Jonathan Cohen on Le Flambeau: “We really wanted to stand out from La Flamme” [interview]

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After The Bachelor, Jonathan Cohen is parodying Koh-Lanta this time.

The irresistible Jonathan Cohen transforms La Flammeinto Flambeau and reinvents the concept by parodying this time Koh-Lanta. On the program, lots of new faces (Kad Merad, Gérard Darmon, Jonathan Lambert, Jérôme Commandeur, Laura Felpin, Mister V…) and quite a few old ones (Ana Girardot, Géraldine Nakache, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Leïla Bekhti, Camille Chamoux…) . A lot of pressure for Cohen, who must reconnect with the enormous success of season 1.

I understand that you are still editing [the interview took place on May 11th]? Not too the hell?
Frankly, it's hot. Here I am in the mix of episode 5 out of 9. After that, things are progressing pretty well, I'm on schedule. But it's a crazy job to come up with comedy.

Especially considering that there is a lot of improvisation in Le Flambeau, and therefore a lot of material that will not be used.
Yeah, hours and hours!

How do you find the comic timing in the editing ?
By setting a course and not hesitating to cut tons of jokes. There are scenes where I removed an incalculable number of valves to favor others, but also so that we never lose the thread of the action. We must laugh, but we must always move forward. That's how I like comedies, when there's no mirror: we make a joke, we move on. So that the action does not suffer and that we do not lose rhythm.

Jérôme Commandeur, who plays the presenter of the show Denis Brogniart style, confided to me that he was struck by the importance of acting on set. He says that the actors almost really had to play this fake Koh-Lanta.
Exactly. This Season 2 is an issue-based comedy. For all the characters, the stakes are over high, like in this kind of show where they all absolutely want to win and surpass themselves. So we had to be at the same level in the tests. And that's where it gets funny: it pushes the characters to act on their own stupidity.

I've only seen the first two episodes so far, but I feel like you're going even deeper into the character bullshit and madness. We had to push the knobs all the way?
In any case, we wanted to really differentiate ourselves from season 1, so that there is no redundancy. It would have killed me for people to be like, “Yeah okay, actually it's season 1 but revamped“. So there was this desire to upgrade the comedy, but in all the characters. To serve everyone well so that it is very balanced.


The American series on which La Flamme was inspired, Burning Love, was entitled to a season 2 at the United States, with the same concept. Why did you choose to stay away from it and parody Koh-Lanta?
Yes, in the United States, they had made a season 2 with a Bachelorette. It was the same system as season 1, but with a woman. We tried to do that, and then we stopped because it was going in circles. We can see it with season 2 of Burning Love: it drops a lot in quality because everything becomes redundant. But for us, that meant putting six months of work in the trash! We had to quickly turn around to keep the same broadcast timing, and we chose to go with a parody of Koh-Lanta,a type of program that has very clear codes that are known to everyone. It was obvious: the characteristics of the characters are very marked, and then there is this pretty cool thing where everyone is ready to win, everyone is ready for anything. And that is caviar for comedy. But to keep up the pace, I spent six months working like crazy on the writing and we shot in stride.

There are a lot of new faces in Le Flambeau , both confirmed actors and actresses and others who come from YouTube or Instagram. With very different styles… How do we make sure that all these comedy universes come together?
For the choice of actors, it's a lot of feeling, in fact. You instinctively know who will be compatible. And afterwards, you have to succeed in getting everyone in tune, bringing the actors into our world and what we want to tell. But it is done both with great seriousness and with great lassitude. It goes through mutual trust, fun and group cohesion.

In France, comic series with this kind of humor and which bring together a large audience are ultimately quite rare. Why did La Flamme work so well?
I think it's a tone that the public is not used to seeing in the panorama of French comedy, which is often very human comedy, “comedy of life”, if you will. The kind of humor we manipulate in La Flamme and Le Flambeauis very Anglo-Saxon. And we are more used to seeing him in sketches or on YouTube, not in a series with so many episodes. There was H at the time, of course, but I wouldn't be able to name anything else like that… Anyway, I think people needed to have that sense of humor there in their daily lives.


In the episode of Hot Oneswith Kyan Kojandi, there's a point where you get really serious about your relationship to your stardom and the fact that “cohenmania” might end as quickly as it came.
I'm 42 years old, I've been doing this job for almost 20 years and I went through so many stages before having the chance to have a little light on me… Lasting is not between my hands. You have to be super humble about that because it's the reality. I take advantage, it's insane and I give the maximum of what I have. But I know that we are only moments in people's lives and I never want to forget that. I don't want to fool myself into thinking it's going to last a lifetime.

But maybe that's also what makes you popular, beyond your mind-blowing comic vista. Even on promo on a TV set, you keep a healthy “normal guy” side.
Probably because I'm too old to tell myself. I never had rage, I accepted life as it was with its share of frustration and failures. I have had more failures in my life than successes! I work hard, but I try to stay calm about it. I have a simple relationship to work and my “status”. Afterwards, it doesn't prevent that when people tell me that they love me, it upsets me. I find that completely crazy.

Le Flambeau, Les Aventuriers de Chupacabra, from May 23 on Canal+, three episodes a week. Nine episodes in all.

Teilor Stone

About Post Author

Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Bobr Times, Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my sivertimes@gmail.com 1-800-268-7116
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