From the local newspaper, L’Est Républicain, which I read each morning during a leisurely breakfast in the hotel garden, I learned that every summer the city of Belfort sponsors a “festival of humor” called Les Rigolomanies de Belfort, consisting of six comedy shows on six Thursday evenings in the 867-seat auditorium of the Maison du Peuple (= House of the People).
Rigolomanies is a made-up word derived from the verb rigoler, meaning to laugh or be amused.
It happened that the sixth and last of these shows for the summer of 2016 was during my stay in Belfort, so I stopped by the tourist information office and bought a ticket for the phenomenally low price of five Euros.
I realized, of course, that I wasn’t going to understand every word. As I have mentioned elsewhere, French comedy acts are notoriously difficult for us poor foreigners to understand, even those of us who have some acquaintance with this mysterious language. Often I manage to understand most of what is being said — up to but not including the punchlines of the jokes. So I know what the situation is but not what everyone is laughing about. This is of course a bit frustrating, but is in the nature of comedy, since to make people laugh you have to say something they weren’t expecting.
This “House of the People” was commissioned by the city of Belfort in 1928, and was intended from the start as a meeting place for working-class people and their institutions.
Today it houses not only the largest auditorium in Belfort and vicinity, but also the offices of at least two political parties, the Socialists and the Greens, as well as the offices of labor unions and civic organizations.
The show we all saw that evening was Mère Indigne (Unworthy Mother), a one-woman stand-up comedy show by Olivia Moore about the trials and tribulations of being a mother.
In a sequence near the beginning, she speaks of being pregnant and pretends to be stroking her belly while day-dreaming about what a brilliant child she is going to have, perhaps a Nobel prize winner for physics or literature. But then she interrupts herself to say that unfortunately, children generally turn out to be plus con que prévus (more stupid than expected).
To illustrate this, she pretends to call out to a small child: Chéri, viens a maman, viens a maman… (Darling, come to mommy, come to mommy…), then squats down and tries to make clear to the imaginary child that when one is wearing a hood, the opening should be at the front, not the back, you have to turn it around. No, don’t turn yourself around, turn the hood around. Yes, that’s right, further, further — no, that’s too far, turn it back the other way. (Of course, the way she plays this is what makes it funny, more than the situation itself.) When they finally have the opening facing the right direction, she consoles the child by saying that ‘sometimes even your father has trouble finding the hole.’
As the stories continue, the imaginary children keep getting older, and towards the end of the show she rages up and down the aisles of the auditorium doing an imitation of a pubescent fourteen-year-old girl having a screaming temper-tantrum and denouncing everything and everybody and especially her mother. As a foreigner, I didn’t understand the details of this, but the intention was clear.
Several weeks later I heard an interview with Olivia Moore in which she was asked something I had been wondering myself, namely what her own children thought of how they (or their imaginary counterparts) were depicted in her show. She claimed they took it in good humor and once even paid her ‘the ultimate compliment’ by falling asleep during one of her performances.
My photos in this post are from 2016. I wrote the text in 2020.