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Light Levity Un-French

photo: parking pole hitchhiking glove

Anti-parking pole hitching a ride.

Paris Life - No. 25

by Laurel Avery

Paris:- Friday, 14. November 2003:- After a bout of prolonged laughter brought on by a friend - who happens to be an American, even if he has lived here for 18 years - it occurred to me how long it had been since I had had a really good laugh.

I read in a recent newspaper that nearly one out of four people in France are taking antidepressants, more than any other country in the European Union.

It's no wonder they are onphoto: red x marks the spot antidepressants. The French take themselves waaaay too seriously. It seems there is nothing more fashionable in Paris than looking like your dog just died, while discussing existentialism and chain-smoking Gauloises.

'X' marks the spot - but why?

Silly humor is not particularly valued here, especially among French intellectuals. Imagine the likes of Sartre or Camus rolling on the floor with laughter after hearing "A guy walks into a bar and...."

Maybe they're afraid the Humor Police will come knocking on their door. "Excusez-moi madame, but z'ere 'as been a report of unauzorized laughterr in z'ees apartement. Come wiz us and we will show you ze film 'Ze Sorrow and Ze Pity' until you wipe zat ridddiculous smile off your face!"

Actually, the humor that goes over best with the French is more the visual kind, which goes a long way in explaining the famous French affection for Jerry Lewis. His bizarre facial expressions and jerky type of movement are what they seem to enjoy here.

'La Pétomane' - 'The Fartist' -photo: no parking in front of this door enjoyed huge popularity in Paris around the turn of the 19th century, drawing even larger crowds than the famous Sarah Bernhardt. His spectacular physical control allowed him to do fart 'impressions.' At some point he would go offstage and insert a tube into his rectum, to which he would attach an ocarina that allowed him to play popular contemporary tunes, and audiences were invited to sing along.

'No parking in front of this door, please.'

It's no surprise then that there is always a Marx Brothers film in Paris - often playing over 300 days a year - according to my friend Dennis. There are two playing this week - 'Duck Soup' and 'A Night at the Opera.' Somehow the title, 'La Soupe au Canard,' sounds even funnier in French than it does in English.

Given the present state of the world, an evening of 'Duck Soup' might be just right. One of my favorite lines in the film is when Groucho, as Rufus T. Firefly, the leader of Freedonia, says "But there must be a war. I've paid a month's rent on the battlefield!" And everyone laughs.

Then there is Woody Allen, whose work is very popular in France. There are no fewer than four of his films playing at the moment. While it's true that he is perhaps best known for his comedy, underneath it all is this incredible angst. In France it's all right to laugh as long as you are miserable. Or even better - if someone else is miserable.

All right! So unemploymentphoto: jouez avec votre money is hovering close to 10 percent, the economy is in the toilet, there was a heat wave this summer that killed thousands, and George Bush is taking over the world. But hey, you've got to laugh. When you look at the big picture, it's all just too ridiculous.

But when you go to place your bet, they'll ask for cash.

Being a country accustomed to revolutions, France would be perfect candidate for the birth of the 'Humor Revolution.' Just think of the streets of Paris, once echoing with cries of "To the Barricades!" taken up with the new cry, "To the Comedies!"

Imagine if everyone on the planet just joined together, and when their leaders decided to do something insanely stupid the people just laughed at them. Something that revolutionary might just change the world.

Laurel Avery © 2003
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