“France is an old lady who should not be pushed around too much, but it is making progress”

After an interview in Paris, we followed the King of stand-up to Marrakech. Meet a funny character.

In Paris we met a charming version of Jamel Debbouze. In his Comedy Club in the 10th arrondissement, he welcomed us like at home. The talkative, grinning, humorist in full swing took a long time without taboo to discuss his vision of his career and of a sector in full mutation. And invited us to join him in Marrakech to complete this interview. Should we blame the climate or jet lag? On the spot, Jamel Debbouze had become the humor Mariah Carey, a kind of diva with a changing mood. Constantly surrounded by an admiring crowd, the ringmaster of this comic circus showed up in a golf cart four hours late for the round table arranged for the local press. No “hello”, no “sorry”, Debbouze was too busy to be polite. And did not say a word to us during the four days there. So we could have buried this topic, but the interview, even unfinished, was worth the detour. Our way of saying to Jamel: no hard feelings.

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Paris Match. Do you often play in Jamel Comedy Club?
Jamel Debbouze. Between 4 and 400 times a year. Depending on my mood. The planets need to adapt: ​​be in good shape, have something to talk about. At my level, when I say I’m going on stage, it’s a whole mechanism that gets put in place. And it destroys the element of surprise. Although it is the very essence of our business to surprise. I perform here and in other coffee houses to keep it going. I like when people are not waiting for me.

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Do you have a complex relationship with your image?
I have other faults, but not being aware of people’s perception of my physique. Ever since I got out of my mom’s belly, I’ve gotten a bad grade! [Il rit.] Among comedians, we have a less narcissistic relationship with ourselves. It’s almost a strength to be a little dented, crooked, a little ugly. I get a kick out of it, and through me, I hope the public finds themselves. The less you are with yourself, the more interesting the material.

But new comedians are much more aware of their appearance than when you started …
Ah, of course Waly Dia, Fary … they’re magnificent! We live in the era of style. Instagram imposed this on us. You have to be beautiful, show yourself fully. Popeck also did not ask himself that kind of question, Coluche. The newcomers are prettier, but above all better than us when they start. They have a hundred times more tools than in my time. They are equipped, formidable, even before their first visit.

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Is their message different too?
Significantly. They are extraordinarily arrogant, they allow themselves everything. Moreover, it is sometimes too much. When you insulted the pope on Monday, what do you have left on Friday? Sometimes I reassure their zeal but never censor them. They remind me of little football prodigies, you see them make incredible moves and you say to yourself, “It’s crazy that they can afford to do that to this brilliant goalkeeper”. I have the same feeling here. I see children arrive with an incredible point of view, a political conscience, a crazy freedom.

Do you give them a lot of advice?
Never. The Comedy Club room does the job. We have designed it to be difficult. Usually you only see the first two rows on stage. There we all see, it is very disturbing. It’s by playing here that the comedians are getting better. Especially because the public hates being enlightened. It’s a brake on laughter. No one wants to be seen laughing out loud. So if you, the actor, succeed in surprising the spectator to the point that he forgets himself here, you will succeed everywhere else.

The competition is fierce. There are more and more kids who want to become comedians

How do you recruit those who join your squad?
We have open stage and we cross the café theaters to find rare gems. If the comedian is good, he will probably join the squad and be paid 120 euros for five minutes. If it’s even better, we’ll take it on a trip. If he proves himself, he goes down to Marrakech. And there he no longer needs us. Ahmed Sylla, Alban Ivanov, Malik Bentalha, Inès Reg, Waly Dia … Most of them spent five or six years playing in the Comedy Club before coming to Marrakech with laughter. After being there, they changed their lives. I could put a sign on the door: “Warning, if you come in here, you risk getting rich and famous.” Some will read “rich and famous”, others “beware”. And that’s what makes the difference, because it takes a lot of work to succeed in this job.

Do you have the impression that your job is perceived as “easy”?
One thing is for sure: it is not. Neither is Zidane’s roulette. It takes many years of work before something looks “easy”. Nothing is innate to anyone. This job is a permanent challenge. Even with experience. Because I’m Jamel, I’ve expected even more around the corner. To persevere, you need to use your imagination all your life.

Especially now that there are so many comedians?
The competition is fierce. There are more and more kids who want to become comedians. As with hip hop, it is a movement that young people have taken over. It’s stylish to be fun, it facilitates friendly, romantic, professional relationships, it gives the impression of great confidence. Our job is to explain our difference and make it a strength.

Is the explosion of stand-up, very Anglo-Saxon, also responsible for this enthusiasm among young people?
Desproges did it before us, we just stylized this practice by giving it an English name. But the mechanics are the same. The only thing that has changed in relation to Desproges is that the artists tell each other more. They talk without taboo about what is bothering them, their romantic relationship, their financial problems, sex, mental health … And there is a real benevolence in this generation. Even when they tease someone for an hour on stage, they will apologize. Americans leave you with your irritation.

When you have to read your daronne’s bailiff’s letters at 9 o’clock, you say to yourself: “I should make a Uno.”

Is not also the time that is more likely?
Of course. This tool that we have in our hands [il montre son téléphone] is extraordinary, but it is a car that drives at 250 km / h. One must have permission to use it. Giving a microphone to public opinion is interesting but scary. Some sketches of the evening here would be laminated on Twitter so the words are raw. Especially among girls. They need to assert themselves more. Here as in society. And it is normal, they follow the same path as blacks, Arabs, Jews, homosexuals, as they have not been represented. Florence Foresti has paved the way, but they are not numerous enough. We were told a lot that we had too many guys on our stage, as if we were in charge … We do not choose who signs up for the open scenes. But I am launching a special girls night out at the beginning of the school year.

For two years, most of the sketches have been about coronavirus. Has it become mission impossible to find inspiration in 2022?
We have just experienced something incredible, our task is also to expel it. Three months at home without a stop, first we were with the family, finally we lived with people who wanted to suffocate us to sleep … It was electric. And then there were the “pro-wax”, “not pro-wax”, the conspirators who think there are chips in vaccines … The comic potential is huge! So believe me, you’ll be hearing about it for a while.

We get the impression that politics no longer interests comedians. How do you explain that?
Apart from “Quotidien”, it has become cheesy! Me, I know I never waited for politics. Growing up in Trappes, you are quickly confronted with condescension and injustice. When you have to read your daronne’s bailiff’s letters at 9 o’clock, you say to yourself: “I should make a Uno.” And when the Jamel Comedy Club appears on the cover of a magazine, it’s political. It shocked some of them to see blacks, Jews and Arabs together on stage. This is the famous “great replacement”. “Watch out, they’re coming!” Guys, we’ve been here for three thousand years … Being afraid of immigration is ridiculous. It’s wealth. Not to mention the love of watching Mbappé play! Young people no longer recognize themselves in all this. They suffer without worrying. I see how many from here go to Restos du Coeur. The worst thing is that they take it well, as if it were in the order of things.

“I do not want to waste a second on things that make me angry”

© Ilan DEUTSCH / Paris Match

So there has been no development since your inception in the 1990s?
Many say no, I say it’s moving forward and I take it seriously. France is an old lady who should not be pushed around too much, but things are moving forward. Five years ago, the young people who work for us could not even stand on the stage. We are seeing more and more male and female politicians rebeu and renoi. Rachida Dati, Minister of Justice, I would never have thought so. She is incompetent, but she will at least have advanced the case. Mayor of the 7th in Paris, it’s still class!

Much has been said about this place, that it is a suburban place. Does it upset you?
What’s worse, the Comedy Club has repeatedly been called “the comedian’s grocer.” My grandfather was a grocer, I have no problem with that, but the connotation annoys me. Especially now that we are receiving the public from France Inter. Where do you think Paul Mirabel comes from? They can thank us, Radio France, for giving them comedians … and Arthur too! We should introduce a brand, as at Comédie-Française, so that young people are proud to have been there. We are happy to see them everywhere, we want them to hit everything.

I would never stop stand-up

There are more and more comedy clubs and more and more comedians popping up through social media. Does the competition scare you?
No, it creates a crazy emulation and we enjoy it. Explode on TikTok okay, but finally, when you have views, what do you do then? You come on stage. Inès Reg made a name for herself on Instagram, but if she hadn’t spent six years in the Comedy Club, what would her buzz have been? Little. In the same way, the children who play elsewhere always come back here because we have this strength to be able to reveal them. But of course I want to see all these places to compare while trying not to be seen … It’s often a failure! [Il rit.]

Juggling between your artist hat and the producer’s, is not it schizophrenic?
There is a real duality between the two. The advantage is that we have always worked in terms of craftsmanship, and this has created automation, which means that I can trust the teams. The downside is that you can not grow if you want to keep this family aspect. And it pushes more and more outside to get inside. Well, and I love being at home with my family. So the two combined, the artist’s space is reduced to a drip. That’s why I haven’t made that many movies or shows. I love life, I know what value it has, these projects take a lot of time, I do not want to waste a second on things that make me angry.

So you do not want to write more?
It is not easy, but I must and want to do it. I would never stop stand-up. All my other projects act as a waiting room before going back on stage. That’s what I love above all else, that’s the only thing I really know how to do. 

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