That Time I Bombed is where the Straight asks comedians about their life-changing shows, favourite comedy albums, and, a subject that any comedian will face at some point in their career, a time that they bombed on stage.
This week, we are joined by Gad Elmaleh, who talks to the Straight by phone from New York City.
Gad is a Moroccan-born, French comedian who has recently made the transition from France to New York City. Gad has appeared in such movies as Midnight in Paris, The Adventures of Tin Tin, Despicable Me (as the French voice of Gru), and The Midnight Orchestra, to name a few.
His television appearances include Conan, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (although not really TV, but we’ll count it), plus many more.
First stand-up experience
The first time I went on stage by myself was 20 years ago in Montreal. It was a little room—there was, like, 20 people in the audience and probably 18 of them were from my family.
It was very hard for my first time ever doing standup. I will never forget that night: how stressed and "blocked" I felt.
I thought, “How am I going to do this? I have never done this.” The jokes I had were just ideas in my head and I was so young—only 19.
I did it and it was the first show that I ever did in public, and I will never forget that moment.
Life-changing comedy show
I remember the first time I saw Jerry Seinfeld’s work. I was shocked—in a good way.
I had the same kind of obsessions with the little things in life as he does, so I connected with him. You see the guy for the first time and you think, “How can he be so sharp and so efficient?”
I was doing one-man shows before I did standup. Then I saw Seinfeld’s show, which changed everything for me.
People don’t really know, but in France and Europe, standup came late for us. We had comedy but it was more theatrical and traditional. People acted things out with characters—kind of like one-man shows.
Seeing someone telling just jokes onstage was so new for us. So, seeing Jerry so many years ago was so revolutionary and inspirational for me and other performers I worked with.
Favourite comedy specials or albums
Jerry Seinfeld – I’m Telling You for the Last Time Jerry is a given and there are other big names that I could talk about. But I also want to mention people that not many people may know of.
Sebastian Maniscalco – Aren't You Embarrassed? There is a comedian that I really love: Sebastian Maniscalco. He is an Italian-American in L.A. and he is so funny. His last special, Aren't You Embarrassed?, is just really great.
Ryan Hamilton Ryan doesn’t have a special out but it’s only a matter of time. When he does, I know it will be hilarious.
All-time favourite joke or bit
Off the top of my head, a joke I heard recently by British comedian Jimmy Carr.
He was talking about how he heard the New York City's chief of police say on TV, “We will never forget 9/11”. And then Jimmy said, “Well, I hope not—it’s your phone number!”
Something you saw that made you laugh, but probably shouldn’t have
Being famous in France and Europe, you get used to a few things in your life—like the nice way people treat you at restaurants and the girls—and you get a little spoiled.
I don’t like to take it for granted. But when I got to America, I didn’t get that. Sometimes, when I would go up to a woman, I'd be rejected.
If they were rude with me, I would laugh. I think it's a bit pretentious of me. I laugh because I feel like, if they were in France, they would be a little bit friendlier.
That time I bombed
I had a terrible experience in Montreal during a festival when I was a young comedian just starting out. It was an outdoor festival to begin with, and there was no one in the crowd—maybe like two or three people.
And then about 10 minutes in, around 200 people showed up in the atrium during my performance. Then after a few minutes, they stood up and they left. All 200 people. It so was weird.
At the end of the show, I asked my producer and my team what happened. They told me that those people had come because a superstar French-Canadian comedian, Jean-Marc Parent, was performing in an outdoor stadium next to me for 30,000 people.
And because it was raining, he couldn’t start on time. So instead of waiting out in the rain, some people came to my show—which had some coverage from the rain—to wait a little.
They were not interested in my show, so they left. Funny thing is, the day after, I thought they had left my show because of the rain.
But then I saw the cover of all the newspapers in Montreal that read, “Superstar comedian Jean-Marc Parent performed last night and the crowd stayed three hours despite the rain, the cold, and the madness and they loved it.”
It was very humbling. That was a hard one.
I just started doing standup in English two years ago and I will always remember the first time I did standup in English. I took a very intense courses and lessons, but my English was still not too good then.
I missed some punchlines and I bombed. Not because the joke wasn’t well-crafted, but because the permutation wasn’t correct. The delivery suffered.
So much of joke-telling is in the delivery so when the translation isn’t perfect, the joke falls flat.
Gad appears regularly at comedy clubs in New York City, including the infamous Comedy Cellar, which has hosted the likes of Chris Rock, Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, and many others. On February 11, 2017, Gad will perform at the iconic Carnegie Hall.
In 2015, Gad played Vancouver's Rio Theatre. He mentions that he loves the city, though he disagrees with people who dub it the "L.A. of Canada". "I hate when people say that," he says. "I don’t agree with that because Vancouver is its own city. It is so authentic."
Gad Elmaleh plays the Vogue Theatre on September 6 as part of his Oh My Gad tour.