Gad Elmaleh is so famous in France that he performs to arena-sized audiences and gets recognized everywhere he goes. In America, not so much. So much not so that Elmaleh can joke about how his luck winning over a lady in Los Angeles turns from bad to comically so only after some Francophone tourists enter their cocktail lounge.
That dynamic — and how Elmaleh sees both sides of the exchange — goes a long to way to helping ease Elmaleh’s transition from French-speaking comic giant to English-speaking neophyte in America. He’s in the middle of his first 10-night run in New York City at Joe’s Pub, where, for the first time, the Moroccan-born stand-up comedian and movie actor with 4.39 million Twitter followers is attempting a full hour-plus performance All In English (italics his, for that’s the show’s title).
“I play arenas in France,” Elmaleh said during his performance Tuesday night. “Here, I play here.”
The nightclub that seats 170 hosts Bridget Everett’s cabaret show, films live stand-up segments for Inside Amy Schumer, and has seen the U.S. headlining debuts for Adele and Amy Winehouse. It’s intimate enough and inexpensive enough to gain a new appreciation for Elmaleh, even if it doesn’t provide as much stage room for him to bound about, and especially since “it’s a work in progress,” as he’s quick to remind his audience. If he sees you trying to film these early attempts of his at English-speaking stand-up, he’s even quicker to remind you he doesn’t want to see it online. “That’s why I never made a sex tape,” he quips. En Anglais.
He’s getting to know us and U.S. as much as we’re getting to know him as a comedian.
And since timing is everything, Elmaleh making his debut Stateside the same week South Africa’s Trevor Noah takes over The Daily Show on Comedy Central offers us additional perspective on what’s going on in America these days. Which he does with timely topical observations on the recent visit by Pope Francis, which coincided with his own debut here last weekend.
Elmaleh’s worldview plays to all parts of the room when he jokes how the off-duty American marines who stopped a terrorist attack on a French train in August would have played out much differently had the roles and setting been reversed, imagining French soldiers off-duty on vacation here on an Amtrak train.
He has been called “the Jerry Seinfeld of France,” and he has a similarly keen insight and curiosity. Elmaleh has fun translating how concepts Americans may take for granted — from shopping, customer service, cab rides, drug stores, and date nights — are perceived through his French eyes, and how it must feel for Americans experiencing these rituals in Europe or the Middle East.
Elmaleh has plans to take this hour on the road to both East and West coasts of America over the next couple of months. For this initial run, he may ask for assistance from the audience translating a word here or there from French into American English.
And he has a charming way of critiquing himself and them via asides. “Good joke. Bad delivery,” he may say. Or: “Good joke. Good delivery. Slow audience.”
One aspect of his show he has carried over straight from France, however.
There will be encores. Don’t worry. He’ll explain it. Even if he’s not a rock star comedian here yet.