French comedian Gad Elmaleh carving out his niche in America

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Gad Elmaleh | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Gad Elmaleh had it all. He was arguably one of the most beloved comedic stars in France. There was not an arena he couldn’t fill. He starred in movies, attendance records, and was (and is still) known as “the Seinfeld of France” – but he wanted more.

He wanted to come to America.

And once he got here, he wanted to conquer America.

“It was a personal challenge for me,” Gad said in a recent interview, about the big personal and professional move. “It was definitely something in which I stepped out of my comfort zone. I was thankful for my fans there [in France], but this was something completely new. I mean, it still is.”

GAD ELMALEH When: May 11-13 Where: Chicago Improv Comedy Club, 5 Woodfield Rd., Schaumburg Tickets/info: Chicago.improv.com

In his short time here, Gad has already shown his comedic domination, selling out more than 50 nights during a residency at Joe’s Pub in New York and currently finding himself in a multi-city, cross-country tour, while riding high on his “Oh My Gad” form of comedy, which he describes as a mix of “the jokes he became famous in France combined with observations from his life here in the States.”

“You can really feel the audience’s reaction to my material in the clubs,” he says. “It’s a good time to be here in America. You feel that people just want to be together and release the pressure and laugh.”

Indeed, it’s that pressure that has propelled much of his comedy in recent months.

“[There’s] a joke that’s in my set about how we moved to America because we thought it was great, but then we get here and they are saying that want to make it great again,” laughs Gad, who will play a series of shows at the Chicago Improv in Schaumburg. “They should have told us before we came! But yes, this country is going through a lot right now, but I don’t want to make jokes about it. It’s more about analyzing what’s going on. It’s a time where every country and every human should be united. I mean, every country has its problems.”

Born in Casablanca, Morocco, Gad speaks Arabic, French, English and Hebrew. Oneof his biggest challenges has been learning to speak English. “I’m not happy with my English,” he says quietly. “It’s very hard. Two years ago I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation with you. I’ve had to work with a dialect coach and an English coach constantly.”

Gad says he is especially looking forward to showing off his language skills in Chicago. “After New York, Chicago is my favorite city,” he says. “It’s just this great mix of Europe and America. The friends I have there are smart and witty and fun.”

And it’s this level of smart that will keep him from doing one thing. “No jokes about stupid things,” he says. “I don’t want to make a joke about the windy city or [President] Trump – I want to come up with something new.”

Getting to play in a club environment, where he says he gets much practice “competing with the bourbon,” is certainly preparing Gad for his upcoming “Oh My Gad” standup special, which will be taped later this year and premiere on Netflix in 2018.

“I want to work and be ready for that special,” says Elmaleh, who currently boasts of amassing more than six millionTwitter followers along with his nearly fivemillion Facebook followers. “It feels like it will be my official entrance to America. If you are not on TV, you don’t really exist. I want to bring my comedy to the world and tell my story to a bigger audience.”

He’s also preparing to co-headline an upcoming show in Montreal with none other than – Jerry Seinfeld.

“There are some mixed feelings about being compared to someone, but its ok,” he says. “It’s a very cool thing for me to do a show with a man that inspired me to do this as a job and a career. It makes me very proud to be here and doing what I love.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.

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