learn advanced french

Class Clowns: 7 Comedians Who Make Learning Advanced French a Rip-roaring Good Time

Advanced French learners, you’ve reached the final frontier.

So what’s going to give you that ultimate push toward fluency?

How about a perfect mix of cultural references, slang and advanced conversation, all in one fantastic, knee-slappin’ package?

In other words, French comedy.

The French stand-up scene isn’t quite as big as that in America or England. But it still has its merits and comic legends, and following it may be one of the best ways to add linguistic nuance and cultural understanding to your advanced French knowledge.

Not sure what to expect? Les humoristes (comedians) in France like their props, sketches and impressions. Doesn’t sound all that different from the States, now, does it?

And if you like physical comedy, French comedians specialize in it.

So if you feel that your French is up for the challenge, get ready to watch the hours go by with routine after routine.

Once you’re getting all of the jokes, by George, you’ll know your French makes the cut!
 


 
Learn a foreign language with videos

How to Start Watching French Comedians as an Advanced Learner

Track down videos and DVDs online

If you’re just cracking into French comedy for the first time, you’ll want to go the visual route. This way, you can get the full experience for top-notch comprehension.

YouTube is a really good bet, especially for stand-up as Americans know it. I’ll give you some recommendations to start with below, and you can go from there.

If you’d like to get deeper into authentic French with a wide range of funny and just plain fun videos (even if you aren’t up to the advanced French we’re yakking about yet), FluentU has a ton to watch and learn with for any level.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

If you’re really committed, then most of the French comedians we’ll mention (and many more) have DVD specials available on Amazon. So if you really like a certain jokester, type their name into the Amazon.fr search bar, and you’ll find all sorts of great content.

Note: It’s recommended to get DVD specials from Amazon.fr, as it is much cheaper than getting them from Amazon.com, but be aware that you may need a DVD player that can play multiple regions, as DVDs from Europe are Region 2. Outside of that, most things will ship internationally, so you’re good to go!

Watch where their hands go

With French comedians being so physical, you can get a solid visual on the story they’re telling just by mixing the words you know with the gestures they make. A French comedian who just stands in front of a microphone and doesn’t move anything but their mouth isn’t going to be as much of a help. So for those of you who are going to dive into French comedy for the first time, find a comedian who won’t stay still.

Tip: Remember that the audience is an even bigger cue. If they’re losing their minds over something the comedian said, but you didn’t catch it, take that as a sign you missed something. Rewind and analyze.

Binge out on one at a time

So you find a French stand-up video, and you don’t understand ANYTHING. That doesn’t mean you should just move on to the next and forget about them. Come on, you’re better than that!

The nice thing about stand-up comedy (anglophone and francophone alike) is that most comedians have dozens upon dozen of videos online. Just because you didn’t understand one doesn’t mean you won’t understand the next. Sticking to one comedian will help you work out their comedy style and get used to their accent.

Green light, red light: Rewatch as many times as you need to

Stop and start again, rewind, rewatch. Flip the video upside down and watch it backwards (okay, maybe don’t do those two).

Watching French comedy can be difficult for even some of the most seasoned French students, so don’t feel stupid (at all!) if you miss an entire joke. Just take a deep breath, go back and rewatch it. Try to pick out the words that you don’t understand and write them down (your spelling may be funky, in which case use a verbal translator).

Sometimes all you’re missing is one key word that will make everything else fall into place.

Get stuck in the comments section

Brush up on your French internet slang and see what all the native speakers have to say. You may catch more of the jokes and references just by reading the comments and what people are quoting from the video. And though the comments section on YouTube can sometimes be a hairy place, try taking a whack at commenting your thoughts on the video.

Try asking questions in the comments if you didn’t understand something. The French users will probably be impressed that you’re even trying to watch their comedians, and you may get lucky and get the answers you were looking for.

7 Gut-busting Comedians Who’ll Have You Learning Advanced French in Stitches

All seven of these comedians are ranked based on difficulty, from easiest to hardest. But hey, sometimes that can be subjective. So if you’re an intermediate learner who feels like you may be out of your league here, you’ll never know until you give some of these guys and gals a shot!

1. Gad Elmaleh

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If you’re a fan of French cinema, then this may be a familiar face. He’s been acting in films since 1996, including some English-language films like “Midnight in Paris” and “The Dictator.” He’s a great guy to get started with because he speaks very clearly (by comparison).

In this video, Gad talks about la cigarette, using one as a prop for the routine. It serves as an important cultural lesson on how the French view cigarette smoking (the stereotype being that they smoke like chimneys).

Useful vocabulary from this routine:

la volonté Will (as in willpower). Think of the word “voluntary” to remember it.

un mec — French slang for “a guy” or “a dude.” This will come up a lot in French comedy.

C’est marrant — Not to be confused with “C’est marron,”  or “It’s brown,” “C’est marrant” is a common way to say “That’s funny.”

BONUS: Hear him rip on English classes for a freaky Friday version of what us French learners go through!

If you want more: Watch him in the lead role of “Capital” on US Netflix. It’s a suspense-drama, but with a dark comedy twist highlighted by Gad Elmaleh.

2. Florence Foresti

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Lovely lady comedians, yay! Florence Foresti is both relatively easy to understand and talks about general (not just French) topics ranging from kids, pregnancy, romance and just general wailing on every day women’s (and men’s) problems. With her voices and gestures, she is energetic on the stage and kind of (actually super) addictive to watch.

Check out this routine, where Florence talks about les enfants (kids). It’s a good topic to start with because generally kids are about the same whether they’re French or American.

Useful vocabulary from this routine:

déranger — To disturb or bother. And no, it doesn’t necessarily have to be les enfants who are bugging you.

en tout cas — You know how in English we like to use “anyway” as a filler word? Well, en tout cas would be the French version of that, meaning “in any case” or “anyway.”

Ce n’est pas la peine — Don’t bother. It’s not worth it. As the perfect way to say the equivalent of “no big deal” in English, it’s definitely worth it to learn this phrase. In spoken French, the ne is often dropped, and if you listen closely to this video you can hear that she actually says “C’est pas la peine.”

If you want more: Fans of Florence Foresti and dog lovers alike will love her Twitter account, which is apparently run by her dog.

3. Dany Boon

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He’s insane on stage. I mean that as both insanely good and as in acting like an insane man. He stays in character for a lot of his sketches: guys in prison, a man on his wedding day, someone learning to read. If you like more bizarre comedy, then this is the guy for you. He often does weird things like performing in the dark at the beginning of his shows, coming out dancing and dramatically drinking bottled water.

Here’s Dany Boon being wacky as he portrays depression in “Le déprimé,” though it’s safe to say his rendition will make you feel anything but depressed.

Useful vocabulary from this routine:

grâce à — Thanks to. This phrase is used for positive things: “Grâce à mon frère, j’ai une nouvelle voiture.” (Thanks to my brother, I have a new car.) If you want to say something negative, use à cause de (due to) in the same fashion.

n’importe qui — You may have heard the phrase “n’importe quoi” (nonsense) before. “N’importe qui” simply means “anyone” or “anybody.”

C’est nul — This is the phrase to employ if you want to express that something is dumb or say “That sucks” without having to bring out des gros mots (bad words).

If you want more: Check out the film “Micmacs” starring Dany Boon from the same director of “Amélie” (a modern classic in French cinema). Go watch both of them! Now! (Or after you finish this post.)

4. Baptiste Lecaplain

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From the younger crowd of comedians, we’ve got Baptiste Lecaplain, and with youth comes language and slang that is more true to what the kids these days are saying. Recommended if you are planning on hanging out with a bunch of dirty-mouthed French teenagers. His approach is more direct and modern, though he always seems to be…sweaty. But to be fair, he does jump around and yell a lot.

Let’s go to le supermarché (the supermarket) with Baptiste! In this routine, he rants about going food shopping. Some of the stuff he mentions is universal, but you may also get a little insight into how the French stock their fridge.

Useful vocabulary from this routine:

les crustacésCrustaceans! You know, like crabs and lobsters. This is helpful if you’re either a shellfish lover or a marine biologist.

le pire — The worst. Can be used like so: “C’est le pire.” (That’s the worst.) You’ll hear it a lot in French stand-up comedy because comedians like to complain a lot.

les courses — Shopping (for food). When you’re about to head out for a day full of grocery store trips and whatnot, you’re going to “faire tes courses” (do your food shopping).

un râteau — A rake! Another random, but nonetheless fun noun. You never know when you’ll need to buy one of these in France.

If you want more: If you like this guy, but want to see him do something serious, check out this great short film he did for road safety in France. I think I just killed the funny mood.

5. Muriel Robin

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Another TV and film actor, Muriel Robin takes to the stage with props, her loud and vibrant persona and jokes that just keep coming and coming. She does a lot of voices, sketches and basically a little bit for everyone.

In “L’addition” (the check), Muriel Robin acts out a very typical dilemma: trying to split a large check. Armed with a table and a pen, she’ll have you reminiscing on your own battles with past bills and commenting “MDR” (French internet slang for “mort de rire,” or “dead from laughing”).

Useful vocabulary from this routine:

tant mieux — This phrase can be used to express “all the better” or “even better.” Basically, an exclamation used the way we use “fine” in English.

la formule — The formula. This can be used whether you’re talking about a mathematical formula (like Muriel so gracefully uses it) or a formula for success.

bouffer — To gobble (your food), eat, wolf down. Think “buffet” when trying to remember this. When you’re at a buffet, you tend to bouffer. 

une boulette — Yes, this can mean a meatball, a small ball…but in this context (being the most fun translation), it can also mean an error. So if you hear someone say “J’ai fait une boulette,”  make sure you assess the context.

If you want more: Check out the film “Marie-Line,” where Muriel Robin plays a cleaning supervisor in a supermarket. It’s funny, full of life and it got her a César (French Oscars) nomination.

6. Coluche

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Coluche is a household name in France. He was beloved and unfortunately passed away in a motorcycle accident at the age of 41. In addition to bringing laughs to the French nation, he also ran for president in 1981, won a César and started a fantastic charity, Les Restos du Cœur, that provides clothes and food for les SDF (the homeless). Learning French with Coluche isn’t just about a laugh, but an important part of French cultural and entertainment history.

Finally, a (slightly) musical routine! In “Misère,” the beloved Coluche sings a song about misery, the rich and the poor.

Useful vocabulary from this routine:

le fric — If you’ve been searching for a slang word for cash, this is the ticket. Cash, money, bread, etc. Use it in a casual, laid-back way.

s’acharner — This verb can be used a few different ways. If you’re trying to say that you want “to take it out on somebody” (I sure hope not), then you’d use “s’acharner sur quelqu’un.” If you’re “trying desperately to do” something, then you would use “s’acharner à faire.” It’s a nice and diverse little reflexive verb.

le moindre — Meaning “the least” in English, it can be used to say things like “C’est la moindre des choses que je peux faire pour vous.” (It’s the least I can do for you.)

des pourrisAs an adjective, “pourri(e),” it means “rotten,” but as a noun it’s like saying “scumbag” or “bad apple.”

If you want more: To get the full story on the legendary Coluche, give this documentary on YouTube a whirl.

7. Malik Bentalha

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Of Moroccan and Algerian ancestry, Malik Bentalha doesn’t shy away from ripping on his own (and other) cultures. He’s just now breaking into the film scene, but has been known on the comedy scene since 2010. Being only 26, he’s doing pretty well for himself. He was brought to the spotlight with the help of Gad Elmaleh (who is also of Moroccan descent). He’s brash and covers controversial topics sometimes, but he’s someone to keep an eye on.

Malik Bentalha talks about Tunisians in this routine, their supposedly good and bad traits. He does a great Tunisian accent, so if you’ve been wondering how people from other countries speak French, then this is a great video. It’s also good for tuning your ears to different kinds of speech.

Useful vocabulary from this routine:

profiter — Depending on whether you use à or de after the verb it could mean either “to benefit” or “to make the most of” (respectively). Also, you can say “Profite bien!” to tell someone to enjoy!

soit…soit… — You may know this little word as the third-person subjunctive of être. You can also use it to say “either…or,” as in “Pour le dessert, soit un gateau, soit une tarte.” (For dessert, either a cake or a tart.)

ma puce Technically, this translates to “my flea,” but it’s actually a sweet pet name like “my dear.”  

If you want more: He’s got a great podcast with Europe1. They’re from a few years ago but still great if you like Malik Bentalha.

Seriously, if you got through all seven of these comedians, then you just benefited from some insanely good practice.

Just keep hitting those recommended videos in the sidebar and keep up with our tips.

Before you know it, you’ll be an expert in French comedy and all those loud and brash French sayings!

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