Sense of humour in France

Hello everyone,

Should we set out to explore French's culture through its sense of humour? Indeed, if one is planning to settle in the country, it is best to understand the cultural codes governing humour in order to avoid any faux-pas.

What is special about the sense of humour in France?

Is it acceptable to joke about any situations?

What is typically funny and what is absolutely not funny?

Are there any popular comedians in France and how would one be able to discover them (stand-up shows, festivals, internet, etc.)?

What is the funniest joke you have heard in France?

Please share your experience,


Before commenting on French humour, I had better declare where I'm coming from.
I enjoy subtle humour, puns and wordplay, bizarre humour and the kind of wit exemplified by Oscar Wilde, the Goons, two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise and the slapstick of Bennie Hill.
I think most stand-up comics are over-dependent on vulgarity and whilst not a particularly sensitive person I don't appreciate having it shoved in my face.

French humour as presented on TV and Radio tends towards the loud, vulgar and obvious. It has a high content of schoolboy toilet humour which falls a long way short of what makes me laugh now.

In the street and in casual encounters I find that if French people understand my English humour, even when simplified and expressed in fluent French, they don't seem to appreciate it. They sometimes ask for an explanation which can lead to a forensic examination of a spontaneous comment, the point of which evaporates during the process. Perhaps they think I am getting at them personally or making jokes about French society from a sense of superiority.  They certainly don't have the same attitude to self-deprecating humour as the Brits. Few French people have either the modesty or self-confidence to try that.
When we part, I leave them probably thinking, "Ah well. He's English." but most likely expressed in more vulgar terms. In conclusion, I think it safest to stick to jokes about a situation they share.


So let me go through the questions :

What is special about the sense of humour in France?
So, I've been living in france for some time now :) and firstly, in my experience french humour requires some self - criticism. People here love to make fun of each other and they are going to pick on your little habits, mistakes and the traits of your character. All is in good fun, they do it on themselves as well, but it requires you to not be easily offended.
Now of course if you feel it's going to far, definitely tell them, but remember that it is not done with bad intention.
The second one is: puns and expressions. Be ready for the plays on words. French is a very figurative language.
Sex-related humour is always going to happen, but not with people you don't know a lot.

Is it acceptable to joke about any situations?
I would say yes. Even though some events require a certain time before being able to make fun of them.

What is typically funny and what is absolutely not funny?
Again I think you can laugh about everything

Are there any popular comedians in France and how would one be able to discover them (stand-up shows, festivals, internet, etc.)?
Yes a lot: Florence Foresti is great; new gen Nora Hamzawi is hilarious, Vincent Dedienne in a very light hearted way; older ones Les Inconnus, Alain Chabat (and his band)...
Use YouTube for a lot of them, otherwise yes, stand up for the ones stlll doing stand ups.

What is the funniest joke you have heard in France?
Hmm of course when you are asked you cannot think of one

The french have no sense of humour, they do not know how to laugh.
They laugh when someone falls over or hurts themselves.
The french do not understand when we find something funny.
B & P

I see in French advertising a love of puns and other word play.  Although I understand French perfectly, I do not hear much outright humour, On TV it tends towards slapstick sort of stuff. Yes it is loud and brash. I do not know what they have to be so serious about.  I lived 25 years near Frankfurt Germany and that is a place where my sense of humour really f ell flat. They mistook irony for criticism.  It may be the same here.


I love when my French family teases me, mostly about using the wrong words. It means they like me and feel comfortable. 

But in return I am careful with how I joke. They would not be upset, they just wouldn't understand. Often I will say something I think is funny and then I have to explain that I was making a joke. My experience has been that many French people take what you say literally and do not immediately get the humor.
Which is fine.

My daughter's advice when I first moved here (she married into a French family)  was to just not joke with a French person until I know them well and have vastly improved my language skills!

I may be the only French person commenting this thread so far and I find your comments about how we laugh or don't laugh very interesting.
I agree that French sense of humour uses a lot of puns and play on words. Maybe because French is not a phonetic language and allows it so much.

We like teasing when someone uses the wrong word, even if the person is French. Maybe because we pay more attention to things done wrong than things done the right way. In my opinion, this is not a very positive aspect of French mentality because it prevents us from moving forward faster and keeps us away from success.

We can also easily laugh for the schoolboy toilet kind of humour. And personally, that is my favorite.

It's good to hear from the French side of things!
You are a mysterious and wonderful lot.

My favorite story with French humor so far ...
I was practicing my french with the elderly grandfather of my beau fils and everyone started to laugh. Apparently I had said something seductive.
My beau fils wanted to explain it to me, but I said please don't. I really don't want to know how embarrassed I should be. LOL

As long as French people aren't known as the funniest humorous-joking t people in the world,,

They have some of the best famous wonderful comic cartoonist script-writers-illustrators like in all 'Asterix' & some others saga books
.. Jean Jacques Sempé,, René Goscinny, André Uderzo,, to name a few, three iconic cartoonist,, jewels to keep forever, who gave us a cheerful laugh with their surprisingly geniuses.

I am not a big fan of french humour. I like to tell jokes and be funny, but while that gets a good response back in the UK, it usually falls flat when I am in France.

As for what I see on the TV, I find french comedy a bit pathetic, not at all funny, just silly and childish.