Before the pandemic, Charles Alexis Guenard performed solo for packed houses of drunk expats and tourists under the nom de guerre Charles the French. All the while he was garnering a seven-figure following on YouTube with funny videos about everyday life with Tada, his aptly-named magical comedy partner. Born in Lyon to a French father and Thai mother, Charles the French moved to Thailand when he was 18 and is currently working with Workpoint TV on a magical show to air later this year. BK Magazine took time to speak with the surprisingly serious performer on the future of comedy in Bangkok.
Can you tell us more about how you became Bangkok’s premier multi-lingual, magical, musical, French comedian?
Not sure about the premier title, but thank you. Originally I was a professional magician but I always added jokes whenever I performed. So naturally comedy clubs felt like good venues to perform in. Regarding the musical bit, I have been composing music and background tracks for my shows since 2011, and about two years ago I thought it’d be fun to make comedic songs and perform them on stage and on camera, hence the release of my musical comedy special This is Absurd! last October.
Photo credit: Will Lin
You received the million subscribers award from YouTube in August. How did that come about?
I make videos with my friend Tada. We started this adventure in 2016, not expecting much. Passing a million subscribers was a very unexpected milestone that happened faster than we thought. I guess a lot of people enjoyed our sarcastic approach to daily life and student situations. We started doing this for fun and we still do it for fun. Toward July, we could see that the big seven figures would happen sooner or later. It was a bit of a bittersweet moment because we were in isolation with our families.
What is the Bangkok comedy world missing?
I would say the one thing missing in the Bangkok scene at the moment is a new generation of comedians. Back in 2017, you could see many new up and coming comedians who had just started and who went on to perform in bigger shows—with some of them even headlining their own shows. In the last 3 years, it’s been more difficult to see good new comics. Compared to other places in Southeast Asia, I think Bangkok has a good scene, and comedians should feel lucky to perform here. The time slots are longer than what you would get in the US or other countries with a more developed comedy scene. When things are normal with tourists in town, we have enough to work with. We have a weekly open mic at Raw Comedy to try new jokes out, we have the Khaosan Comedy Club to polish new material—the audience there is different every night so it’s the perfect place to repeat the same material. And finally, the Comedy Club Bangkok is where we bring our A-Game, as the audiences there expect a high quality show.
What were some of your early comedy influences?
As a kid, I watched a lot of French comedians, impressionists. Those names won’t really ring a bell to anyone who isn’t French. I watched Laurent Gerra a lot. He does impressions of French celebrities to perfection and adds crude jokes to it. I also went to see a lot of political comedians, which is quite popular in some theaters in Paris. Guys like Jacques Mailhot and Bernard Mabille are good examples. They basically write new jokes every week based on political events. It’s enjoyable because their point of view is never biased, they make fun of all political actors and you can never tell which side they truly support. Nowadays, English-speaking comedians who do political humor tend to be too biased and that can throw some people off or make some spectators hate them, which isn’t the point. As comedians, our job is to entertain everyone as much as possible.
Charles the French and Tada, photo by Will Lin, Artwork by Jomari Vista.
The comedy scene hasn’t exactly been booming for the last two years. How have you adapted? When do you think comedy is coming back to Bangkok?
For magic shows with Tada, we’ve only performed about 30 shows total in the last two years, which is dramatically lower compared to our usual 70-plus shows a year. Regarding comedy shows, I have taken a step back. COVID scared me a lot. In 2019, I finished writing a live musical comedy show called This is Absurd!, and I was preparing to perform it and polish it in the Bangkok comedy clubs before taking it on a world tour in 2020 and 2021 but the pandemic put a halt to that. So instead, I spent the whole of 2021 re-writing this show and making it into a special for our YouTube fans. I think that comedy shows will slowly return in 2022 but I don’t think we’ll be able to have proper tour dates and international headliners until 2023.
I put it to you, sir, that you can’t actually do magic and that these monkeyshines of yours are no more than illusions. What do you have to say for yourself?
A good magician can take the simplest trick and make you feel like you’re a kid again. I try to reach an equal level of laughter and amazement. I also try to make everything I do look effortless. Before that I practiced for over 18 years, and that’s something the audience doesn’t know. Nowadays, many magicians try to skip the steps and reach for the sky before learning even the key basics in magic.
What’s next for Charles the French?
I believe Tada and I will be back at the Comedy Club Bangkok for a few more All Ages Comedy Magic Shows whenever we are allowed to put a good amount of audience members in the venue. From a solo point of view, I will do shows here and there whenever I’m asked but I’m planning to pace myself a little bit more this year regarding the frequency of shows I will do. I spent 2018 and 2019 doing shows almost every day and it drained me. For 2022, I will balance the amount of comedy shows, magic shows, and focus on making more online videos with Tada. All in all, we plan to keep on entertaining you.
Photo credit: Will Lin