It’s the Story of an Oxy-Moron…
It’s hard to understand a culture if you don’t understand its humor. Michel Colucci, better known by his stage name ‘Coluche’, is a prime example of this because as a serious clown, he embodied the complexity of both French humor and French society as a whole.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of his passing, the Parisian suburb of Montrouge (where Coluche grew up), erected a statue to honor the man who hated the men for whom statues were erected to honour.
It’s the Story of a Kid…
“It’s hard to make ends meet. Especially the last thirty days.”*
Four months after the Liberation of Paris, on October 8, 1944, Michel Gérard Joseph Colucci was born in Paris’s 15th district. His mother was a florist and his father was an Italian immigrant who painted buildings. When he died three years later, he left no trace but a dark spot on Michel’s youth.
Left to raise her two children alone in a studio with a kitchen, Monette had to go back to work and took jobs where her scoliosis did not prevent her from bending over backwards to accustom her children to a lifestyle beyond their means. Fed up of hunger and worn out from being dressed down by the neighborhood kids about his girlish clothes, Michel began hanging around the suburb of Montrouge where the only thing he passed at school was time.
He tried a variety of jobs before surrendering to the military for career guidance, which led him to prison for insubordination.
It’s the Story of a Talent…
“Except for a gangster or a politician, the only thing you can do without qualifications is become an artist.”
The stage called, but Colucci didn’t get the message. His meteoric rise began when he burned himself out singing popular songs in left bank cafés and happened to meet Romain Bouteille, himself an actor and humorist. The pair joined up with other exiles and, in 1969, created the mythical Café de la Gare, a comedy troupe that specialized in café-théâtre and would launch Gérard Depardieu, among others.
It’s the Story of a Guy…
“Of all those who have nothing to say, the most pleasant are the ones who say nothing.”
In keeping with the tradition of French irony, Coluche became a household name for a comedy sketch entitled ‘C’est l’histoire d’un mec’ (‘It’s the story of a guy’) in which he told a joke about the difficulties of telling a joke. He became famous for making fun of famous people and using an edgy, caustic humor that was very new for the French. “Always rude, but never vulgar” was the recipe he whipped up and it served him well.
It’s the Story of a Politician…
“Some politicians seem honest, but after they shake your hand, you’d better count your fingers.”
Riding the wave of this fame, in 1980 Coluche announced he would be a candidate for the French Presidential election of 1981. Armed with slogans like “Coluche, the only candidate with no reason to lie,” or “Bleu, Blanc, Merde” (in reference to Bleu, Blanc, Rouge, the colors of the French flag) his bid may have begun as a joke but a large number of people took it very seriously. He gained support of several intellectuals and when his popularity reached 16 per cent in one poll, the powers that be decided it was no laughing matter. Coluche began receiving death threats, he was followed, his phone was tapped, but it was only when his friend and theater director René Gorlin was assassinated with two bullets in the back of the neck that Coluche withdrew from the election because, as he put it, “It’s starting to be a pain in the ass.”
It’s the Story of a Humanitarian…
“When crap is worth gold, the poor will be born without assholes.”
Coluche’s most lasting legacy will certainly be the Restos de Cœur (which translates roughly into ‘Restaurants of the Heart’). Noticing the deficiencies in the French system, he cooked up what would become the country’s first Food Bank saying, “It’s not my fault if some people are hungry, but it becomes my fault if nothing changes.” Founded in 1985, the Restos de Cœur continue to this day, supported in large part by an annual concert of France’s best known artists who perform under the collective name of ‘Les Enfoirés’ (The Assholes).
It’s the Story of a Cadaver…
“Good health is nothing more than the slowest way to die.”
Michel ‘Coluche’ Colucci died in June, 1986 when his motorcycle crashed into a truck. Like any self-respecting cult icon, conspiracy theories emerged later that he was killed by the mysterious ‘Them’ to prevent him from performing a scandalous stand-up show he was putting together.
It’s the Story of a Statue…
“If I have the chance, I’d like to die in my lifetime.”
On June 14, 2011 the city of Montrouge unveiled a statue of empty overalls across the street from City Hall. The article of clothing was a trademark of Clouche’s and the obvious absence of the man who wore them symbolizes that he is no longer with us. Which may not be such a bad thing, according to some. Many voices of protest rose with the statue, and not from Coluche’s detractors but from his friends who complain the comic spent his life mocking people who took themselves too seriously—the type of person to whom statues are dedicated. A suitable finish for a man who symbolized the contradictions that symbolize La France.
* All quotes in italics were originally said by Michel ‘Coluche’ Colucci and translated by the author.
By Paul Prescott of Paris Inspired Website.
All original photos ©Paul Prescott
3. Véronique Colucci – Widow
4. Guillaume Werle – Sculptor