It’s surreal, it’s in a hot portakabin, it’s adventures with baguettes, dragon burgers and super-homme: it’s made in France by Yacine Belhousse. Heavily influenced and co-produced by Eddie Izzard, Belhousse is doing in reverse what Izzard did some years ago: taking his stand-up act across the channel and performing in his second language. Izzard in France, where stand-up hardly exists, met with a resolute ‘quoi?’; what will the Edinburgh Festival-goers make of Belhousse?
Belhousse is a charmer and a dreamer, his material based mostly on flights into the surreal with a sharp eye for British stereotypes of the French. He raises more than a laugh or two with this Edinburgh audience, but there are also moments of bemused misunderstanding where the cultural chasms are glimpsed gaping beneath. Belhousse has a good go of getting the audience to like him as a non-native on a mission as a cultural ambassador, making light of his troubles with verb conjugations and getting a spontaneous cheer for his timely use of the word ‘flabbergasted’. It’s very amusing stuff, but I would have liked more to see (and understand) Belhousse in French, to know more about what really makes the French laugh and just why the French don’t go in for stand up in a big way. But perhaps Belhousse stands for something that isn’t French comedy at all, but a new breed of supra-national cross-border comedy pioneered by Izzard. Belhousse’s show was made in France but it’s also created out of a lot of Anglo-American influences and his Algerian origins gives him something of a sideways glance on his own cultural identity. So, all in all, this is a brilliant experiment by a supremely slick and talented animateur, but maybe too much is lost in translation, or at any rated slowed down in translation, to have his audience in stitches. No stiches, then, but bags of joie de vivre.