by directors/writers/stars Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel
Peter Sellers, Bert Lahr, Jackie Gleason, the Marx brothers, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Jerry Lewis, Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Jacques Tati, John Cleese and Monty Python, Mr. Bean, Jim Carrey, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Bill Irwin, George Carl, the Russian clown Slava, the French Pierre Etaix… each of these performers are unique. And funny and touching. And seem to have been born to do what they do.
If clowning didn’t exist what would we have done with our lives? No idea. Dominique and I cannot imagine another path. Like those before us, the famous and less famous, we were made for it, although when we joined forces in 1982, after two years in the same theater school, there was no guarantee that we had that particular chemistry that a comic duo has to possess to amuse and move an audience.
So there we were, in Paris, enthusiastic, naïve, and we discovered that we fit together like two pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Our first audiences were very small. But we didn’t care. We just wanted to play. We opened a first show in the famous Avignon "Off" Festival to one lonely spectator. And even he was late. We’d started the show deciding to make it a rehearsal. When a head peeped through the door 10 minutes into the show, we stopped everything, dragged the poor guy in, sat him down and began all over just for him. He was probably pretty tense which isn’t really the best state for producing laughter (except for nervous laughter which can admittedly get things started).
Since then, Dominique and I have played before thousands of audiences. We’ve seen time after time how amazing and mysterious laughter is. As a performer you can feel the laughter coming, then slipping, and coming back again. You always need to be on the alert as the audience can slide from hilarity to boredom and vice versa. You need confidence (an audience who fears a flop is hard to crack), yet to allow those spectators into your heart you have to let them see how frail you are, vulnerable and human like them. This frailty is the most important thing to us.
From the beginning, our shows (and later our films) have been odes to the underdog, the antihero, the Walter Mittys of the world. Our new film, The Fairy, is no exception.
The Fairy is a comedy. But maybe we should be more precise. We are not adept at the one-liners, one shot gags and sentimental filler that have become synonymous with comedy today. There’s a fast-food quality about a lot of situation comedies; you laugh fast and the laughter leaves you fast. In the end you’re sometimes left with the same bland aftertaste that industrial hamburgers and frozen fries leave you with.
It’s risky, but in The Fairy, as in our previous films, we try to give our characters a little space (the better to get lost in), and we give our situations the time to build up from nothing… to something. For us it’s not what you do but how you do it that counts. Laughter can come in many shapes and forms and the quality of the laughter we like to hear is of the light and joyful sort (as opposed to the dark and cynical sort), in empathy with characters who will touch you and stay with you beyond the performance. It’s difficult to achieve in a film.
We have been experimenting with our particular comic style in film form since the nineties. It’s a challenge, as we no longer have the benefit of a live audience to measure the funniness, to help us find the right rhythm, to refine the physical numbers. To make up for this handicap we have the possibility of composing, editing, and watching what we’ve filmed, though we tend to prefer simple rather than complex editing… it's an ongoing experiment and we dream one day of being able to test our films on audiences, then adding bits and readjusting others according to their reactions.
Perhaps the difficulty in making comedies today is the fact that performers and writers no longer have much of a testing ground to create and hone down original material. So producers tend to rely on tight and witty dialogue, close-ups on elastic faces and time-tried, quickly executed gags, less risky than the exquisite slow burns of Laurel and Hardy, or the beautifully choreographed, architectural comedies of Tati, or the charming melancholic, naïve ineptitudes of Peter Sellers.
Some people ask us, if we like physical comedy so much, why don’t we just do a silent film homage like we’ve recently seen with The Artist, but for us physical comedy is not a thing of the past. We carry the torch and we advance, we don’t want to go back in time. Without wishing to knock The Artist, a lovely homage which merits its amazing success, we have a style of our own, we love sound, we love color, we like our contemporary world and we like to use it. The Fairy expresses an original and personal point of view regarding today’s follies. Modern times are just as absurd as they ever were and we are the crazy ambassadors of these crazy times.