Julien Dionne has been in the comedy game for the better part of a dozen years now, and also hosts a podcast and is fluent in both English and French. Yet until this past February, the Scoudouc native and Canadian Comedy Award nominee had never performed a show in French.
He says that had he not had his hand good-naturedly forced on the matter, he wonders if he would have attempted it at all.
“At the Hubcap Comedy Festival in Moncton this past February, I was a part of a showcase at the Capitol Theatre that was made up of both English and French comics,” Dionne says from his new home in Wakefield, Quebec.
“The Monday before the festival, I got a text message from the festival director asking me how my French set was coming along. I immediately panicked and called him right away. He clarified that the show was unique in the respect that English comics were going to perform their sets in French and vice versa, but that I could switch between the two languages if I wanted. He could tell I was worried,” Dionne says, laughing.
It turns out negotiation isn’t one of Dionne’s strong suits, but acknowledges the festival director’s tough love approach worked.
“We subsequently engaged in a conversation where I said I’d do between 60% and 70% of my set in English and the remainder in French. I got silence from him. I bartered down to 50/50, English and French, and still got nothing. It was only when I declared that I’d do the complete set in French that he finally replied,” he says.
While venturing into unknown territory like he did this past February can be simultaneously scary and thrilling, Dionne affirms he knew he made the right decision within minutes of being on stage that fateful winter evening.
“It was, hands down, the most comfortable that I have ever been on stage, not to mention one of the most fun times I’ve ever had. Comedians don’t have the chance to really see what works and what doesn’t work aside from when they are on stage, and so, you never feel truly ready to jump in. The fact is, I had to be pushed to do comedy in English, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’d have to be pushed to do it in French.”
Among those that initially pushed the comedian to take the plunge into the world of French comedy were Quebec comedians Derek Séguin and Mike Ward. Dionne says both comedians told him how performing in French could literally bring him a world of new opportunities in markets both at home and abroad.
“It was [French comedian] Eddy King that reinforced I was probably overthinking what a French comedy performance should be. Although Eddy performs in French, he writes all of his material in English. Discovering that reinforced the notion that I didn’t necessarily have to re-invent the wheel. The fact is, I’m at a point in my career where I’m more comfortable taking risks, but can also apply skills I’ve learned over that decade to this move into new-to-me territory.”
Dionne’s French-language performance at Dieppe’s La Caserne on Saturday evening will feature a slate of all new material. Also performing are comedians Martin Saulnier, J.C. Surette and George LeBlanc.
What: Julien Dionne with Martin Saulnier, J.C. Surette and George LeBlanc
When: Saturday June 17, 8 p.m.
Where: La Caserne, 331 Acadie Ave., Dieppe
Regular tickets are $25 each, VIP tickets, which include copies of Dionne’s previous comedy releases, are $35. Advance tickets are available online at www.lemonpress.ca.