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Pierre Desproges in 1985
|Died||18 April 1988 (aged 48)|
|Resting place||Père-Lachaise Cemetery|
Pierre Desproges (May 9, 1939 – April 18, 1988) was a French humorist. He was born in Pantin, Seine-Saint-Denis. According to himself, he made no significant achievements before the age of 30. From 1967 to 1970, he worked as: life insurance salesman, opinion pool investigator, "lonely hearts" columnist, horse racing forecaster, and sales manager for a styrofoam beam company.
From 1970 to 1976, he worked for the newspaper L'Aurore. Starting in 1975, he became a "reporter" on Le petit rapporteur (The Little Snitch), a satirical TV show hosted by Jacques Martin. He caught the public's attention with unconventional interviews of celebrities, among them novelists Françoise Sagan or Jean-Edern Hallier.
He appeared for the first time on stage at the Olympia theater during a Thierry Le Luron show. Among other things, he became very famous for his Chroniques de la haine ordinaire (Chronicles of Ordinary Hatred), a 1986 radio show.
In the 1980s, he appeared daily on Le tribunal des flagrants délires (a pun on the French term "flagrant délit" meaning red-handed), a comedy show where celebrities were judged in mock-trials. Desproges held the part of the prosecutor for more than two years, a part for which his verve, his scathing humour and his literary erudition were ideally suited.
In 1982, he created La minute nécessaire de Monsieur Cyclopède, a series of shorts for TV, where he played an omniscient professor. He answered to metaphysical and nonsensical questions such as "How to make King Louis XVI fireproof?", proved that Beethoven was not deaf but stupid, and explained why the improbable encounter between the Venus de Milo and Saint Exupéry's 'Petit Prince' was a fiasco. Each episode ended with the catchphrase: "Étonnant, non ?" ("Astonishing, isn't it?")
In 1984, he had his first stand-up show at the Théâtre Fontaine. In 1986, his second stand-up, Pierre Desproges se donne en spectacle was presented at the Théâtre Grévin. He started work on a third stand-up, and the drafts were ultimately published in 2010.
In 1987, doctors discovered he had inoperable lung cancer in an advanced stage, and his relatives, in agreement with the doctors, decided to hide the condition from him, so he could spend his final days quietly. He died in 1988, from a disease he had bitterly laughed at time and time again, often saying "I won't have cancer: I'm against it". He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. His epitaph reads: "Pierre Desproges est mort d'un cancer, étonnant, non ?" ("Pierre Desproges died of cancer, astonishing, isn't it?")
"We can laugh about everything, but not with everyone"
Pierre Desproges is the author of many memorable quotes, in particular "you can laugh about everything, but not with everyone". Although Pierre Desproges never actually wrote it in his texts, he did confirm that "I do think that we can laugh at everything, but not necessarily with everyone.".
The quote comes initially from an “indictment” that Desproges pronounced as "Prosecutor of the French Republic" against far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen on 28th September 1982 at Tribunal des flagrants délires on France Inter radio. In the first part of his speech, Desproges declares: “Two questions haunt me. First, can we laugh at everything? Secondly, can we laugh with anyone?”. His answer to the first question is “yes, undoubtly”. He adds that not only we “can” laugh at everything but that we “must” laugh at everything to “desacralize our stupidity, exorcise our true sorrows and beat our mortal anxieties". To second question, he answers “it's difficult”, in the sense that he, Pierre Desproges, does not want to laugh with anyone, especially the guest of that day, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Pierre Desproges later adds that laughing with “a practicing Stalinist”, a “hysterical terrorist” or “far-right activist” is beyond his abilities.
The French magazine Télérama published an interview of Pierre Desproges on 24th November 1982, two months after the broadcast, where Pierre Desproges explains: “I think we have the right to laugh at everything. But to laugh with anyone, maybe not. (...) Laughter is an outlet and I do not understand why we should not laugh at what hurts. Things hurt less when we laugh”.
Desproges reformulates his ideas the following year, in November 1983, in his book Vivons heureux en attente la mort (Let us live happy while we wait to die): “It's better to laugh at Auschwitz with a Jew than to play Scrabble with Klaus Barbie”.Bernard Pivot invites Pierre Desproges to Apostrophes, a French TV literary talk show on 30th December 1983, to promote his book. Pierre Desproges says “we can laugh at absolutely everything but not with anyone”, and declares that when he prepared the speech about Jean-Marie Le Pen, he “did not want to laugh with him”.
- "Le petit rapporteur" (1999) (The Little Snitch)
- "La seule certitude que j'ai, c'est d'être dans le doute" (1998) (The Only Certainty I Have, Is to Be in Doubt)
- "Les bons conseils du professeur Corbiniou" (1997) (The Good Advices of Professor Corbiniou)
- "La minute nécessaire de Monsieur Cyclopède" (1995) (The Necessary Minute of Mr Cyclopede)
- "Les étrangers sont nuls" (1992) (Foreigners Are Worthless)
- "Fond de tiroir" (1990) (Drawer Bottom)
- "L'almanach" (1989) (The Almanac)
- "Textes de scène" (1988) (Stand-up Texts)
- "Des femmes qui tombent" (1985) (Falling Women)
- "Dictionnaire superflu à l'usage de l'élite et des biens-nantis" (1985) (Superfluous Dictionary for the Elite and the Well-to-do)
- "Vivons heureux en attendant la mort" (1983) (Let Us Live Happily While We're Waiting for Death)
- "Manuel de savoir-vivre à l'usage des rustres et des malpolis" (1981) (Handbook of Good Manners for the Uncouth and the Impolite)
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