specific reason.
“These dual nationals were born and raised in France with an Algerian education so generally the parents were not born there, we are on the second generation of immigrants. Their parents left to work in France with an Algerian-Algerian culture and finally the paradox was that these people lived at home, practically the same education as the Algerians. With this French touch, the famous ‘immigrant’ or ‘zimmigri’ as we liked to say. And that provokes laughter, we have all experienced the same thing”, explains our interlocutor who was able to meet these stand-uppers who came to test their verve in Algeria.
“I too was born and raised in France”, confides our interlocutor, who feels the same as his compatriots and who believes:
“This mixture of cultures has allowed us all to come together around the Algerian origin with different perspectives on both sides of the Mediterranean. This is what, I think, is very funny to live humanly and the Algerians are fond of it now.
This common experience of education “Algerian style in France” or “this cousin who came to Algeria in the summer with a pair of sneakers, bananas and a jar of Nutella and that everyone loved” allowed a nice complexity in the culture shared by the two shores of the Mediterranean.
But also obvious humorous tricks. We don’t hide our difference, but we assume it in stand-up. “The immigrant who takes a ‘betrayal’ from his mother when the little Frenchman does not have it, it makes everyone laugh”, estimates our interlocutor.
An international public seduced by the Algerian sauce
The stand-up, for example, is not confined to the Paris region. Comedians like Ahmed Sparrow or Redouane Bougheraba made the public laugh at the famous Montreux comedy festival in Switzerland. The Count of Bouderbala was the first Franco-Algerian artist to perform on the Comedy Cellar stage in Manhattan. Naïm even performed at a comedy festival in Tel Aviv, where he promised to remain himself without censoring himself.
This scene, which has also included the production of series and films, even offers the opportunity to tell their story through online video platforms. The sketches are hitting YouTube and can be watched worldwide.
Series whose cast has been drawn from this pool of talented comedians also offer an interesting showcase. The Funny series on Netflix has made it possible to tell this diversified France by following the journey of different stand-ups who try to invent a place in French society through humor. The main character is played by Algerian-born rapper Younes Boucif. The young stand-upper in the series draws inspiration from his family.
The Miskina series by Melha Bedia is also interesting, it shows the reality of Algerian but also North African families. This comedy seduced a large audience on Amazon Prime and was even praised by the French press.
“I really liked the series because, for once, I had the impression that it stuck to reality. We were really in the daily life of an Algerian family in France today. Each member is different, there are particularities in the personalities. Everything mixes”, explains Anissa, a 26-year-old Franco-Algerian Marseillaise, who however has no connection with the story of the series which takes place in the Paris suburbs.
These productions, which are the logical continuation of the work done on stage, make it possible to rework the image of French people of foreign origin. Humor is ultimately a decipherer of this part of French society that is not found in the media or the classical arts.
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