Synopsis: Gaetan (Michel Serrault) is a television comic whose jokes have kept his program alive, but in more recent times, his senior gag writers have not had their hand on the pulse of his changing audience. A series of circumstances bring two young cafe-theater comedy writers to the rescue (Thierry Lhermitte and Gerard Jugnot), partially due to Gaetan’s efforts. The new material is so successful that Gaetan is offered the lead in a serious feature-length movie, and if he had any hesitation about the venture, his wife squelched it with visions of a higher social and economic standing for them both. But the project does not go exactly as planned, and before he knows it, Gaetan runs into trouble.
Les Rois du gag 7.0
eyelights: its many alternate takes on most of the comedians’ proposed skits.
eyesores: the third act.
‘Les Rois du gag’ is 1985 comedy starring Gérard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte and Michel Serrault. It was a minor hit for legendary French director Claude Zidi at the time, but it has grown in popularity since, becoming one of the most watched films on French television.
It’s the story of a stage comedy duo called Les Rois du gag (Jugnot and Lhermitte), who are picked up by a waning television comedian (Serrault) to write their material for him in a bid to rejuvenate his ratings. Although they despise his act, they need the cash and jump at the chance.
Even if it means compromising their vision.
There’s not much to the story, but what makes it interesting are the many gags and sketches that the pair dream up, thanks to Paul’s (Jugnot) ingenuity: not only is he a creative gadgeteer, but he’s a bit goofy. Plus he also lifts ideas from François while the latter sleep, suffering from nightmares.
The gags themselves are often rather corny, but I loved that the pair would bat around their ideas for sketches and would re-imagine them as they went along, adapting them before our eyes. It demonstrated both the writing process but also how complex humour can be. And it was plain fun.
The best one is an extended sequence when the newly formed trio are at a restaurant for a working lunch and their inspiration flows from one idea to the next, transforming a simple lunch into a variety of gags shown from different perspectives. Again, not brilliant, but fun.
Gaëtan is the weak link in this trio because he’s of a different generation, and has been running his show on television for decades: he’s got his shtick and he finds it difficult to part from it. Plus which he’s got an overabundant ego, which doesn’t allow much room for new ideas.
But the dynamic between the three of them makes for good tension, especially after you throw in a love interest for Paul and include Gaëtan’s spouse in the mix: she is extremely critical of his work and has always envisioned him as a proper thespian. This pressure nags at him.
Unfortunately, the film turns to crap 2/3 way in, becoming a satire of filmmaking, poking fun at the industry and the egos involved: Gaëtan becomes the star of one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, Robert Wellson, a grotesque cross between Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick.
Wellson is grating and Serrault (who plays both Wellson and Gaëtan), overacts the whole time, tuning him into a cartoon. To make matters worse, the film that they are making is bewilderingly bad. Between these two, the whole segment was a grossly unfunny half hour.
I quite enjoyed the duo of Jugnot and Lhermitte, though. Although the material was originally conceived for Les Charlots (another French comedy team), it was adapted for the pair. I’m glad: knowing the Charlots’ style, it would have turned into even more of a cornball routine.
At least with these two, the gags were tapered somewhat, plus which they have a very good dynamic, having worked together for years by then. As much as Serrault was decent (in moderation: the third act unfortunately focused on him), I feel that the picture’s magic came from these two.
One thing that’s fun is that Les Rois du gag permitted all three to play multiple roles, either as actually different characters or in the context of their skits. You could never really get bored of them because of this; if one character was boring or annoying, you would soon move on to another.
Peppering things slightly are the presence of the legendary Coluche, Pierre Richard, and Philippe Noiret in small parts (cameos, really, in the case of the last two). In tossing in a handful of respected, well-known, comedians, it gave the film a touch of additional credibility and realism.
‘Les Rois du gag’ is no stellar film, make no mistake, but I found it entertaining nonetheless. It’s a decent satire of the comedy business, for starters. Mostly, though, it’s a great film for fans of sketch comedy: it’s pretty much a series of bits and pieces of various sketches.
And that can be a balst, if you’re the right frame of mind for it.
Date of viewing: August 10, 2014