British comedian Paul Taylor has become a YouTube sensation in France – even though, or perhaps because he takes aim at French people and their culture. Fabien Jannic-Cherbonnel asked him for his take on the election.Every week, British comedian Paul Taylor, who has lived in Paris for the past eight years, pokes fun at French culture with his YouTube series “What the Fuck France.” DW spoke to him about the recent presidential election – and why he finds it hilarious that French people love to talk about politics so much.
DW: Outgoing President Francois Hollande has been the target of plenty of jokes throughout his mandate. Do you think Emmanuel Macron, who will officially take over on Sunday, will also be a great source of comedy?
Paul Taylor: I watched a documentary about Macron the other day and he seems like a normal guy, with a good sense of humor. But I don’t think he’s going to bring as much comedy as Francois Hollande. After watching the documentary I had the same feeling that I had with [former US President] Barack Obama, in the sense that he seems like a normal person. There wasn’t a lot of fake around him. It’s going to be tougher to make fun of Macron.
Did you closely follow the French presidential campaign?
To be honest, I didn’t follow it too much, I just followed the end. In general I’m not a very political person. I don’t find it that interesting, and I’ve also lived in many different countries so I never had time to really understand the history of it. French people are happy that it’s over because it’s all we’ve heard about for the past six months.
You released a video poking fun at French politics a few weeks ago. What amuses you about the French political debate?
It’s just that it’s all a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? That’s why I don’t follow it. It’s a weird thing we go through every four or five years. The fact that people follow this is funny in itself. There’s a lot of lies, things that get said and never happen. It seems that every year, everyone is surprised and they say, “Oh we elected this guy, he said this, and in the end he hasn’t delivered on his promises.” Whenever did that ever happen? I find it hilarious that people are still surprised.
There’s also stuff that we put in the video. There’s obviously the scandals in France and that candidate [Francois Fillon] that carried on with his campaign.
On that note: a difference between France and other European countries is that politicians are able to go on despite being embroiled in scandals, just like Fillon. As a comedian, do you view those scandals a source comedy?
I think it’s a huge source of material for people who do political humor. You don’t even need to write any jokes. It’s one of those stories where a guy says, “Well if I’m put under investigation I’ll withdraw from the race,” and then it happens and he doesn’t. That in itself is funny.
It seems like there’s more political humor in France than in the UK. Is that something you’ve noticed as well?
I agree with that. The difference is that in the UK there’s other types of humor as well. Stand-up comedy is massive in the UK – either on live shows or on TV. When I first came over to France, I realized that a lot of what makes up the comedy landscape is political, whether it’s a TV show like “C’est Canteloup,” which airs on TF1 after the news and has a huge following, or sketches. I was surprised at how much the French love to make fun of politics. At the same time, it might not be that surprising, considering most people in France love talking about politics.
Your videos have racked up millions of views on YouTube. That must mean French people are receptive to your jokes, and maybe even like being criticized?
Last I checked it was 23 million views, which is a ridiculous number when you think about it. French people are very receptive, at least 80 percent of the audience is French. I think it’s a fine line because I’m making fun of France, but people know that I live here, speak great French and that I’m kind of one of them.
It would be different if it was just another English person who had live here for six months and decided to do the same thing. People would be less receptive, they would say, “Well, if you’re not happy, go back to England.”
I think there’s an undertone of love in my videos. I often use the analogy of a relationship: I’ve been with my fiancee for eight years and we obviously love each other, but sometimes we annoy each other as well. It’s like that with France, too.
Weren’t you worried that French people might take things the wrong way?
It crosses my mind from time to time. We bounce jokes around and at the end I take note and write the show. During the brainstorming we obviously come up with some jokes that are too controversial to put in the videos. The jokes that I keep are usually easygoing.
You can watch Paul Taylor’s videos on his YouTube channel. He is also touring France with a stand-up comedy show, “#FRANGLAIS,” which he performs in both languages.
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.