The Schmooze

France’s Favorite TV Comic Host Examines his Jewish Roots

With the demise of Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman, Jewish comic story-tellers have mostly vanished from American TV, but they are alive and well in France, in good part due to the raconteur, compère, and interviewer Philippe Bouvard, born in 1929 in Coulommiers, north-central France. Although Bouvard has broadcasted since the 1950s, his ongoing program “Les Grosses Têtes,” launched in 1977, represents his most indelible success, with rude jokes recounted by the singer Enrico Macias (born Gaston Ghrenassia to an Algerian Jewish family), journalist Claude Sarraute, and many others.

“Les Grosses Têtes” ridicules its own format by offering questions to the panel from fictitious viewers with punning names such as “Madame Lenvie de Béziers” (or Mrs. Lenvie from the city of Béziers, which in French sounds like “Mrs. Has the Desire to Screw.”). One fellow performer described Bouvard’s style as a “mixture of toilet jokes and quotes from Marcel Proust.” With the pose of a grand seigneur, Bouvard confronts corny jokes with the mock aplomb of William Shatner, before dissolving into laughter.

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France’s Favorite TV Comic Host Examines his Jewish Roots

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