Gad “France’s Jerry Seinfeld” Elmaleh talks about finding his passion again

by George Ghanem

“Making Americans laugh, for me—it’s like if a girl would fall in love with me without knowing [who I am] and she would be like, ‘Oh, I just like you or love you for what you are.’ They don’t know my story. They just think, ‘This is a funny guy.’”
Gad Elmaleh is the funniest man in France. It’s official—the French vote on that kind of thing. In his most watched YouTube video: “Qui veut gagner de l’argent en Masse”—roughly translating to “who will win a lot of money?”—he stars as a be-wigged, way-over-serious host of a spoof on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? His subject, a math teacher in a Fair Isle sweater and mop-like wig, responds with similar gravitas to a question regarding a pancake dropping in the snow on the 31st of December.

Thus it is with one of the foremost French comedic voices, shown here, learning how to make an L.A.-staple: tacos. Born and raised to a Jewish family in Casablanca, Elmaleh spent his multicultural youth trudging through both Hebrew and local schools before a longing to see the world uprooted him. After a brief stint in Québec, a young Elmaleh realized acting and stand-up was his calling. “I said the market was too small [in Canada]. I want to go to France.”

And he has. In front of the camera, Elmaleh can be seen in Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo (2013), Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011), or heard playing his friend Jerry Seinfeld’s character in the French version of Bee Movie (2007). But it’s his success in front of an audience that Americans are unaware of, as he’s arguably the most widely known and beloved comedian in Europe.

In 2006, France’s Minister of Culture decreed him a Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He’s also been credited as the first comedian to bring American style comedy to Europe through famous one-man shows, like L’autre c’est moi (2005) and Papa est en Haut (2007) which he premiered at the “Just for Laughs Festival” in Montreal and performed to sold out audiences in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.

Elmaleh’s popularity has reached  unimaginable heights, so no one would blame him if he decided to rest on his Parisian laurels. That’s why it seems highly unnecessary for someone of his international status to want to put himself through the unceremonious wringer that is the American comedy club scene.

But Elmaleh’s answer for his “Oh My Gad!” American tour is simple: “I want to get excited again.”

“When I walk [to an American club] with my backpack, with no chauffeur, no security guys, no fans waiting at the front of the venue, I feel exactly like I felt twenty years ago when I began in Paris.” He speaks of butterflies, new inspirations, and the challenge of performing in English. “The fear is a nice fear, but I believe in the universality of humor.”

“Making Americans laugh, for me—it’s like if a girl would fall in love with me without knowing [who I am] and she would be like, ‘Oh, I just like you or love you for what you are.’ They don’t know my story. They just think, ‘This is a funny guy.’”

Photographer: Guilhem de Castelbajac.

Stylist: Simon Gensowski.

Groomer: Amandine Perez.

Location: El Guacamole, Paris.

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