Life & Culture

Interview: Norbert Saffar

Meet the French Woody Allen


Comedy is notoriously difficult to move from one language to another, but try telling French comedian Norbert Saffar that. Despite the fact that he is not 100 per cent fluent in English, he is bringing his hit one-man show, Schopenhauer and I, from France to Britain.

Critics compared him to a French Woody Allen when the show played in Paris. Now it has been re-written in English with the help of his English-speaking Gibraltarian wife, Myriam. He is confident of a warm reception here, not least because, he claims, his humour works better in English. “The sense of the absurd, the nonsense, is something which an English- speaking audience understands better,” he says.

“In France, the sense of humour is about making fun of others — their problems and their stupidity. This show is more English because it questions one’s own life. It’s about making fun of yourself.”

Saffar, who lives in Paris, thinks the comparisons with Allen come partly because of the “typically Jewish” humour in the show and partly because of his neurosis. “There is a section about my fear of terrorists — I end up speaking to them, having conversations with them.” But how does the work of the German philosopher Schopenhauer lend itself to comedy? “In a sense Schopenhauer was like Woody Allen,” he says. “Schopenhauer meditated about the meaning of life and concluded that the biggest happiness in this world is not to be bored. That is something Allen might have said.”

But do not expect an evening entirely devoted to jokes. “The show is somewhere between tragedy and comedy,” Saffar says. “It asks important questions about how you live, how you die, why you get married, why you get drunk. The answers are not always funny.”

The scriptwriting process has been tough and the 42-year-Saffar has had the added problem of having to deliver it in a foreign language. “You may have noticed that I have a little accent,” he says in a voice somewhere between Maurice Chevalier and Eric Cantona — a little like Woody Allen, but somehow more French.

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