Gad El­maleh strives to be funny in an­other lan­guage

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

Iby Guy Macpher­son

t’s been three years since Gad El­maleh tran­si­tioned from su­per­star­dom in France to work­ing comic in Amer­ica, but he’s slowly but surely claw­ing his way back to the top. He’ll claim he’s still an un­known com­mod­ity, but you don’t head­line the­atres the size of the Chan Cen­tre with­out a de­cent fol­low­ing.

When he re­booted his ca­reer in New York, El­maleh started per­form­ing in French for ex­pats, grad­u­ally in­te­grat­ing English into his sets. His English has im­proved enough that his shows are now 100 per­cent en anglais.

“I like be­ing on-stage with peo­ple hav­ing no idea who I am be­cause I make them laugh,” he says on the phone from Mon­treal, which he moved to from Morocco in 1988 be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to France in ’92. “I earn those laughs, be­cause they don’t know who I am. No cred­its. I like it.”

Two Net­flix spe­cials won’t keep you anony­mous, though he says it’s only in the com­edy world that he’s no­ticed. “I can walk around New York City and no­body talks to me,” he says. “It’s the best.”

Any press re­lease on El­maleh men­tions that he’s the Jerry Se­in­feld of France, not be­cause there’s any stylis­tic sim­i­lar­ity to the Amer­i­can pro­to­comic, but more be­cause of his stature in Europe as the best standup. But al­ways be­ing put side by side with a fel­low co­me­dian is not some­thing he rel­ishes at this stage of his ca­reer.

“I’m of course flat­tered and hon­oured when they say the Jerry Se­in­feld of France, but to be re­ally hon­est, it’s not good to be com­pared to any­one,” he says. “In that case it’s great, be­cause I ad­mire Jerry and he’s my friend and I love him and he ad­vises me and we talk about com­edy. It just helps when you be­gin to iden­tify. But it shows you the power of Amer­ica, be­cause the other way around doesn’t ex­ist. I wanna meet the Chris Rock of Ja­pan!”

On this leg of his tour, which in­cludes Port­land, San Fran­cisco, and Los An­ge­les, El­maleh will be trav­el­ling with Van­cou­ver su­per­star Ivan Decker, who might rightly be called the Jerry Se­in­feld of Canada for his de­tailed and joke-heavy ob­ser­va­tional style. (“I love him,” El­maleh says of Decker. “And I would love to in­tro­duce him to Jerry, be­cause he de­serves it and I’m sure Jerry would love him, re­ally love him.”)

To date, El­maleh’s English act has fo­cused on his ex­pe­ri­ences ad­just­ing to a new cul­ture, a nat­u­ral topic for co­me­di­ans per­form­ing out­side their usual bound­aries. The new au­di­ences can laugh at and gain a new per­spec­tive on their own cus­toms. But El­maleh’s goal is to grad­u­ate to more ev­ery­day jokes.

“My next chal­lenge is to write ma­te­rial that doesn’t talk about this whole fish-out-of-water sit­u­a­tion,” he says. “I just want to be a funny man in an­other lan­guage. I’m not go­ing to give up ev­ery­thing and avoid all those top­ics about my roots and iden­tity and all that, but I want it to be just a lit­tle per­cent­age of my show, like 10 per­cent, and 90 per­cent just ob­ser­va­tional com­edy about life and re­la­tion­ships and things that make me laugh. If I can do that, I’ll be re­ally, re­ally proud.”

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