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‘Call My Agent!’ Creator Fanny Herrero on Exploring France’s Stand-Up World, Highlights Fresh Talent

Courtesy of Netflix

After delivering “Call My Agent!,” one of France’s most successful series of the last decade, Fanny Herrero returns with her new comedy series “Standing-Up” which launched Friday (March 18) on Netflix and played at the opening night gala of the Series Mania drama series festival in Lille.

The series follows the coming-of age of Aïssatou, Nezir, Bling and Apolline, four artists from different backgrounds who are trying to break into the world of stand-up comedy. As with “Call My Agent!,” “Standing Up” is an ensemble series showcasing fresh talents, including Mariama Gueye, Younes Boucif, Elsa Guedj and Jean Siuen. Herrero created the series with Hervé Lassïnce, and also co-wrote the series with Lassïnce, Eliane Montane, Judith Havas, Camille De Castelnau and Lison Daniel. Ahead of Series Mania, Herrero sat down with Variety in a Parisian apartment where she’s already developing season 2, to discuss her ambition with the show, how she worked on it and what she likes in TV.

One big difference between “Call My Agent!” and “Standing Up” is that you didn’t have actors play their own parts. Why did you choose to cast real actors rather than real stand-up comedians?

Mainly because I really wanted to start fresh, change register and avoid comparisons with my previous experience. I wanted to write it differently, and solve this issue of what’s real and what’s not. We could have had real comedians but they would have had their own codes of comedy and their own stand-up shows, and with this series we really wanted to make a fiction. We wanted audiences to believe in these characters immediately, to look at them with fresh eyes. That’s what the series relies on, something authentic and sincere.

Like “Call My Agent!,” “Standing Up” is a real ensemble show and each key cast member has a strong and compelling character arc. How are you able to achieve this?

I like to think of it as knitting. The advantage with a series is that you write multiple episodes over a year, so it gives us (Herrero and Hervé Lassïnce, Eliane Montane, Judith Havas, Camille De Castelnau and Lison Daniel) the time to mature things and realize at some point if a narrative thread or a character aren’t developed enough or if something took a place that’s unnecessary. That’s the “global rebalancing” act that I set off to do during the last two months, to check that everything is in the right place and make sure we avoid dead ends.

How different was it to collaborate with Netflix after having worked with France Televisions on “Call My Agent!”?

It was extremely different, but it’s mainly because this time around it’s Netflix which came to me after I left “Call My Agent!” and they didn’t go through producers. It’s a bit of a new thing that platforms and even TV channels have been doing in France for the last two or three years, they come to get talents directly and they don’t just wait for us to come with some projects. So Netflix offered me to take six months to think about my next show and discuss it with them. I came up with two original ideas, including “Standing Up” and they picked up on that one. With “Call My Agent!” the development took much, much longer. I’ve clearly benefited from the success of “Call My Agent!” because Netflix trusted me and gave me a lot of freedom with the tone, the creation of characters and they never said, “Oh be careful, we can’t do this or that.” The advantage when you work with a platform like Netflix is that they have young subscribers so we can be a bit more daring than with a TV channel whose primary mission is to target audiences between 7 and 77 years old.

With “Standing Up” it seems that you’re not only looking to attract younger adults, is that right?

Yes, we have the ambition to tell a universal story. The fact that “Standing Up” follows characters in their mid-20’s and early thirties is compelling because it’s often at that age that we start making important decisions that will shape our adult lives. I think that’s a topic which can appeal to younger people because they know they will have to go through that eventually, and to people who are older because it gives them a chance to revisit those moments. We’ve also made the conscious effort to have four very different characters who come from wide-ranging social and economic backgrounds. Aïssa struggles to balance out her family life and career, Apolline is trying to free herself from her family’s expectations, etc. So we try to have a social dimension which can touch different people.

On ‘Call My Agent!’ the main cast members have all broken through thanks to the series, some in a major way like Camille Cottin (“Stillwater”) and Laure Calamy (Me, My Donkey & I”).

I love this cast of “Standing Up,” I find them wonderful, charming, alive, moving and funny. So yes, the idea was to find the perfect cast for these fictional characters and also make sure they had a genuine chemistry when we put them together. We did a big casting, and it’s Constance Demontoy who handled it. We – meaning me and the two other directors — worked hand-in-hand with Constance and we saw a lot of young people. On average we saw about 50 people per role. But we didn’t cast non-professionals. They were all actors who had had roles before and had agents. For some roles, like the one of Bling, we had less people auditioning because there seems to be less actors of Vietnamese origin. What I found so touching and sometimes funny is that some of them came in with pre-conceived ideas of what we expected from them because stereotypes are so prevalent in fiction, that’s the case especially with young French-Arab actors who often get the same roles. When they understood that they didn’t need to play that way, they were happy, they were like ‘Oh, Ok then!.” For the role of Nezir, we auditioned about 70 people. Younes was first and he was our “coup de coeur.”

The world of French stand-up that you depict in the series is rather young and urban. It seems different from the one in the U.S.

Definitely. Because in the U.S., stand-up is a tradition, it’s been very grounded in their culture for a long time. We’re a bit behind the curve in France. We’ve had a few big stand-up comedians (Florence Foresti, Jamel Debbouze, Gad Elmaleh) but they’re just three. In the U.S., there are so, so many. In the comedy clubs, you see so many comedians who are 50 or more. In France, that doesn’t exist, or very rarely so. So we’re telling a different type of story and that’s what I liked too about this topic. It’s a story about self-affirmation and emancipation.

There are a few shows about stand-up comedians in the U.S., like “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Were you inspired by them when you created this series?

Yes, there are several U.S. shows that are driven by comedians or deal with this world but our series took another route to shows like “Seinfeld” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” These series revolve around the strong personalities of real-life comedians who are the central characters and talk about their neurosis and pitfalls. Blanche Gardin recently did a series (“La meilleure version de moi-même”) which was along these lines.

Are you personally a fan of some stand-up comedians?

The U.S. stand-up comedians that have [resonated with] me are mostly women: Ali Wong, Wanda Sykes, Sarah Silverman — they’re excellent!

Would you like to direct one day?

Yes, directing is something that I’m very interested in, and I’m planning to direct two episodes of the next season. Very excited about it.

Variety's Elsa Keslassy contributed to this post.


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