The Dark Side of French Humor

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Having been married to a Frenchman for sixteen years, I know a lack of a sense of humor when I see it.  His jokes weren’t funny to me; my jokes weren’t funny to him.  We eventually divorced due to this total humorless vacuum (and maybe for a couple of other reasons I don’t want to talk about here).  My point is that not being able to laugh together can definitely kill a relationship.  I just saw it happen on television this week when a French comedian-weather girl verbally killed her budding professional relationship with Jonah Hill, the American actor, comedian, screenwriter and producer.

Jonah was in Paris promoting the film, War Dogs, which was released in France this week.  He and fellow co-star Miles Teller were guests on “Le Petit Journal,” a French news and entertainment program.

Jonah Hill, in Paris on a promotional tour of War Dogs.
Jonah Hill, in Paris on a promotional tour of War Dogs.

Their interviewer, Ornella Fleury, was a pretty, young weather-girl who thought that ridicule and humor were synonymous.  She kicked off the live conversation with Jonah Hill with a daring proclamation of how she first fell under his charms.  These were her exact words: “It was when I saw you get sodomized by a 3-meter tall demon in This Is The End,” she said, “that I told myself, now THAT’S the man of my dreams.”

Now, please tell me, firstly, how does this statement makes any sexual sense and, secondly, how in the world did she expect Jonah Hill to react?  Well, he gave her the “right back at you lady” treatment with the following quote, said via his translator, “I heard you get sodomized quite often.”  That wasn’t enough to stop Mademoiselle Fleury as she pummeled through a very awkward live-TV moment with an even more awkward sexual fantasy of hers.  Here it is in all its glory.  “We would meet up in a hotel room at night. We would chat, you’d make me laugh… and then, all of a sudden, you’d bring your friends Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. And then you would leave.”

Jonah Hill was, as he should be, offended.  He said something about coming to France to promote a movie, not to be publicly ridiculed by a “local weather girl” and he left – the TV set and the country.  He subsequently canceled all his further appearances in France. The

Ornella Fleury, the weather girl and would-be comic.
Ornella Fleury, the weather girl and would-be comic.

weather-girl apologized to Jonah in front of the camera the next day, spurting out some lame excuse about how she mistakenly thought that she and Jonah were “friends” due to the fact that she has seen him in films for the last ten years.  So she was just messing around with him (well, her statements were certainly “messy”).  Jonah Hill has not responded and probably never will.  Her actions certainly don’t merit any sort of response on his part.  One more relationship has gone south due to a mismatch of senses of humor.

This incident got me thinking about the kind of “humor” the French feel comfortable with.  They don’t go in for self-ridicule; they need a target to mock.  Anglo-Saxon humor is often self-deprecating whereas the French think wit is funny.  That wit could be hostile, sarcastic, aggressive – and, in this particular case, just plain rude.  The French have an intellectual approach to humor, which is why they love Woody Allen.  And, the fact that they like to see people ridiculed is why they absolutely adore Jerry Lewis.  Most authentic French jokes get lost in translation and that’s probably a good thing.  American jokes get lost too.  For example, I just saw Jimmy Fallon tussle Donald Trump’s hair on live television and the audience thought that was hilarious.  Now if this weather girl dared to touch a French Presidential candidate’s hair on live TV, it would be seen as disrespectful, rude and uncalled for – anything but funny.

When you think about French comedy on a global scale, there aren’t very many names of French comics that come to mind.

Marcel Marceau, a truly funny Frenchman - the King of Mime.
Marcel Marceau, a truly funny Frenchman – the King of Mime.

To understand its wit and irony, you would need to be extremely fluent in the language.  French “comedy” works on a national level.  In fact, the only well-known Frenchman who could make people laugh in both the USA and France was Marcel Marceau.  Ah, but he was a mime. Maybe that young weather-girl should look him up.  She might learn something.  Something that was truly funny.

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