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October 05, 2017

French funnyman junks on-screen success for stand-up in the states

Gad Elmaleh could be starring in French films but he decided to remake his career as a comic in America

Stand-up comedy is akin to a drug. Comic Paul Mecurio left a lucrative Wall Street gig in order to practically take a vow of poverty to focus on stand-up. Jeff Foxworthy quit an executive job with IBM to try his luck as a comedian.

“If you’re passionate about stand-up, you’ll do anything to pursue it,” Foxworthy explained. 

“You’ll even do things which seem irrational.”

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Gad Elmaleh has taken irrational to another level. The soft-spoken Moroccan native abandoned a career as a French film star to move to New York to become a stand-up comic.

“I was just compelled to do it,” Elmaleh said while calling from his Manhattan apartment. 

“I wanted to see how it would go. It’s a challenge doing this in English. I’m smarter in French. It’s not easy doing this if you don’t have all of the tools to express yourself. I’m much more complex and sophisticated in French.”

Elmaleh, 46, who has starred in such films as “Coco” and “Priceless” and appeared in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” comes off humble. Elmaleh cracked up a crowd at the Keswick Theater in February, courtesy of his observational humor. He was named Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by France’s Minister of Culture and is good friends with Jerry Seinfeld, who keeps a small circle of pals. 

“Jerry and I did a show together two days ago in Paris,” Elmaleh told PhillyVoice

“It was so much fun. It’s incredible to have this relationship with him. I love to do shows with him and write jokes with him.”

New York will remain home base for Elmaleh, who often travels to France. Elmaleh, who is entertainment royalty in Paris, has had quite an exchange with literal royalty. He has a four-year old son, Raphael, with ex-girlfriend Charlotte Casiraghi, who is Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco’s granddaughter.

“That’s a huge reason to go back there,” Elmaleh said. “I love it there, but I have so much to accomplish here. Part of what I need to accomplish here is getting a better grasp of the language.”

Elmaleh said President Donald Trump’s speeches are not helping him with English.

“He is the guy I understand the most,” Elmaleh said. “That’s not praise for him. He is what we call in France populism. He tells people what they want to hear and they love that. I’m so sad now watching the news with him and what happened in Las Vegas.”

When Elmaleh performs tonight through Saturday at Helium Comedy Club, he’s working out all new material for a Netflix special. However, he will not deliver some gun jokes he recently crafted.

“It’s not right to perform a gun joke right now,” Elmaleh said.

But, it would be fine in print, he said. 

“All right, if you want to hear it...It’s very hard to get an apartment here. It’s easier to get a gun. I got a gun and they gave me the apartment right away.”

Rim shot, please. 

"It’s so sad with everything that there is no gun control,” Elmaleh said. "That’s a reminder how different the culture is in America, compared to France. There’s no doubt about that, but I absolutely love it here...It feels like home, and I get to do what I love here. I love doing stand-up in English. It’s my passion.”

Gad Elmaleh appears Thursday through Saturday at Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom St., Philadelphia. Tickets are $22 Thursday and Friday and $26 Saturday. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 215-496-9001 or click here