Fary Isn’t Joking About Race in France Right Now


His comedy club, Madame Sarfati, is named after one of the most famous characters in French comedy: The parody of a Jewish mother played by Élie Kakou, who died in 1999. Modeled after North American clubs, it is one of only a few venues in Paris that offers near-daily performance opportunities for French comedians. It took the investors, who include the theater mogul Jean-Marc Dumontet, two years to find and renovate the venue, a former restaurant chosen partly for its location near the Châtelet station, a transit hub easily accessible for suburban visitors.

Before Madame Sarfati opened last November, Fary and Dumontet imagined a number of “catastrophic scenarios.” Fary admitted wryly that they didn’t include a pandemic: The club was closed for nearly four months as France went into lockdown, at an estimated cost of around $110,000, according to its manager, Jennifer Soussan.

Madame Sarfati reopened to the public last week, and while social distancing rules meant an audience of 75 people instead of the usual 100, the all-male group of comics that took to the stage for the reopening night were visibly hungry to try out new material. Jokes about lockdown, racism and police violence came thick and fast. Madame Sarfati keeps its programming a mystery, which means there is no telling whether you’ll see Fary, Brokerss or newcomers strut onto the stage designed by JR. “I want people to come for stand-up, not for me,” Fary said.

He is arguably only now approaching maturity in his own career. The evolution between “Fary is the New Black” and “Hexagone” is palpable, with the latter leaning more into social commentary and personal material about his family. “It’s like a date. At the beginning you show a version of yourself that you imagine to be more seductive, a little haughty,” he said. “Then you reveal more. I’m becoming myself.”

Jokes about race may be coming to him less easily at the moment, but he has just starred in a new comedy feature, “Tout Simplement Noir” (“Simply Black”), directed by Jean-Pascal Zadi. In the mockumentary, which resonates presciently with current events, Fary plays an opportunist version of himself who latches onto the main character’s plan to organize a protest for only Black people.

Despite the success of the recent real-life demonstrations in Paris, Fary isn’t convinced that meaningful change is on the horizon. “France is a country that sees its culture as fixed, not as something that evolves and adapts,” he said.

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