Before I came to Paris, I told myself it was to learn French. After being here for a few months, I realized it was maybe a deeper calling to face the alienation I feel in the world in a more palpable light. I have always been a clown and have never really felt accepted. Iʼm not whining, just telling you what Iʼm working with. The prestige of this beautiful city is coveted the world over, but appears to be an out-dated facade to me; spurning me to separate myself further or tear myself open. Whatever the case, Paris is not funny, and that is not an opinion, it is a fact. “Abbey, that is a sentence that expresses an opinion, not a fact.” Nope, it is a fact, demonstrated by there being more one man shows than public restrooms here. If I wore a shirt in opposition of same-sex marriage, Parisians would think I was advocating comedy. They would look at my “One Man, One Woman” shirt, notice it was cotton, take me for American and ﬁddle with the lapel of their designer blazer to avoid eye contact. Later they would look up the dates for the latest “alone man show” and resent that they had to hear about it from an American. Itʼs not as bad as all that here, but if I wrote “eh, itʼs not so bad here.” I could just post this on Twitter and no one would retweet it, so the cycle of feeling rejected would continue. I was feeling pretty alienated the ﬁrst six weeks I was here. By the time I was hungry for the stage, I was starving. I found out that there was one English speaking comedy night a week.
I was so excited to get up in front of an audience who would undoubtedly “get” me. Like when I went from the fourth to the ﬁfth grade and was convinced that it would be different. I thought my ﬁrst time on stage here would be some form of deliverance from the isolation of being completely misunderstood everywhere else in this city. I headed to salvation in the 9e arrondissement, just north of centrally located. The venue is in a space called Pranzo Gymnase. The entrance is hard to ﬁnd, as it is on the side of a building covered by scaffolding. To get to the show, you must climb to the top of 6 dimly lit ﬂights of stairs made dimmer with black and red wall accoutrement. I use the word “accoutrement” because the place is posh. When arriving at the top, I walk into a comfortably sized black room with a bar, plenty of seating and a stage. The bar carries only one bottle of cheap American whiskey and then a bunch of other bottles that I donʼt care about, because I like whiskey and their selection has me enjoying water. A place so fancy and so close to Ireland, should have good whiskey. The host is an ex-pat from New York, he has managed to make a career for himself in 7 years of living in Paris. He does his opening bit, crowd work, which sets the tone of what there is to work with and hopefully how to get laughs. I quickly realized that it was more like an English as a second language audience. There were people from Auschwitz, or somewhere in Germany, also French and Italians… I donʼt think there were any Spanish folk, because theyʼre warm, right? It wasnʼt awful, but it was a lesson. There are about ﬁve comedians who show up to tell jokes, often times in their second language, English. They were hilarious to me for all the wrong reasons. An Eastern European (eeeew) was on stage telling dick jokes “how do you call ʻwanking itʼ? well, I was wanking it…” he explained to a silent audience. He didnʼt stop there; he drilled away without falter, without regard to what the environment was telling him (be a waiter). I later talked to him and he mentioned that his all time stand up inﬂuence as being “Mel Brooks” adding something to the extent of “everything since then has been garbage.” I imagine he doesnʼt know about the internet or why my shirt stayed on while I was on stage, but cʼest la vie guys. Nothing against Mel Brooks, I chuckled at High Anxiety, so maybe this guy is my soul mate; we will be so poor together. I do well on my ﬁrst night, or thatʼs how it feels following Young Frankenstein. A lot of jokes and references are absolutely lost on the polite crowd, but fart jokes are a go. There is another room across town that is English speaking, a little more relaxed and a little more stocked with Native English speakers. Itʼs a story-telling mic that shares with stand ups, which is me… and the host. Itʼs fun and well-attended- both shows are well attended, which is a lot more than you can say for most rooms in the US. Open mics in America tend to give a max of 5 minutes for you to try out new material because there is a slew of comics just biding time to speak their piece. Here, there are a lot fewer stand ups so you get at least 10 minutes at a time, itʼs good for long form development.
Itʼs easy to not take too seriously because itʼs Paris. To me, there is a feel of it being a vacation from comedy; a time to refresh and go back to the States with renewed energy and perspective. That isnʼt to say what it is for the other people performing here. One American fellow is seven months into comedy and just put together an hour long one man show (Iʼm sure itʼs great). He and the other American run the only two rooms here and they take it seriously, this is their home. I can see their faces after a set that doesnʼt go well, for whatever reason, and theyʼre cloaked in the same heaviness you might see a comedian in the states wearing after bombing the Montreal auditions. So, I am here, listening to a lot more comedy albums than I ever have and going up as much as possible. There isnʼt a lot to do or work towards, other than a one man show, but the people here are supportive and friendly. Itʼs actually a great place to step back without getting performance atrophy. Itʼs away from the pressures of scenes with more possibility of a future, but still some opportunity to continue developing. I appreciate the respite from places too ﬁlled with people wanting to attach themselves to the “right people”. Paris may be pretentious in a lot of ways, but in comedy, itʼs down right humble, even charming at times. America is the home of Stand up and so we are further along with it than Paris, or even London. Every new scene, every new comic, is hack at ﬁrst. Stand-Up exists here because Americans relocate. Itʼs like pay back for the smallpox brought over from Europe in 15th century. If you canʼt fathom why I would compare stand up to smallpox, youʼre probably a red-neck.