Comedian Gad Elmaleh discusses his struggles with learning English and observing North American culture
In France and many parts of Europe, the name Gad Elmaleh is a household moniker in the comedy world. The French-Moroccan stand-up comedian has sold out many arenas while using his combination of physical and observational comedy.
Two years ago, he moved to New York to blossom his career in North America. It was no easy task. Elmaleh had to not only learn English but write and perform his show in the language. It begs the question of why he gave up his European fame and fortune.
“If I told you ‘I don’t know’ would you believe me?” laughs Elmaleh over a phone in Los Angeles. “I went through a lot of complex explanations, but I really needed something that could make me excited again. It’s like I have a mistress—France is my wife and English is my mistress and Morocco is my mother.”
It’s no secret that the English language is one of the most complex and difficult to learn. This can be exhausting to someone like Elmaleh.
“Two years ago, I couldn’t even talk like this and have a conversation. I found the difference a few days ago between speaking in English and speaking English,” Elmaleh says. “Speaking in English is thinking in French, my mother tongue, and then translating it in my brain and trying to make people understand you. Speaking English is you saying the words and the expressions. It’s a psychological thing and you have to understand things like the idioms.”
It doesn’t help that many Americans have no interest in correcting Elmaleh’s English when he mispronounces a word.
“I remember telling someone ‘I’m going on a vayyycation,’ and he had no idea what I was talking about. Eventually, he was like ‘Oh you mean vacation.’ Like, come on. I’m trying. Just meet me halfway.”
Elmaleh finds himself in these situations constantly and uses it as material for his show. This style gained him the title of the “Jerry Seinfeld of France.”
“Honestly I don’t like when they compare artists, but when they compare you to someone you admire, I’m not going to complain,” Elmaleh says. “It’s funny because we laugh about it, Jerry and I, because we became friends and I love him.”
Seinfeld has helped Elmaleh grow his career in North America. Elmaleh has opened for Seinfeld and starred in an episode of his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. This gained the foreign comedian appearances on shows like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and Conan.
Elmaleh first met Seinfeld when he voiced his character in the French version of the Bee Movie.
“It was 10 years ago and I felt in a very maybe pretentious way that my comedy connected to his and we needed to share our experiences together,” Elmaleh says. “Sometimes you feel connected to a person’s work and want a chance to meet with them. I looked for that with Jerry.”
While Seinfeld’s show is rooted in the art of nothing, Elmaleh’s is the exact opposite. The comedian loves to critique “everything” about certain cultures, especially Americans.
“Americans are so used to the stand-up of self-deprecation,” Elmaleh says. “It’s in their culture. It switches when I go to Canada. They’re so excited that I make fun of Americans.”
Elmaleh has an English Netflix special debuting in March and plans to write a show about his experience moving to America and finding the “American Dream.”
He is also very excited to test out his English show, Oh My Gad, on a Canadian audience.
“When I make jokes in English and people laugh, the satisfaction is so strong because I feel like I’m earning those laughs,” Elmaleh says. “It’s exactly like if a woman who had no idea who I am fell in love with me, which is impossible.”
Fri., Nov. 3 (6 pm)
Myer Horowitz Theatre
$45.50 at ticketfly.com