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Le Monde
Le Monde
6 Jan 2024

Images Le
Laurence Hervieux-Gosselin for M Le magazine du Monde

In Quebec, inclusive comedy is getting more laughs

By  (Montreal (Canada) correspondent)
Published today at 12:34 pm (Paris)

Time to 9 min. Lire en français

Making people laugh is hard work. With just a few days to go before the presentation of their end-of-year show on December 12 at Club Soda, one of Montreal's legendary cabarets, the students of the École Nationale de l'Humour (ENH, National School of Humor) were fine-tuning their sketches: In a darkened rehearsal room – to replicate the mood on the big night – a couple coos a sweet love song together, to the sound of an out-of-tune ukulele. Suddenly, the young woman breaks the spell and ditches her flummoxed partner. "I'm a lesbian," she exclaims, running off with her "blonde" ("girlfriend," in Quebecois).

The effect of surprise had worked, but up on stage, apprentice comedians Audrey Saurette and Frédéric Madore started thinking of a way to beef up their punchline. "What if you followed her with your ukulele, whispering 'Are you sure it's forever?'" suggested one of their classmates. The duo went backstage, re-entered the scene and tested the new version. The new version was unanimously adopted, to the laughter and applause of the two teachers supervising the young troupe.

For the third year in a row, the 2024 vintage of students graduating from the school in June is gender-balanced: Made up of six boys and six girls between the ages of 21 and 41. Director Louise Richer, who founded this comedy school in 1988 – the only one of its kind in the world in terms of the nationally-recognized diploma it awards – is proud to have played a part of this slow movement of feminization of a field that was long considered a misogynistic boys' club. In the years to come, these 12 students are destined to become Quebec's next generation of comedians, in a province where comedy – as seen in their sketches – has become less a bite on society than an introspection into everyone's personal torments.

Images Le
Images Le

With her white hair and youthful laugh, 70-year-old Richer recalled with a mischievous smile the nonsense she had heard when, in the mid-1980s, she had the idea of training humor "professionals". Here, in the rooms of her establishment – which is perched on the seventh floor of a soulless office building that lines a major Montreal boulevard, yet with a 360-degree view of the city – she enjoyed fun imitating the warnings she received from others. "But anyway, Louise, comedy is innate: You either have it or you don't! Humor can't be taught." To which a younger Louise would tirelessly retort: "What about music? Can't that be learned? And painting, and cinema? Are they innate?" "Above all," she recounts, 35 years later, "it showed the lack of regard for this art form, which was considered minor. In fact, it wasn't until 2022 that the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec recognized comedy as a discipline in its own right."

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