French humour taken over by French-North African Women | Sarah Ben Ammar
French humour taken over by French-North African Women Print
Sarah Ben Ammar   

French humour taken over by French-North African Women | Sarah Ben Ammar
Rachida Khalil
During the last years French humour has become a weapon with a double edge skilfully handled by women coming from a double French-North African culture. No space for coarse humour among these young “beurettes”, as they’re defined in France. Their creed: to make people laugh with a tickle just where it hurts. And visibly, the public asks for more…

Two years ago, Rachida Khalil set the French stage on fire with her show “La Vie rêvée de Fatna” (Fatna’s dream life). Next to the character of the Moroccan aunt, a victim of the burden of traditions, two other women were coming to life under the features of this comedian: Karima, the suburbian “beurette” who only dreams of glory and Sophie, her racist neighbour, the incarnation of all the reactions that Rachida had to face when she left Morocco for Mantes-la-jolie. And it’s precisely this double culture that allows this comedian to bring a fresh outlook on the quirks of these two societies and incarnate all these characters with disconcerting ease! Yet humour, even when it’s caustic, works well on both ends of the Mediterranean: “As a French-Moroccan, I feel entitled to play these characters” analyses Rachida. “Anyway, I never try to provoke anyone. I only portray situations that can be unfair, funny or bizarre. I don’t like cruel or cynical humour. Laughing at others is so much easier. On the opposite, when you laugh at yourself, you’re never guilty” wraps up the 35 year old comedian. In fact these female comedians excel in the art of burlesque and self-derision. This is the case of talented Amelle Chahbi. She defines herself as a “third generation beurette…something like portable cell phones; I’m lighter and easier to bear…”, claims this long year presence in the Jamel Comedy Club, a breeding ground for young talents. Born from Moroccan parents, this 26 year old Parisian, has created several high colour parodies: Zouzou Kalthoum, the quirky anchorwoman of a wacky TV news or Rachida, an R’n’B singer who calls herself Melissa to try to hide her Algerian origins...

Unclassifiable iconoclasts
French humour taken over by French-North African Women | Sarah Ben AmmarWhereas for some female comedians, the double culture theme represents a starting point for satire, others on the other hand deliberately pull away from it. “I chose my stage name at the beginning of my career” explains Saïda Churchill “because at the time there weren’t so many one-woman-shows and I was afraid people would think that I was going to talk on women of North African origin and the problems of a double culture. This wasn’t the case because my plays were rather literary. Besides, associating Saïda to Churchill was so bizarre that I liked the idea” adds this humorist born in the Rif and companion of French actor Romain Bouteille. Her last show, “sujet: Chomsky!” (Subject: Chomsky!) tackles some serious issues such as the manipulation of information or freedom of expression but always from a humoristic angle. Her humour is daring, bitchy, intelligent, and hilarious, in short, it’s unclassifiable. Both comedian and author of her works, she proclaims this rather “non-standard” status. “Undeniably, the play is quite unclassifiable” she admits. “But once you’re stuck in a category you can be controlled…” Sophia Aram is currently playing at the Avignon festival with a first show entitled “Du plomb dans la tête” (Lead in the Head), and it’s a hit! But in this case we’re far from issues such as integration, or female oppression and discrimination. Co-written by the comedian and her partner Benoît Cambillard, “Du plomb dans la tête” plunges the spectator in the crazy universe of a psychological cell placed in a school after a teachers’ suicide. And although Sophia considers her double French-Moroccan culture “a lucky thing”, she draws her inspiration above all from her daily life as a French woman: “I chose a subject, in this case school, because when I attended the first meetings for my son, I was shocked by what parents have become today. We have less children but we have them at a later age. This translates into an incredible amount of pressure on teachers. Nursery school meetings are surrealistic.” The psychologist from Quebec, the psycho-rigid schoolmaster, and Marie-Camilliane who still breast-feeds her daughter…aged four, are among some ten characters that Sophia Aram depicts with verve. Her favourite character? Farida. She’s an Arab but she thinks she’s American and claims to be a secret agent…part-time: “I let myself go completely with her. To avoid her from becoming disturbing, her folly has to be excessive” she reveals. “I was interested in the psychological support crisis cell that could develop in an institution after a suicide. It’s something new”. One thing is sure: Sophia Aram shines with black humour and the public seems to appreciate it since this comedian goes back to work on next September at the Trévise theatre.

Humour with a commitment
French humour taken over by French-North African Women | Sarah Ben AmmarFor these comedians, the resort to humour is neither unmotivated nor random. Rachida Khalil, who “mixes fun with sadness”, according to her mentor Guy Bedos, defines herself as “a committed humorist”. This desire for commitment led her to collaborate with Guy Bedos for “La vie Rêvée de Fatna”: I wanted to work with him because he’s a highly committed personality” specifies Rachida. For Saïda Churchill social and political satire are inevitably committed: “the play ‘Sujet: Chomsky!’, is like a round trip between importance and futility. It shows how carefree are those who know they can’t change the world but are willing to give it a try” she says. Lighter but nonetheless meaningful: the show written by Aïcha Lebrun and her husband Mathieu entitled “Couscous aux lardons” (Coucous with bacon). A title that gives a nice foretaste of this juicy play by staging a comical scene of the everyday problems of mixed couples. Intolerant mothers-in-law, the choice of the baby’s name, religion…a bit of everything! This unbiased confrontation between two cultures, free of morality, is hilarious. Is there anything better than laughter to bring cultures closer?

« Du plomb dans la tête », by Sophia Aram, from 16 September to 3 January 2009 at the Théâtre Trévise.

« Couscous aux lardons » by Mathieu and Aïcha Lebrun, throughout the month of August at the Théâtre Comédie République.

Amelle Chahbi at the Comedy Club from 20 September

« La Vie rêvée de Fatna », by Rachida Khalil, in DVD, Warner Vision France



Sarah Ben Ammar