Controversy, bad taste jokes… The subtle art of incorporating a dash of humor into a newscast

Fired for a bad joke. This is how comedian Alexandra Pizzagalli’s flash passage can be summed up in a few words telematinon France 2. A black humor enthusiast, his appearance on the small screen was only fleeting after his uncomfortable chronicle of the Nice attack, which forced France Télévisions to apologize.

Even if the sequence, which has been the subject of much comment on social networks, may seem anecdotal, it nevertheless questions the way in which comedians are involved in information broadcasts. formalizing his departure in an interview with ParisianThe young woman testified that she sent her column “to five people including the producer” the night before she appeared on the show. The latter would have validated the text.

Alexandra Pizzagalli still admits that the context was not exactly favorable for her sometimes scathing humor. “I should have adapted more to the context,” she asserts, believing that her jokes weren’t necessarily adapted to the audience and schedule of the show, which airs between 6:30 and 9:30 every morning. All of this makes you think about the methods of creating and creating humorous chronicles that go into current affairs-themed shows. So how do broadcasters and producers organize the appearance of comedians in their programs? 20 minutes tries to answer.

A “dangerous” exercise

The mixture of information and humor is a cocktail that you have to know how to dose carefully. If many comedians have tried, many failures have already occurred, both on TV and radio. If Alexandra Pizzagalli’s bad joke is the most recent example, we also remember Nicolas Canteloup’s remarks on Europe 1 in 2017. The copycat had been accused of homophobia after a tasteless joke about Théo’s violent arrest in Aulnay-sous-Bois. Jean-Marc Dumontet, his producer, then apologized on behalf of the comedian and his team. “It was a very big slide this morning, obviously involuntarily. […] We thought it was rubbish, it just wasn’t funny and vulgar. I am very sincerely sorry, ”he then declared on the Europa 1 antenna.

Ditto for France Inter on January 10, 2020, when comedian and singer Frédéric Fromet performed in a song called “Jesus is a Fag” to the tune of Jesus is coming backlive on the show At Jupiter. The public as public figures will simultaneously be outraged at the homophobic nature of their ministry and the attack on Christians. A week later he will apologize via the public broadcaster’s operator service. “I see that my column has failed. It was only intended to denounce homophobia. I was so misunderstood that I even slapped an LGBT club,” he wrote, taking responsibility and apologizing. “while claiming my right to make mistakes in an exercise that remains very dangerous”.

These examples, like Alexandra Pizzagalli’s, are all examples of the balancing act that is the comedic profession. Even more so when it comes to chronicles, often periodic and based on current events. But this non-exhaustive list of gaffes doesn’t call into question the value of a dash of humor in newscasts.

“Just in time”

In the interview below 20 minutes In 2021, presenter Yann Barthès, at the helm of Daily on TMC, justified the number of his show’s humorous chronicles with a tense context between Covid and the years following the attack. “We’ve always tried never to lose our sense of humor, even in the most complicated moments, despite everything we’ve been through over the past ten years. This season I think we need it even more so we added a little bit. »

With nearly 25 comedians on the airwaves, France Inter prides itself on being the news channel with the most room for humor. And every year brings its share of new humorous columnists. Alexandra Pizzagalli is also one of the new arrivals for the season presented in September 2022. “We were looking for people who would criticize the news to end Matthieu Noël’s show and his humor fitted the show perfectly,” comments Yann Chouquet, director of France Inter Programs. He confirms the young woman will remain on the airwaves of public service radio to ensure no comedian is “replaceable”. The tone of each corresponds to a slot in the grid and the audience that the program is aimed at. Yann Chouquet says that every time a comedian steps foot on a show, it’s “potentially a minefield.”

Because the practice of the chronicle is anything but natural for the comedians who stick to it. Getting into a current affairs show requires us to relate to… the news. The pace of writing is therefore maintained and the work cannot be largely anticipated. “These chronicles are written in a narrow flow. […] Sometimes we lack clarity. […] In the production of his press review, where you have to listen to the news all the time,” explained Jean-Marc Dumontet.

Free expression

Adding to this sustained pace is the comedians’ ignorance of the public who listen to the shows that air their jokes. For this reason, France Inter monitors the arrival of newcomers. “When we welcome a new columnist, we explain to them that they will be speaking primarily to such an audience, age group, etc. If kids can be behind their radio when the chronicle airs, we tell them too,” explains Yann Chouquet.

He explains that the lyrics will be proofread before the first few passages on the antenna, but once the chronicle is on track there will be no proofreading at all in the name of freedom of expression. “We don’t reread each of our journalists’ columns, and it would be untenable if we did, so I don’t see why we should do it for comedians. »

After Nicolas Canteloup’s bad live hype on Europe 1, his producer also thanked the broadcaster and offered the comedian “great freedom of sound”. “It’s a great opportunity that we have and that great freedom goes both ways. Jean-Marc Dumontet had reported on the writing process and pointed out that the broadcaster no longer had a priori right of inspection. The comedian’s team was therefore responsible for the final look at the chronicle. “We don’t always have time to go through the lyrics, to see them well. »

variable penalties

However, France Inter’s program director says comedian-led chronicles have defected “many times”. He adds that there may be “a little reframing” if a slip occurs during a chronicle. “If the author were to assert his opinion with tooth and nail against that of the shocked listeners without a critical eye, that would be a breach of the contract of trust with us, but that has never happened. “After repeatedly apologizing to France Inter listeners, Frédéric Fromet was able to pick up the course of his weekly column again and again.

The same observation for Europe 1, where Canteloup had pointed directly to his column from the previous day and briefly apologized to listeners before launching a new burst of jokes at the microphone of the radio, where he will remain until July 2021.

Although France Télévisions did not respond to our requests within the deadlines set at the time of writing this article, Alexandra Pizzagali testifies to the Ile-de-France media that “everything was done very quickly”. She still says she expressed some reservations about the timing of her text and the tone of her jokes, while the opening of the Nice assassination trial was covered with poignant testimonies from victims. “The producer replied, ‘We’re not going to ask you to rewrite it now, so let’s do it.’ She went there… but she won’t come back.

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