Thursday April 28, 2016

A comedian on why France's controversial comic Dieudonné isn't actually funny

The French government has criticized Dieudonné's performances as anti-Semitic and racist.

The French government has criticized Dieudonné's performances as anti-Semitic and racist. (Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press)

Listen 7:57

Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala is many things: controversial, provocative, bombastic. Many would also add racist and anti-Semitic. 

But Jessica Salomon says the biggest problem is that he's just not funny. 

Salomon is a war crimes lawyer turned comedian who grew up in Montreal and recently moved to New York City.

"I don't respect him much as a comedian," she tells host Brent Bambury. "I think what's missing is the humorous aspect."

Dieudonné is set to be in Montreal next month for a series of sold-out shows. He has provoked outrage in France for more than a decade, having been accused (and convicted) of inciting racial hatred. One of the most contentious aspects of his routine over the years has been his portrayal of Jewish people. And though he denies that he's anti-Semitic, he has been banned from performing in several cities, even in his home country.

Salomon says there is a place in comedy to make jokes about race and other taboo subjects, as long as it's coming from a humorous place, but she doesn't see that with Dieudonné.

In her own routine, Salomon often tells a joke about how scary it is being a little kid and learning about the Holocaust. She says part of why it's acceptable for her to make that joke is because she's Jewish — and Dieudonné is not.

But she says it might, in some circumstances, be possible for Dieudonné to make jokes about Jewish people,"as long as you come at it from a place where there's an actual joke."

Instead, Salomon says, "what just comes across more than anything is a real anti-Semitism" in Dieudonné's act.

Dieudonné made headlines in 2005 when he created the quenelle gesture, a hand movement that's usually described as a "reverse Nazi salute."

More recently, Dieudonné found himself in hot water when he posted a joke about the Charlie Hebdo attacks on his Facebook page. He was later convicted in a French court of condoning terrorism.