The Funny Side of
Sebastian Marx applies his comic talents to cultural translation.
If you are in town on a Friday night and want a witty dissection of life on planet France, Sebastian Marx’s New Yorker in Paris comedy show is the place to go.
If Marx had a sibling, he would rename his one-man stand-up act the Karamazov Brothers, just to avoid the comic competition. Okay, okay, I’ll just stick to the straight lines.
Actually, I suspect that Marx is a stage name and that Sebastian’s day job is as a lecturer in cultural translation, an egghead who has reworked his course material to moonlight at the SoGymnase in Paris’s Théâtre du Gymnase Marie Bell to earn a few extra bucks. (In fact, he also has a regular spot on an RTL radio program in which he comments on French culture in French from the point of view of the American expatriate.)
His brand of cultural translation is the crossroads between language and ,what he acts out on stage, e.g., the cold disdain of a French shopkeeper if you fail to say “bonjour” when entering the hallowed premises.
Alternatively, Marx’s one-hour comedy show could be seen as a veiled exercise in social anthropology as he gets laughs from his insights into life and language based on nine years’ living as a stranger in the strange land that is Paris.
For instance, he has grasped the importance of mastering French grammar, notably the significance of the use of the subjunctive during lovemaking. That appreciation of culture and language as lived by a person of alien origin is delivered with full-on New York Jewish humor and high energy.
Some of the nicely judged gags include his remarks on such key icons as the baguette and its secondary function as an indicator of time; the link between a light, flakey croissant and a paper bag; and the recorded woman’s voice on the Métro, which transforms “Barbès Rochechouart” into a line of erotic poetry.
His comments on the ambiguity of the expression “ça va” and the universality of the insult “con” are spot-on and funny. I also enjoyed the mock-Shakespearean death scene, which Marx used as a counterpoint to a story about calling the emergency number of the French police.
He also casts a perceptive eye on American culture: e.g., Americans and SUVs, and a cross-cultural comparison of how geese are force-fed to make foie gras and the feeding of children in the United States.
On the night I went to the show, the crowd was decidedly international, with spectators from Norway, the Netherlands, the United States, Britain, Greece and even France. They all appreciated Marx’s self-deprecating humor, which never gets nasty during his interactions with the audience, as seems to be the trend these days with many comedians.
And then there is the punch line, which wraps up the show. But I will not give that up, as I suspect Marx works out at the gym and has hired his brothers Harpo and Zeppo as bouncers for the show.