That’s how I’d started my show for years all over the world. I didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work in Paris. Well, actually, the point is that the line doesn’t work, which is what makes it funny: as I stare with the eyes of an abandoned llama after the people ignoring my shouted request, others laugh, and do stop. So in a way, it does work.
Ten minutes after I first tried it in Paris, someone finally stopped and I started the show, a relief because, without an audience, you’re just a strange British guy shouting on the street who passers-by fear is about to talk about Jesus. It worked well. People laughed. People smiled. People were amazed by my magic tricks. Then it came to the moment to pass my hat. Everybody laughed once more, then – as one – promptly left.
I moved to Paris over a year ago, when my girlfriend got a job at the OECD. As a professional street performer, I can in theory work anywhere. I’d performed on the streets in Germany, Canada, America, and Israel – surely I thought, Paris couldn’t be any different. Right?
In a way, I was lucky to have travelled before coming to France. Had that happened to my younger self, I would have gone home, turned off the lights, wrapped myself in a duvet-crêpe and cried for a month. Being older and more experienced, I only cried for three weeks.
Of course, the problem wasn’t Paris. It was me. I had to adapt. Everyone experiences a bit of a culture shock in moving to a new city, especially in a new country. When you work on the streets, you feel it more than ever. The people who watch you have an energy about them, which changes from city to city. ‘The Vibe’, buskers call it.
In Dublin, the energy is depressed, rowdy and drunk. In Vancouver, it’s happy, relaxed and stoned. In Paris, it seems, the vibe is jovial, appreciative, but suffering from an endless “coup de barre”.
I had to slow down. That fitted the energy better. At the Centre Pompidou, where I perform, the audience is from all over Europe. Most speak English, but not as their first language, so speeding through my jokes made them all fall flat.
I began adding the odd French joke. After producing a volunteer’s card from my mouth I now say “Je n’aime pas manger les cartes, parce qu’elles ont le goût de la cuisine anglaise”.
It took a lot of work to adapt to busking in Paris. But as I’m sure all expats find, the effort was worth it. When I perform in England now, my show is much better. As soon as the weather clears up, I’ll be standing in front of the Centre Pompidou again, shouting: “Arrêtez! Regardez-moi! Je suis bon!”
That still never works, by the way.