French humor is a funny thing. Okay, I started this article with a lame play on words – but I promise that (this time), it’s on purpose.
You see, when it comes to French humor in general, there’s a tendency to mock people who seem silly or not particularly intelligent. You can see this in lots of French movies, TV shows, and plays, for example.
Typical French jokes, though – the ones almost all French people know -- are something else entirely. They often rely on wordplay and have a so-bad-it’s-good vibe. It seems like jokes are the way for the French to unabashedly take on that silly persona that so many of their other forms of humor tend to mock.
If you want to be silly with the French people in your life, or are simply looking for some examples of French jokes, here are the essentials.
How to say “joke” in French
Before we get started, let’s talk about how to say “joke” in French, because this will help you if you want to search for more examples of the kinds of jokes I’m going to list below.
The most common way to say “a joke” is une blague. But there’s also une plaisanterie (a more old-fashioned, formal term), une vanne (a very informal, slang term, which often has the connotation of being a joke to tease or make fun of someone), and une histoire drôle, which, as you imagine, you could use for a funny story.
Et maintenant, voilà quelques blagues en français !
Classic French jokes that all Français’es) know
There are lots of different jokes and types of humor in France, but there are also some classic jokes that just about any French person will recognize. Here are the most iconic:
The Monsieur et Madame joke
To make a Monsieur et Madame joke, use this formula : Monsieur et Madame ____ ont un fils/une fille – comment s’appelle-t-il/elle ? (Monsieur and Madame ___ have a son/daughter – what’s his/her name?)
The answer is a “name” (or names, because you can also say Monsieur et Madame ont des/trois, etc. fils/filles…) that uses the first syllable or word that, when combined with Monsieur et Madame’s “last name”, makes a new word or phrase.
Here’s one you’ll see a lot:
M et Mme Cale ont deux filles et un fils – comment s’appellent-ils?
Anna, Lise, Mehdi.
If you say the names Anna, Lise, Medhi, and add their “last name”, “cale”, out loud, you get analyse médicale – medical test.
The answer isn’t funny – it’s not necessarily supposed to be. The fun lies in trying to figure out what word(s) or syllable(s) should precede Monsieur et Madame’s last name. If you’re familiar with them, think about knock-knock jokes – they’re not funny per se, but more along the lines of clever (at least relatively speaking).
Speaking of which, knock knock jokes, which begin Toc toc toc, qui est là, do exist in French, but they’re not original to the language or culture, and are relatively recent. In fact, as this article explains, they’ve become more popular due to TV show hosts’ using them in the past few years, rather than simply due to being a cultural phenomenon on their own. Now, back to Madame et Monsieur….
Here’s another Monsieur et Madame joke:
Monsieur et madame COPTAIRE ont un fils
I found that one on this list, which is especially helpful for people learning French, since each punchline is included, not left up to you to guess.
Notice that, like in the previous example, in many cases when these jokes are written out, the comment s’appelle(nt)… part is omitted, since the formula is so familiar and because the reader can’t directly ask the question anyway.
Sure, these jokes are often corny and childish, but they’re still recognized and beloved by lots of French people. There’s even a #MonsieuretMadame hashtag on Twitter! Before you go discover that, though, be warned: Not all Monsieur et Madame jokes are innocent or politically correct – just like pretty much any kind of joke….
Note from Benjamin: Also note that the French tend to talk much more crudely than people in the UK, Canada or US. A joke that would be considered offensive in your country may be completely normal in France.
La blague de Toto
Unlike Monsieur et Madame jokes (and many French jokes in general), a blague de Toto doesn’t necessarily rely on wordplay.
Toto is a figure whose popularity dates from the 19th century. He’s usually a kid who asks (generally inadvertently) inappropriate questions or makes silly comments. You might think of him as that kid on a TV sitcom whose only role seems to be to comment on or say something in a funny way and provide comic relief.
I know it’s not usually considered a good thing for a journalist to cite Wikipedia, but tant pis (too bad) — this Wikipedia entry has two blagues de Toto that really capture the character and joke type’s range:
La maîtresse demande à Toto, lors d’une leçon sur les rimes, de donner un exemple.
Toto dit alors :
– Dimanche, je suis allé à la chasse aux grenouilles,
et dans le ruisseau j’avais de l’eau jusqu’aux… genoux.
– Mais Toto ça ne rime pas du tout !
– C’est pas ma faute, y’avait pas assez d’eau !
Translation: While teaching a lesson on rhyming words, the teacher asks Toto to give an example.
So Toto says:
Sunday, I went frog hunting near the falls* and I had water up to my…knees.
“But Toto, that doesn’t rhyme at all!”
“It’s not my fault, there wasn’t enough water!”
There are actually two jokes in this one. Can you figure them out?
The first one is that since Toto is supposed to be doing a rhyming exercise, French listeners would expect him to rhyme grenouilles with couilles, the rough equivalent of “balls” (a vulgar word for “testicles”) in English (hence the reason I inserted the word “falls”* for the rhyme). Instead, he says genoux (knees), getting the rhyme wrong and doing something unexpected. His excuse is silly, too – the water wasn’t deep enough for his balls to be soaked.
Here’s the second example:
« Toto rentre à la maison après sa première journée à l’école primaire.
La maman :
-- Alors Toto, tu as appris beaucoup de choses aujourd’hui ?
-- Pas assez en tout cas, ils veulent que j’y retourne demain.
Toto comes home from his first day of elementary school.
His mom asks:
“So, Toto, did you learn a lot today?”
Toto replies, “Not enough — they want me to come back tomorrow.”
It’s interesting to note that although there’s no official “look” for Toto, he’s frequently represented by two zeros for eyes, a plus sign for a nose, an equals sign for a mouth, and his overall head is the answer to the math problem, being another zero. In addition to being a neat trick, it’s also a way to signify that Toto has “zero” intelligence.
You can read some other blagues de Toto here, or by doing an online search. Remember: As the first example shows, these jokes can be very vulgar.
The Paf le chien joke
This joke, which is the most common version of a formula that has many other animal or “name” variants, relies on sound and a sort of surprise ending (not really because these jokes are so well-known that people can pretty much guess what’s coming).
It works like this: Tu connais l’histoire de Paf le chien ?
C’est l’histoire d’un chien qui traverse la rue. Une voiture arrive, et paf ! le chien.
Translation: Do know the story of Splat the dog?
It’s the story of a dog who’s crossing the street. A car drives by and splat! the dog.”
The word paf is an onomatopoeia (a word that imitates a sound), and the joke relies in showing us it’s more than just the dog’s name…and why.
You’ll often see the joke in a shorter form, with the first line Tu connais [onomatopoeia] le/la [animal]? And then C’est un/une [animal] qui…. An even simpler version than that is also common : [Onomatopoeia] le/la [animal] : C’est un/une [animal] qui…
Now that you know the formula, you can make up your own. For example, I’ll give it a go – I love cats and swimming, so…
Tu connais l’histoire de Plouf le chat ?
C’est l’histoire d’un chat qui se balade au bord de la mer quand une vague arrive et plouf ! Le chat !
Translation: Do you know the story of Splash the cat?
It’s the story of a cat who’s walking along the shore when a wave comes and splash! the cat!
In some cases, the formula can even vary a bit more. To see a really good list of these kinds of jokes, check out this site.
Want to give it a try? Think of your favorite animal and add a French onomatopoeia word (here’s a handy list).
The Titegoutte joke
A shortened (or, in the joke’s context, slurred) form of the phrase une petite goutte (a little drop), this joke uses someone’s first name as the beginning of a sentence that ends in “tite(s) goutte(s)”.
It’s implied that the “little drop” in question is of some kind of alcohol, which is why the pronunciation of the words in the joke can be a bit off, or shortened, and so on.
For example, Corrine would become: ‘core une ‘tite goutte! (“‘nother little drop!”)
Or, one of my favorites because it’s such a stretch: For Germaine: Je r’mets une ‘tite goutte? (Shall I pour ‘nother little drop?)
Sadly, as you might have guessed, this joke doesn’t work with every name. But the fun part is to try. Can you make a titegoutte joke with your name?
Pas de bras, pas de chocolat
Although it’s not easy to track down its origins (according to this article, it comes from a Carambar, a popular candy known for having jokes inside its wrappers), the dialogue that this phrase originated from can be found verbatim on multiple online sources. It goes:
Maman, je peux avoir du chocolat ?
– Il y en a dans le placard, va donc te servir.
– Mais Maman, je peux pas, tu sais bien que je n’ai pas de bras…
– Pas de bras, pas de chocolat !
Translation: Mama, can I have some chocolate?
-- There’s some in the cupboard. Go get it.
-- But Mama, I can’t, you know very well that I don’t have arms…
-- No arms, no chocolate!
Unlike most other typical French jokes, this one is dark and incredibly absurd. So of course it’s been warmly embraced by pop culture and figures in fields as varied as politics and rock music. If you’re a fan of the French movie Intouchables, you’ve probably heard it, as well.
Continuing the tradition: A new French joke that may become a legend
Of course, there are plenty of other kinds of French jokes, and new ones are being created all the time.
In 2017, an eight-year-old boy named Adrien told a silly, traditional-style wordplay joke…and broke the French internet! In a short, somewhat hard-to-hear video, with shy confidence, he asks someone Qu’est-ce qui est jaune et qui attend? Jonathon! (“What’s yellow and waiting? Jonathan!”)
Jaune attend is pronounced the same way as the name “Jonathan” in French. The joke is so ridiculous, and Adrien’s delivery is so unique, that the video quickly went viral. It was the second-most watched French YouTube clip of the year.
Monoprix: Puns on your groceries
I’ve already mentioned that Carambar candies have jokes in their wrappers. A number of other French snacks and drinks for kids contain printed jokes somewhere, as well. In recent years, Monoprix, a chain that sells everything from food, to home décor, to books, to clothes, to cosmetics, has taken the idea to another level, by including cheesy puns on the packaging of their store-brand products.
Lists and photos of the puns abound.
Here’s one from the French version of popular website Buzzfeed. It includes what is probably my favorite Monoprix pun, a package of mixed nuts with a line reading Promenons-nous dans les noix (Let’s walk through the nuts). This is a reference to a children’s nursery rhyme song that starts Promenons-nous dans les bois (Let’s walk through the forest), but the reason I love it is because it’s silly yet clever; after all, when you’re searching for a particular nut, your fingers do sort of walk through them. It makes me chuckle every time I see it.
Jokes about learning French
If you’re reading this blog, you may have already done an online search for jokes about learning French –maybe you even know a few. Learning a foreign language is usually a pretty challenging task, and many of us like to laugh about it to feel a bit better about our struggles with things like grammar, pronunciation, and general things that are hard to understand.
Here’s one I recently found:
Why do the French only use one egg in their omelets? Because in France, one egg is un oeuf.
If you prefer your jokes as a meme or comment thread, there are lots of those about learning French, too – like this one, for example.
French jokes about learning English
The French have their own jokes about learning other languages, very much including English, which is the most common second language here. Two of these jokes are so famous that you will easily get a smile – and, for the first example, the response – from just about any French person. Researching this article, I realized that I also immediately understood these references, which makes me feel pretty French right now!
Brian is in the kitchen
This phrase was the answer to the question “Where is Brian?” in a dialogue countless French-speaking kids learned in their English classes at school in the 1980’s. Comedian Gad Elmelah’s sketch on it (which you can watch and learn more about here) boosted it to pop culture icon status, and today, if someone mentions English – whether an English class, meeting someone who’s an English speaker, etc., there’s a very good chance that you’ll hear “Where is Brian?” or “Brian is in the kitchen” at some point – almost always in a deliberately bad English accent.
My tailor is rich
If you make a reference to learning English or to being an English speaker, if someone doesn’t bring up Brian, they’ll probably say “My tailor is rich”, and all the other French people in the room will chuckle knowingly.
Another reference to a widespread English learning method – this time, one that dates to the early twentieth century -- “My tailor is rich,” as this delightful video and article explain, is the first sentence in the Assimil’ language learning book.
The phrase has become easily recognizable – even by people who’ve never used Assimil’ to study English. Part of the appeal, I think, is that it’s difficult for the average French speaker to pronounce. Just as it’s hard for native English speakers to say r’s like a French person, it’s hard for French people to mimic the flat English r.
Jokes in French about the French
Every nationality has its reputation around the world – whether it’s deserved or not. The most common jokes in the Francophone world about the French mostly make fun of the French for their perceived pride, lack of cleanliness, and overall rude and unpleasant attitude.
These are all stereotypes I’ve discussed (and mostly debunked) before. But since the French can take a joke, you’ll find a number of online listicles featuring zingers like:
Comment se faire beaucoup d’argent ?
Acheter un français pour ce qu’il vaut et le revendre pour ce qu’il croit valoir.
Translation: How can you make a lot of money?
Buy a French person for what his actual worth and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth.
Quelle est la différence entre la France et le Mexique ?
Au Mexique, il n’y a que les plats qui font chier !
Translation: What’s the difference between France and Mexico?
In Mexico, only the meals are hard to digest!*
*This is an approximate translation, since the expression faire chier, which you can find on our extensive list of French swear words, means both “to make you shit” and “to annoy the shit out of you”.
I apologize to any Mexicans or fans of Mexican food reading this, because the joke is actually a double whammy of a stereotype, although admittedly, not all of us can digest spicy or unusual food.
Pourquoi en France dit-on « aller aux toilettes », alors qu’en Belgique, nos amis disent : « Je vais à la toilette » ?
-- Parce qu’en France, il faut en visiter plusieurs avant d’en trouver une propre.
Translation: Why do the French say ‘go to the toilets’, while our Belgian friends say “I’m going to the toilet”?
-- Because in France, you have to visit several toilets before you find a clean one.
To be fair on that last one, most of the countries I’ve been to have public toilets that aren’t particularly clean all the time….
French surrender jokes
And then, there are the surrender jokes.
Here’s one that exists both in English and in French (maybe the French want to be up on what’s being said about them?):
Comment appelle-t-on un Français qui meurt en protégeant son pays ?
Aucune idée, cela ne s’est jamais produit.
Translation: What do you call a French person who dies for their country?
No idea, that’s never happened before.
Surrender jokes mainly come from America, and are, in this American’s opinion, completely unfair and ignorant. Before World War II, the French had been a formidable military power for centuries. Ever heard of William the Conqueror and Napoleon, for example? Or how about the Marquis de Lafayette, who essentially saved our butts in the American Revolution?
When their country was taken over by the Germans during World War II (the origin of their reputation as having a tendency to surrender), many French still fought, either as Liberation Army members, or as members of the Resistance and the Just Among the Nations.
Today, the French quietly continue to participate in conflicts around the world – and are America’s allies, for goodness sake! Even on an individual level, French people continue to show incredible bravery. The joke I cited, for example, is negated by tons of examples, very much including the recent sacrifice of Arnaud Beltrame, a police officer who exchanged himself for a hostage in the Trèbes Super U terror attack and was killed.
So, go easy on surrender jokes, especially if you’re making them around French people.
What are other kinds of French jokes?
There are all kinds of humor in the world – and in France, whether in stand-up acts, plays, books, and TV shows, or online (check out French YouTube megastar Norman Thavaud, for example, for some really funny videos about everyday life).
If you’re looking for a particular kind of French joke, you’ll probably find it. You can start with an online search for meilleures blagues or blagues les plus drôles, and see where it takes you. If it’s to a place you don’t like -for example, if you come upon jokes you find offensive, try not to take it too hard. Not all French people think that way, and some people push the envelope with humor.
Do you know a good French joke? Share it in the comments!