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

By Mervyn Rothstein
23 Oct 2011

Olivier Giraud
Olivier Giraud
Photo by Julia Griner

How to Become Parisian in One Hour?, a rare English-language theatrical event in the City of Light, was cooked up by a Frenchman who was once a restaurant manager at a Florida resort. His dream of writing and starring in a show has become a Paris reality.

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It's a long way from managing a restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida, to having a successful one-man comedy show — in English — in Paris, but Olivier Giraud has made that journey.

Giraud's show, How to Become Parisian in One Hour?, has been playing in Paris for two and a half years and, the comedian says, has been seen by about 80,000 people — many of them Parisians. It plays at an Off-Broadway-like 235-seat venue, the Théâtre de la Main d'Or, down a cobblestone passageway in the 11th arrondissement, near the Bastille. He performs five times a week, and the success has been such that negotiations are under way to move the show early next year to a larger, 600-seat theatre.



"I lived in America for five years," Giraud, who is 33 and looks quintessentially French, says before the show, sitting in a café just around the corner from the theatre. He speaks English with a heavy, but completely understandable, French accent. "I managed the restaurant L'Escalier at the Breakers resort. I had many American guests, and some Parisians, and I would laugh about all the differences between the French and the Americans, and I thought that when the Americans went to Paris it must be a nightmare. From the time I was very young I had dreamed about being a comic, so I decided to write a show about how Americans have to act in Paris to have a good vacation — how to act like a Parisian."

He knew immediately that the way to convey those lessons would be through humor. "It's the best way to attract more people — get them to laugh a lot. Even the French like to laugh about themselves. So I thought I would try it." And in order to get American tourists to come for the "lessons," he says, "I thought I would try it in English."

Managing a restaurant in Florida seems an unusual way to prepare for doing comedy in Paris. But when he was a teenager and told his parents about his plans to be a comedian, "they became very scared. They said it's not possible. They said that everyone dreams of being an actor or a comedian. So I said, 'O.K., you're right.' But it was in my mind all the time, every day. 'I want to do it,' I thought, 'I want to do it.'"

To satisfy his parents, he went to culinary school in Bordeaux at age 16 and then got a degree in Paris in hotel management, winding up eventually in Palm Beach. But after several years, "I became sick and tired of my job at the Breakers. It was too hard, too straight — white gloves — too much. And I was thinking all the time about comedy. Finally I said, 'Stop everything. I want to go back to France, and I'm going to try.'"

 Continued...