No humour, please: France’s Hollande under fire for cracking jokes
Who said the French had no sense of humour? Their president, François Hollande, certainly does. With a reputation for wisecracks, Hollande has earned the nickname of Monsieur Petites-Blagues (Mr Little Jokes). According to the French media, the Socialist politician had to force himself to stop making jokes during his presidential campaign. But now that he is safely ensconced in the Élysée palace, his old habits seem to be returning to the fore. In the past few weeks, his bons mots have got the right-wing opposition all worked up.
The latest jokey episode - caught on camera, of course - occurred at the Paris Farm Show over the weekend. Hollande, who was there for the first time as president, was chatting to a group of children when one of them exclaimed that she had “never seen Nicolas Sarkozy”. Hollande shot back, quick as a flash: “Oh well, you won’t see him any more!” Cue much hilarity from the presidential delegation.
Hollande making the joke at the Paris Farm Show on February 23rd.
Needless to say, the right-wing opposition failed to see the funny side. Sarkozy’s former campaign spokeswoman and ecology minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, slammed the quip as an “insult to the millions of French people who voted for Nicolas Sarkozy”, seeing it as proof that Hollande is “obsessed” with his predecessor. Another former minister, Luc Chatel, first expressed his disapproval by calling on Hollande to act more presidentially. He then decided to fight fire with fire during an appearance on the TV show Le Grand Journal on Monday night. In the course of the discussion, a journalist remarked that a former comedian, Beppe Grillo, had taken a massive 20% of the vote in the Italian election. Chatel immediately shot back with “In France, we have a comedian who took 51% of the vote”, in a clear reference to Hollande. Incidentally, no one laughed.
Nicolas Sarkozy himself has now reacted to the slight. In off the record comments reported by Le Parisien newspaper on Monday, he purportedly described Hollande’s one-liner as "so petty". The whole episode comes as Sarkozy is rumoured to be thinking of running for France’s top job again in 2017, a political subtext that has escaped nobody. But the former president is no stranger to controversy at the Paris Farm Show himself. It was there, in 2008, that he insulted a man who refused to shake his hand, with the now infamous line “Get lost, you idiot!”
Hollande’s other recent joke touched slightly less of a nerve. Commenting on the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Hollande decided to try a little humour. After declaring solemnly that the Catholic Church should be left to sort out the details of the pope’s succession, he suddenly quipped, “We will not be fielding a candidate”. Sarkozy’s former interior minister, Claude Guéant, was quick to criticise Hollande’s little repartee. “Making a joke about such a dignified decision is inappropriate”, he grumbled.
Still, the president may have competition in the humour department. The day of the pope’s resignation, Hollande’s own minister for older people, Michèle Delaunay, sent out the following tweet with the French hashtags #Age and #EmploidesSeniors (jobs for older people): "I have to admit that, rightly or wrongly, Benedict XVI failed to consult me before taking his decision”.
She later deleted the tweet.