Sol: Je persifle et je singe 8.25
eyelights: the ingenious and hilarious wordplays. the subject matter.
eyesores: the editing.
Sol, the homeless clown, is a québécois icon. Marc Favreau debuted the character in 1958, in a kids’ show called ‘La Boite à surprise’, which teamed him with a few other clowns. His most popular team-up was with Gobelet, and they eventually had their own spin-off show ‘Sol et Gobelet’, a rudimentary affair that hasn’t aged especially well. In the decades following, he went Sol-o developing clever stand-up routines that incorporated wordplay with social commentary.
I first discovered him with ‘Sol et Gobelet’ in the ’70s, during its final rerun phase. I really enjoyed the show then, but I didn’t get a chance to savour it as it was soon pulled off the air, having been a fixture on the public broadcaster for ages. I later rediscovered him in a show called ‘Parlez-moi’, again in reruns. It was dedicated to bridging the gap between French and English as Marc Favreau, with the help of Sol, taught the basics of each. It was an educational and fun show.
But I eventually left him behind, not giving him another thought until a decade and a half later, when a friend of mine gave me tickets to go see Sol on stage. At first I was amused by the thought of revisiting my childhood, but I could hardly imagine what Favreau would have Sol do for a whole set – it seemed to me that there was very little for a homeless clown to talk about for a whole hour.
Clearly, I had no idea of Favreau’s genius and of Sol’s importance in Québec culture. And thus it was that I was completely taken aback by the depth of his routine, at the brilliance of his linguistic acrobatics and double-entendres, at the power of his humanistic messages and sociopolitical commentaries. I was completely floored. Despite a few stumbles during his set (he was in his ’70s by then), he still shone.
I went to meet with him backstage. I had to. I just had to tell him how impressed I was with his work. He was humble, perhaps even timid, thanked me for the coming and signed my book, a collection of his works that he was selling on site. While I rarely buy memorabilia at shows, I felt compelled to in this instance: it would serve as a reminder of this amazing night, and it would give me a chance to pore over his words at will.
So it goes without saying that, when a collection of Sol shows were released on DVD in 2004, I jumped at the chance to get it: it boasted 4 shows on 3 DVDs as well as a retrospective documentary on Marc Favreau. It was a must-have. I soon watched the documentary on Favreau, intrigued as I was by the man. By then, he had passed away, succumbing to cancer at the ripe age of 76. The documentary, ‘Joyeux Anniversaire Sol’ was short, but informative.
But I never got around to watching the shows. The problem with Sol is that it is far too clever for the likes of me on even a good day; Favreau is a wordsmith that requires his listeners to be attentive and well-versed in the French language. I usually watch videos late at night, after a day’s work or some other such nonsense that has turned my brain to jelly; I’m usually in no shape to take on the challenge of Sol’s demanding wordplays.
When I finally tackled the set, the other day, it was on such a late night. However, a friend of mine was really interested in seeing what Sol was all about, and I was in no position to refuse: Sol is awesome, and there’s no reason why I should have deprived him of this significant cultural landmark. As expected, it was a challenge, not just for me, but for my friend: we both kept up as much as we could, but ended up dozing off from the effort at various times.
Be that as it may, my buddy was quite impressed with what he saw. He commented that perhaps Sol would be best served in small doses, in skits instead of as a full show. I understand what he means: bite-size bits would permit us to savour each word more, instead of being overwhelmed by the 20-course meal that Favreau usually serves up. It can be too much for some of us – especially when we’re not entirely familiar with the language being used or the context in which the words are manipulated.
The problem with separating Favreau’s shows in small segments is that he tends to weave his segment together, so taking them out of context effectively strips some of their power and limits our understanding of the genius at play. Individually, I have no doubt that the bits would still be brilliant, but the opening and closing moments might seem out of place, uprooted as they are from their rightful place in the set.
Having said this, ‘Je persifle et je singe’ is an excellent introduction to Sol. It offers up a full 90 minutes of commentary on various subjects, including the environment, politics, sports, unemployment, and many others. For those want to see it in small bites, it has been filmed in such a way that one can jump right into one chapter only, with each segment introduced by its proper title. My problem with this is that it made the show disjointed in some ways; I would have preferred a straight show with no editing whatsoever.
But I won’t complain… much. Sol is brilliant, irrespective of how he is presented. I laughed heartily, watched with wonderment at the skill with which he wove ideas and overlapped them, using bastardised words to evoke multiple notions at once. I was lost much more than I would have like to be, but if there’s one thing that can be said about DVD, it’s that one can always go back and give it another spin – which means that, eventually, after a few more viewings, I will understand it all.
There will be a lot more Sol on the horizon. He’s well worth it.
Date of viewing: April 30, 2013