This article was originally submitted on the 29th March
What is it like to make people laugh for a living? It involves a lot more tears (and delivery driving) than you might think.
The new series from Fanny Herrero – showrunner of the internationally famous Call My Agent! – landed on Netflix last week and it stands up in its own right.
The French title of the series is Drôle, translating to both “funny” and “strange,” which better captures the idea of the show than the English title does. The dramedy can be a difficult concept to get right, yet Herrero is able to balance the tone perfectly as with Call My Agent!. Whilst the two shows are very similar tonally, in their characters they are very distinct. Standing Up was always going to feel more grounded as it is about four struggling comics, instead of the agents to the stars, however, the perfect casting adds to its credibility.
When French film and TV can so often be so white, it is so refreshing to see such a diverse ensemble cast on our screen. Of the four protagonists of this ensemble piece, three are ethnic minorities and all are at very different stages of their careers. Aïssatou (Mariama Gueye) shoots to fame after her YouTube clip goes viral, whilst Bling (Jean Siuen) has had his hey-day and is now floundering. Apolline (Elsa Guedj) has a passion for stand-up, but it goes against everything her mother expects from her. Nezir (Younès Boucif) can write comedy but lacks the charisma needed on stage.
Boucif as Nezir, with his entertaining yet tender performance, is the stand-out actor of the show. There’s not a moment where he doesn’t feel authentic. He is quieter than the rest, but never understated. Whilst the relationship between Nezir and his father is hilarious, but maybe slightly uninventive in its “adult son still living at home” gags, the friendship between Nezir and Aïssatou is one that binds the whole series together. The characters complement each other perfectly despite being so different. Boucif will surely go on to do bigger things after being propelled into the limelight by Netflix.
Herrero chose to use professional actors rather than stand-up comedians as she wanted a more emotive aspect to the series which she was worried comedians would fail to deliver. The flip side of that, is in the first few episodes, the jokes don’t always land. There are some stand-out funny moments such as when Aïssatou and her sister get stopped by the police who then realise she is slightly famous and ask to pose for a selfie, but much of the funniest moments come later in the series, once it has found its footing.
The direction also gets more interesting as the series progresses, with the camera being fully utilised in overhead shots and with zooms to fully express the emotions of the characters. I would have liked to have seen this curiosity with the camera from the very start of the show as it really improved the final few episodes.
Despite some failures, Fanny Herrero has succeeded in creating a series that is unique in its scenario and even when the comedy doesn’t quite make you laugh like it should, you still enjoy it for its warm and well-written characters.
Image Courtesy of Ist Wladyslaw via Wikimedia Commons