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Think the French aren't funny? Try these classic films

The Local France
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Think the French aren't funny? Try these classic films
French director Nicolas Bedos, and actors Pierre Niney and Jean Dujardin at the premiere of comedy OSS 117 : From Africa With Love. Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP

There's a persistent stereotype in the anglophone world that the French are simply not funny - we disagree and we have some film suggestions that we hope will persuade you too.


When it comes to exactly why the French aren't funny, different people will tell you different things - some will say that the famously arrogant French simply cannot make jokes at their own expense. Others argue that French humour depends too much on trying to be intellectual with clever wordplay and literary references. While some say exactly the opposite and tell you that French humour is simply unsophisticated farce and slapstick. 

We would say that none of these really stack up - French humour covers all sorts of different types of comedy and just as in all countries some people are funny while others aren't.

Of course, a lot of comedy simply doesn't translate - and it's not just about the language, all comedy contains cultural references that as a foreigner you might not get. 

But we've put together a list of French films (and a couple of TV series) that we think are pretty funny, and we hope might persuade others likewise. 

Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Game) - this 1998 film makes it onto many French people's list of best comedies and it's easy to see why. It's a classic farce with mistaken identity, hiding in cupboards and cheating spouses.

It follows posh Parisian Pierre, who plays a cruel game with his old university pals to invite les cons (idiots) with strange hobbies to dinner and laugh at them. This takes an unexpected turn when tax inspector François is a guest. The humour is decidedly towards the silly end of the spectrum but it also has lots of French cultural references such as the Paris-Marseille football rivalry and the French tax system. 

OSS 117 - for anyone who says that the French cannot laugh at themselves, we present the OSS 117 series of films, a sort of James Bond spoof in which secret agent 117 (Jean Dujardin) blunders through a series of mishaps by being the archetypal Frenchman - arrogant, condescending and sexist.


Dujardin also stars in the Brice de Nice series of films, which follow the misadventures of arrogant Nice-based surfer Brice. Spotting a theme emerging? Yes, the French are aware that they're often perceived as arrogant. 

Rien à déclarer (Nothing to Declare) - there's only one thing better than laughing at yourself and that's laughing at your neighbours. This 2010 film is set as the Schengen zone is being created, meaning that French and Belgian customs officers must begin working together. Naturally the two hate each other and enjoy nothing more than trading insults and national stereotypes about les gauffres (the waffles aka the Belgians) and les camemberts (the French).  

Ridicule - this is perhaps less of a comedy than a film about humour itself, although it definitely has some funny moments in it. Set at the court of Versailles, it follows a minor French aristocrat who travels to the royal court to try and get the backing of Louis XVI for his local drainage scheme. Thrust into the upper echelons of society, he finds that wit is prized above all and in order to gain influence he must become funny.

This kind of arch, bitchy humour of verbal duelling will be familiar to anyone who has seen French public figures engage in cutting put-downs or their rivals. 

Connasse - filmed in a mockumentary style, this follows the 'bitch' of the title (played by Camille Cottin of Call My Agent fame) as she travels to London and attempts to marry Prince Harry (this was made before his wedding naturally).

It's pretty funny about England, or at least the French perception of England, and Cottin is an extremely gifted comic actress. 


L’arnacoeur (Heartbreaker) - Romain Duris stars as a guy who runs a business as a professional seducer (along with his sister and brother-in-law). But he meets his match when he's hired to try and break up the relationship of a crime boss' daughter (played by Vanessa Paradis). Delightfully cheesy, it's funny and also quite romantic. 

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to the sticks) - a postal worker from the sunny south of France is banished 'up north' after a professional mistake. The film plays on French regional stereotypes and the southern suspicion of 'les ch'tis' - the nickname for people who live in the North-eastern Hauts-de-France region - and while it's definitely funny it's also quite sweet as they all eventually learn to get along. 

READ MORE: 'Ch'tis' to 'Parigots': What are the locals called in different parts of France?

Les Visiteurs (The Visitors) - this 1993 film is a staple of French TV schedules over Christmas - and during the 2022 election, when TV channel TF1 decided to screen it instead of extended election analysis after the first round of voting.


Godefroy, a twelfth-century knight, asks a wizard to take him back in time to before he accidentally killed his beloved fiancée’s father, but instead he’s transported to the year 1993. It’s a ridiculous, slapstick comedy with clownish characters and it's popular family viewing for exactly that reason.

TV series

And finally, a couple of TV series if you're in the mood for something more long-lasting.

Au Service de la France (A very secret service) - another from the school of autodérision (self-mockery) this follows a new recruit into the French secret service in the 1960s.

It's the height of the Cold War and France's colonies are making bids for independence - but all the secret agents care about is lunch breaks, after-work drinks and bonuses, while the bosses are obsessed with making sure all the paperwork is correctly filed and rubber-stamped. 

Dix Pour Cent (Call My Agent) - the Netflix series set in a Paris talent agent is one of the most successful French series ever. It's a great crash course into famous faces as each episode stars a well-known French star playing a (hopefully exaggerated) version of themselves.


So you see Jean Dujardin unable to break character after filming ends and gnawing the head off a live rabbit, Monica Bellucci chasing younger men around Paris and Sigourney Weaver dancing on the gravestones in Père Lachaise cemetery. The agents themselves are also specialists in waspish put-downs of their professional rivals.

Kaamelott - Sometimes called France's 'Monty Python', the French comedy series is a medieval fantasy based on the Arthurian legends. It follows the misadventures of the Knights of the Round Table as they seek out the Holy Grail, oftentimes stumped by their own personalities and flaws. The series is full of witty one-liners that French people love to quote.

Did we miss any? Please share your suggestions in the comment below


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Amanda Beresford 2023/12/15 17:15
Micmacs (2009) (full title Micmacs à tire-larigot). Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie), with Dany Boon, Dominique Pinon and an early appearance by Omar Sy. A crazy, ingenious, and somewhat surreal caper about a gang of misfits who help a man (whose father was killed by a landmine and was himself wounded by a stray bullet) exact revenge on the arms manufacturers. Delightful and hilarious. On Prime Video.
Michael Leuty 2023/12/14 18:03
Scènes de ménages, weekdays at 20h30 on M6: short sketches (2-3min) concerning six separate households. Increasingly amusing as you get to know the quirks of each character. The youngest couple speak extremely quickly, so good for practising aural comprehension. 🙂
Margaret Malti 2023/12/13 23:00
Family Business (2019) Three episodes - hilarious!!
Ruth Shavreen 2023/12/13 19:24
Intouchables is brilliant and funny In so many ways. The American version, however, in my opinion, is toe-curlingly bad! You really must watch it in the original.
Tony Curtis 2023/12/13 17:51
Lost in Paris. 2016. Again Directed by Dominique Abel starring himself and Fiona Gordan. Fiona is visiting her Aunt and meets a homeless person who is her nemesis. She then seeks to find her Aunt
Tony Curtis 2023/12/13 17:48
Rumba 2008. Director Dominique Abel who also stars plus his real life wife Fiona Gordan as his on screen wife. They are Latin American style dancers who are totally chaotic and following a car accident have their lives turned upside down.
David Sturman 2023/12/13 17:23
Any film by Jacques Tati is worth watching for his unique eye for silliness in everyday life.
David Sturman 2023/12/13 17:14
Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire ("The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe") - 1972 It's one of my favorite French comedies. I saw it when it first came out and I laughed my butt off. It stars Pierre Richard, one of the best comedic actors of that era of French cinema, joined by a cast of familiar French film actors. It's available on Amazon Prime in France - French only
Simon Roberts 2023/12/13 16:55 Papa Noël es un ordure are on my list of great French films There’s also beautiful lies which is great. Where do you classify Le Famille Bélier
Chuck Newell 2023/12/13 16:33
I would like some suggestions as to where to find these classics. I'm a major failure at finding English classics 🤔. We'll give it a go though. Merci
Mike Gibb 2023/12/13 15:05
I like Les Ripoux (sometimes called Le Cop in English). It's likeable buddy film contrasting cynical and corrupt police inspector Philippe Noiret and his new idealistic partner Thierry Lhermitte. Directed by Claude Zidi, it has lots of running gags, fine one-liners and good interplay between the leads.

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