Note pour mes chers lecteurs français: Ceci est une parodie. Il s’agit d’ironie anglo-saxonne. Au moins, à moitié.
Let me start with a gross generalisation: the French love to talk. If they can have an argument, they love it even more. Therefore, one kind of television programme is particularly popular in France: it’s what they call un talk-show.
Un talk-show is nothing like Oprah or Parkinson. Un talk-show is a sacred arena of French public life. It allows millions of French people to watch other French people talking to each other for hours and hours. If there’s an argument, it’s even better.
To be a talk-show guest in France, you must be a well-paid bourgeois academic, journalist, entertainer, author or politician. In fact, if you don’t manage to hold down at least two of these jobs at the same time, you will never be a talk-show guest, never own a Rolex, and you will have failed in your life.
The biggest triumph for un talk-show is to have a philosopher as a guest, because philosophers love to talk even more than average French people. Philosophers hold doctorates in talking. Thus philosophers are bigger than rock stars in France (although this is also because French rock stars are rubbish). In fact in France, philosophers even marry rock stars.
There are at least 650 different talk-shows on French television each week, each of them with a studio audience. It is rumoured that the 35 hour week was introduced to allow French workers to participate as audience members in more talk-shows. This rumour has not been denied by the French government.
The current apotheosis of le talk-show is On n’est pas couché, which is broadcast at a time which in any other country would mean ratings death: Saturday nights, from 11pm to 2am. I am not making this bit up. This show is three hours long. But it involves people talking. Hence it is very, very popular.
Hosted by Laurent Ruquier (whose main job on the show is to not wear a tie), On n’est pas couché is difficult to explain to foreigners. It involves a series of conversations with a panel of well-paid bourgeois entertainers, authors and politicians. Normally most of these people are part-time academics and journalists as well.
At least one of the guests will be subject to a chronique satirique, a very particular form of French humour, where a comedian plays a similar role to the medieaval fou du roi. It’s a bit like a celebrity roast, but without Dean Martin. For this section, Jonathan Lambert dresses up as a figure from the guest’s past (a old classmate or a drinking buddy). What follows is generally incomprehensible, and may involve smelly cheese:
But the real stars of On n’est pas couché are the Les 2 Erics – Eric Naulleau and Eric Zemmour. They have two important jobs. Firstly, to not wear ties. Secondly, they are the two polémistes. The job of a polémiste in France is almost as important as that of a philosopher, because their job is to create arguments.
Eric Naulleau hides behind a cuddly khaki shirt (without tie) and an air of left-wing journalistic social democracy. If he were British, he’d read the Guardian. But instead he’s French, has a sideline gig translating Bulgarian literature, and gets paid lots of money to criticise the latest work of guests on On n’est pas couché.
By contrast, Eric Zemmour is so right-wing he makes Rush Limbaugh look like a pussy. Zemmour is a self-confessed Bonapartiste (ie. he thinks the main problem with the modern world is that Napoleon isn’t ruling France at the moment), and he tells every guest that their book/film/philosophy/sporting achievement is contributing to the moral decline of the Republic. This invariably causes arguments, which, as noted earlier, is a good thing.
I am becoming convinced that On n’est pas couché is the Rosetta Stone to French culture. So if you find me staying home on Saturday nights furiously searching French wikipedia while watching Eric Zemmour tell Jean-Pierre Chevènement (once again) that he is the origin of the moral decline of the Republic, it’s because I’m trying to work out what the heck is going on.
Jonathan Lambert, Laurent Ruquier, Eric Zemmour, Eric Naulleau