Portraits

Stand up for bilingual comedy!

Sebastian Marx has a strong American stand on France. With his years of experience addressing both English and French audiences, he considers that “there is no rule for addressing specific audiences.” And this forces him to always improve his showcases!

From a once-a-week class in New York to a lifestyle in Paris, stand-up comedy grew on Sebastian Marx. Today, the American expat brings his experiences with stand up comedy on Parisian stages. His intimate distance with the French language and culture offers him perspective, and it offers us the great satisfaction to anyone frustrated by Paris when he is on stage.

"I can improvise with the audience depending on where they’re from or what the situation is, but the show itself is written. That’s the importance of stand up."

“I can improvise with the audience depending on where they’re from or what the situation is, but the show itself is written. That’s the importance of stand up.”

It feels good to giggle about the city we love with Sebastian. It looks natural for him to come-up with jokes and to have us share. Stand-up comedy however remains a challenge!

 

Stepping on French language’s toes

Tuesday, Paname Art Café (Paris 11)
Sebastian is scheduled for an appearance in the French Fried Comedy Night. He goes up on the stage, takes the microphone, and tells the audience how glad he is to be speaking in English -his native language- with us. He smiles as he remembers his ‘best’ mistake with the French language. “During a French performance, a girl came in during my set and she tripped. I wanted to say « attention dans le noir » and what I said was « attention aux noirs. » Everyone laughed because I had an awkward pause.

The confusion is funny to imagine, and it works perfectly on the Parisian English-speaking audience. They relate to the awkwardness of such a situation. A girl on the left of the room cannot stop laughing. Later on, Sebastian asks her where she is from. He plays with us, interacts with the audience members. There are only three French people present, and the rest of the intimate crowd is international.

Friday, SoGymnase Comedy Club (Paris 10)
Sebastian hosts WTF Paris (before the New York Comedy Night) for another English-speaking audience. He takes the microphone, and repeats his joke about the French language mistake on black people. It looks like the people around me love it. They laugh for a while longer than the Tuesday audience had.

This difference between the two English-speaking audiences is no surprise to Sebastian. “Reactions to the shows are not related to nationalities,” he explains, “but more to what people are sensitive to. But this is something that you can never know. There is no rule for addressing specific audiences. I can have a joke that offends people one week, and the next week it’s the one they will prefer!” Adapt his material to the specific people present in the room each night would be too much of a mental nightmare.

a major third of the show is specific to the language!

a major third of the show is specific to the language!

Sunday, La Nouvelle Seine (Paris 5)
As they address a French audience, Sunday shows require adaptation work. Every week, he performs the ‘same’ show twice in French and then in English. In the first one, his sutle yet identifiable American accent serves as a friendly reminder of the stand-up comedian’s perspective for the audience members. And in order to have an effect on them, Sebastian first needs to take the French language specificities in consideration with no guarantee of reaction. Stand-up comedy is hardly predictable.

 

Becoming the American expert

Monday, Le Grand 8 television set (D8)
Sebastian stars in the weekly  Le Grand 8 talk show with his five-minute chronicle: Made in USA. He is, as the host Laurence Ferrari presents him, the “American expert” . On the set, he speaks in French and embodies the American perspective on topics discussed by French residents. It is demanding: Ironically,” he says, “what has been harder is finding the good story to talk about. It has to be something that every French person knows about from the States, or universal enough so I do not need to explain half of the time.

Topic for Nov 30th? Obama's monstrous car versus the environment

Topic for Nov 30th? Obama’s monstrous car versus the environment

Since his first appearance in the talk show on August 31st, Sebastian Marx has spoken about the Pope, about the Syrian immigrant wave to the US, and more recently about the little impact of the COP21 in American news compared to Thanksgiving and Black Friday. In writing his texts, the American has become an expert at juggling with both the French and US culture!

 

Stand-up comedy… a life’s challenge

Wednesday, Le Canon Café (Paris 12)
We meet for an interview. He does not need a stage to look like a stand-up comedian. He does not need a microphone to convey his enthusiasm. He chooses a table, takes a seat. We talk about his background story in America. He speaks about his debut in France. And more importantly, he tells us about his career choice.

As an ‘American living the French Dream,’ he appreciates how the French system gives legitimacy to his recent occupation as a stand-up comedian. The so French intermittent du spectacle status has allowed Sebastian to pursue a career he couldn’t have made a living on in the USA. 

So, considering all the difficulties, why did the artist choose this path? What do stages and microphones provide him? Well, challenge of course. His twitter description says it all: If I knew how to define myself, I wouldn’t do stand-up comedy. This occupational hazard forces Sebastian to put his material and himself to the test, in front of international and French audiences. It always leads him to create and improve, little by little. “After a time” he says, “I want to find new elements and try new things to keep surprising the audience. Also, I evolve as a person, I get new life experiences.” The comedian grows along with this career…

 

Stand-up comedy is both a life description and a life challenge for Sebastian Marx. And he shares them with his audiences! So go check a showcase or two if you are also looking for a good change… And a great laugh!

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