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.
One comedian in America I really like is Sebastian Maniscalco, who is really physical. I don’t know that many otherwise, but I have to say this is what I like about our comedy in Europe, and I would love to mix the two genres. I would say of the dry stand-up here in the United States, where they stand there and say jokes, that I respect it and I’m impressed with it, but it’s not enough for me. I miss the theatrical. In Europe, there’s a lot of physicality, a lot of music, and a lot of long setups, but not enough jokes. When I watch a French comic, I’m like, “You’re very talented, and that’s fantastic, but I need jokes.” And when I watch American comics, I’m like, “You’re very funny, you’re jokes are great. But where’s the acting? How are you involved on that stage?” I like it when people sweat.
From what I’ve heard of your older shows, you’re singing songs, acting out scenes, and all kinds of things. A lot from these acts won’t translate because of the language, but what about the extra-stand-up material? Is that something you want to translate into English?
I want to do it, but I have to say I’m going step-by-step. I’m not saying I want to become like an American comedian completely, which I will never be, because I will never be an American. But I have to say, the way people watch stand-up has changed over the years. Comedy really became an international thing in recent decades. Stand-up in English became something so translatable. I love it when I go on Netflix, I see comedians now from Malaysia, India, and Italy. I really love that. Of course, it was born in America, in places like New York City. It’s an American art form, but now this way of expression is available to many performers around the world. I was thinking about that, by the way, in regards to my next special. I would love to do more in English like I did in French, like with the music and everything. I just have to become more comfortable with it, little by little. Also, the priority for me is to tell my story. What am I telling to the audience? Who am I? Stuff like that.