A LETTER FROM PARIS: French Lessons (in English) on How to Become Parisian

By Mervyn Rothstein
23 Oct 2011

Giraud onstage
Not surprisingly, though, his idea was not immediately accepted in Paris, which has limited theatre in English. "I wrote a script in English, but nobody wanted to try it. They said, 'You want to do a comedy act in English — in Paris?' I was close to giving up, forgetting the idea. But then I finally found a theatre. The Théâtre de la Main d'Or said they would open the door for me for one night. We had the premiere, and people came. They said, 'O.K., we can try another time.' Then two months, three months, a year, and we've been playing the show for two and a half years."

And he is planning for it to run until at least the end of 2012.

His show, logically, runs about an hour. He's alone onstage with just one black leather chair as a prop. One recent Saturday night, the house's red-cushioned seats were just about full. Most of the audience members were young and hip, though there was a sprinkling of gray throughout the theatre. Many arrive at their seats with wine bottles and glasses obtained at the theatre's bar (after all, this is Paris).

They are also multicultural. A survey Giraud takes every night found that on this evening, audience members came from Scotland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the Philippines, Argentina, Colombia, Singapore, South Korea, South Africa, Australia, New York, Chicago — and, in large numbers, Paris.

Olivier Giraud
photo by Julia Griner



The show begins with a fanfare, and Giraud then leads the audience in the Marseillaise, to get them prepared for a fair amount of audience participation. Giraud's lessons come in eight humorous categories: restaurants — the war between the guests and the waiter; shopping — how to deal with department store clerks who couldn't seem to care less if they made a sale; nightclubs; taxis; the Metro, or how not to give a pregnant woman your seat; communicating with Parisians; speaking like a Parisian; and sex, including the fact that one should never praise a Frenchwoman for how she looks that day. (What? she is likely to say. You mean I looked terrible yesterday?) There is a lot of laughter, and everyone appears to be having a good time — and afterward, telling friends.

"The show has great word of mouth," Giraud says at the café. "People come once and come again, sometimes ten times." Indeed, the show, at least at this writing, is No. 1 on the TripAdvisor.com list of recommended Paris-area nightlife, and No. 3 overall for attractions in Paris.

Giraud says that to keep people coming back, he revises the show frequently, and that he will be adding more categories at the new theatre — including how to become a Parisian on vacation and how to find an apartment in Paris.

After each show, he says, he stands outside the theatre to shake hands and say goodnight as audience members file by.

"Most comedians wait years to have a full theatre," he says. "For me, it happened after six or seven months. I wake up every morning happy. And I go to bed happy."

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How to Become Parisian in One Hour? has also been seen in Belgium and Spain, with other European bookings planned. Giraud hopes to do the show in New York City in 2012-13. For more information, visit OlivierGiraud.com.

Merv Rothstein's work is often seen in the pages of Playbill magazine and Playbill.com. He pens the monthly A Life in the Theatre feature.