In many ways, Moroccan French comedian Gad Elmaleh truly is the “Seinfeld of France.” His comedy is not unlike the observational jokes about everyday happenings that made Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David what they are today. He provided the French dubbing for Seinfeld’s character in the animated Bee Movie. And if you squint while looking at Elmaleh in the right light, he even looks a little bit like his American counterpart. But he is decidedly more than a European version of the comic, which is precisely what his first English-language special, American Dream hopes to show.
Now available to stream on Netflix, American Dream — which serves as a companion of sorts to Elmaleh’s French-language special Gad Gone Wild — is Elmaleh’s formal introduction to the United States (and English speakers with a Netflix subscription). He seems like any other stand-up with a new special out on the streaming service, but his slight accent, outsider’s perspective, and physical prowess on stage reveal an act that isn’t 100 percent familiar. Despite everything Elmaleh does and says to try and fit into the American comedy mold, what he says and how he says it actually helps him stand apart. That’s a good thing.
Much has already been said about Elmaleh’s efforts to perfect his grasp of English (which he has spoken since childhood) in order to perform live comedy while speaking it. So instead of revisiting the specific topic of translation, Uproxx asked the 46-year-old performer whether or not his future efforts in English will try to incorporate more of the physical and musical comedy seen by his French audiences. In addition, we also spoke about his experience as a recent immigrant to the United States (albeit a wealthy, privileged one), and the prospect of a Frenchman telling jokes about guns before audiences in Texas.
In addition to watching American Dream, I watched Gad Gone Wild when it came out last year. They go together well.
That’s funny because here, when people watch the show in French, they say they’re able to get it even if they don’t know the language. Of course they’re reading the subtitles, but they kind of get the comedy. It’s interesting how you can get the comedy, the rhythm of it, without knowing the language.
Speaking of rhythm, yours is a very expressive stage presence. You’re running from one side of the stage to the other, gesturing wildly, and making faces. I assume that’s mostly from your theater and performance background in France.
I think there are many reasons for it. My father was a mime, so I grew up in a house where my father used to do pantomime. He was very impressed by all the work Marcel Marceau did back in the day. The first time I went on stage in my life, when I was maybe five or six years old, was with my father to perform some short mime sketches with him. I think that I really have this inside of me, like it shocks me in a good way. And I guess that, honestly, what I really love is the kind of comedy that relies on physicality and gestures and facial expressions.