Rachid Badouri

Rachid Badouri is ‘the richest man on earth’

An interview with the Quebec comedy star ahead of his one-off English-language show at Just for Laughs on July 26.

My scheduled interview with Quebec standup comedian Rachid Badouri didn’t initially go as planned. First, I logged into Google Meet an hour too early, mistaking our scheduled interview time. Then, when I did log in at the right time, Badouri was nowhere to be found. After an email to the Just for Laughs communications team, a publicist quickly tracked him down at a car dealership. 

Badouri’s car had just broken down. Apologizing profusely, and even though I offered to postpone our interview, he immediately set up his phone to conduct it right there and then in the waiting room. When you’ve been in the business for the better part of 20 years, you learn to roll with the punches.

Badouri, who grew up in Chomedey, Laval — and as a result can also speak some Greek that he proudly shared with me — burst onto the scene with a bang in 2005. By the following year, he was named “francophone revelation of the year” at les Olivier, Quebec’s highest distinction for comics. His first one-man show Arrête ton cinema sold over 325,000 tickets across Quebec and his second show Badouri rechargé proved to be another smash hit. Since 2016, the now 46-year-old comedian has sold close to a million tickets touring francophone countries around the world. His third show, Les fleurs du tapis, is still touring until December 2023.

Not one to sit still, the comedian has also built a solid film, television and voiceover career. He’s also amassed an impressive 2.5 million followers on Tik-Tok, partly gaining fame for his Zoom sessions during the pandemic with his adorably cantankerous dad, Mohamed.

Safeguarding his Moroccan culture

Last year, the comedian was also in the documentary L’Héritage Badouri alongside his father, exploring his cultural roots. Badouri’s parents are both Berbers from Morocco. 

“This cultural exploration was propelled by fear,” he says. “I met up with a friend of mine while I was in Belgium for my show and he suddenly turned to me and said, ‘Has it occurred to you that we’re part of the last generation?’ We won’t tell our sons that you can’t wear an earring because it makes you look strange, we don’t have an accent when we speak, our kids won’t know anything or very little about what our moms and dads had to go through to come here.” 

His friend was basically referring to the process of integration that allows for second and third-generation kids of immigrants to usually forego most of the cultural markers and values their parents prioritized and fully integrate into the majority culture. 

“You know that famous immigrant parent saying, ‘We came here with only $20 in our pockets?’ Our kids won’t hear any of that,” he says. “Those stories are going to be urban legends to them. We’re the last generation who saw that struggle.” 

That conversation was the impetus for him to set the wheels in motion for the documentary, which was filmed in 2022 and allowed him to travel to Rif, Morocco with his dad. 

“I honestly thought I was just going over there to gather some information, make some memories and bring them back to my two daughters,” he says, “so they could do the same thing later on with their kids, so it wouldn’t be forgotten. But it was such an emotional journey. Seeing my father looking at (ancestral) houses that are now in ruins because no one’s there to take care of them. Seeing him crying, thinking about his wife, my mom, who passed away years ago, was really moving.”

During their trip, Badouri’s father kept asking him to promise he would come back later on his own.

“It made me realize how caught up in my work I had become and how I didn’t spend as much time with my family as I used to. I was doing exactly what I had promised myself I would never do. Because all my parents ever did was work.” The documentary ended up being a great way for him to reconnect with both his dad and his roots. 

Multiple cultures are a richness 

Rachid Badouri
Rachid Badouri and his dad in L’Héritage Badouri

Being a second-generation Moroccan Quebecer, says Badouri, makes him the richest man in the world. “When I’m in Morocco I feel Moroccan. When I perform in Morocco, they make me feel like I was born and raised there, even though I was born in Laval. When I’m in Quebec, I feel like a Quebecer. Having multiple cultures is such a richness.”

Badouri didn’t feel that richness until he entered high school. In elementary he was bullied a lot. “Because I was different,” he says. “My name, my face, the colour of my skin…” 

He tells me a young Syrian girl “who knew how to fight” would defend him a lot. In 6th grade, a guy punched him in the schoolyard. “It was the only time I’ve ever gotten punched in my entire life,” he says. “And it hurt. My nose was swollen, and I was crying. I asked him why he did that, and he said, ‘Your face… it was your f*cking face.’” Worried what the other kids would think of him, Badouri never told his teacher. “I didn’t want to rat him out,” he says. “But then came high school and I met this Haitian dude named Jean Molière and he showed me how to embrace who I was.”

Badouri became a hip-hopper in the ‘90s, known as le “Rapper Chic” among his friends. “I used to have a high top, wore my father’s Azzaro cologne and dress pants at school,” he says. “My father didn’t want me to have piercings, so I had fake earrings and had to avoid fridges because of the magnets in some of them,” he laughs. “But I suddenly became someone. I had an identity, I embraced who I was.” 

In the early ‘90s, a lot of Black celebrities and rappers were embracing their heritage rocking Africa medallions. “Because I was Moroccan, I would wear one, too, and people would question me. I had to give impromptu geography lessons, explaining that Morocco was in North Africa.”

Badouri never stopped embracing his cultural heritage and multiple identities. “I talk a lot about this in my shows and in my projects,” he says, “because it changed my life — it saved my life.” 

More diversity in Quebec show business 

While Badouri wholeheartedly identifies as a Quebecer, he still embraces his Berber roots. “I’m Québécois,” he says. “When I do handiwork and I accidentally hit my thumb with a hammer, no Arabic words are coming out of my mouth. It’s ‘Tabarnac de calisse! Ostie de…’ I’m Québécois and proud of it. But when I’m in Morocco, I feel proud being from there.” 

Badouri believes that immigration and integration, which can be stressful experiences, take time and an open spirit. “I think this whole world needs more love, more patience and care in the way we say things. Especially after COVID.” 

The comedian’s success is undoubtedly part of the changing landscape of Quebec showbusiness. 

“I’m one of those people who always complained about the lack of diversity and how productions didn’t reflect Montreal’s reality, and I can say that in the past few years it’s been good news,” he says. “Things are changing for the better. Powerful producers are integrating a lot more diversity of all kinds, not because they’re forced to but because they want to. And that’s influencing other players in the business to emulate them.”

Badouri is currently collaborating with fellow comedian Algerian Quebecer Mehdi Bousaidan, who arrived here with his family at the age of five, to produce a TV comedy series about two actors who are having a hard time finding jobs because they’re constantly typecast. To earn money, they start working at the Nicolet police academy, which often hires actors to simulate hostage taking — shenanigans ensue. Badouri is also working on a feature-length film he says will be a dramedy. 

Expressing more vulnerability 

When I ask him what he considers his strength as a comedian, he says he’s known for his “good energy on stage.” But what he says he’s most proud of these days is his increasing ability to show vulnerability and ‘realness’ as a performer. 

“I used to not open up on stage,” he says. “I wouldn’t talk about intimate stuff, I was scared. ‘Le peur du jugement,’ as they say in French, kept me from sharing all that personal, human, vulnerable stuff, like how I almost hit rock bottom and when I was dealing with trouble in my marriage. I was afraid of being judged. But I realized the more vulnerable you are, the more people appreciate it.” 

Badouri says he embraced that candidness in his third show, Les fleurs du tapis. “I was scared of doing it,” he says, “but I loved it. It’s the only show I performed in Quebec where the critics were all unanimous in liking it. They appreciated the authenticity.”

“But it took a while,” he adds. “It took two shows, it took 10 to 12 years. Jerry Seinfeld said it best. ‘When you have 10 years of experience in the business, you’re still just a 10-year-old.’”

Taking on English audiences

Badouri is part of a select club of Quebec stand-up comedians (Mike Ward, Sugar Sammy, Mike Paterson and Tranna Wintour among them) who can perform comfortably in both languages. That number is only slated to increase with younger generations of Quebec comics.

After building a solid comedy career in French, Badouri now has his sights set on English-speaking audiences, starting with a one-man show on July 26, at le Balcon, part of the 41st edition of the Just for Laughs Festival.

Badouri has previously hosted “The Ethnic Show” and performed in English once in a small venue in 2015, but contractual obligations in France prevented him from doing additional shows. He’s now ready to take on the English market. 

“I like performing for both French and English crowds, but I’ve found that they’re different,” he says. “With English audiences, you have to get to the point, to the punchline fast. In French, they like these long premises. Even when I work with other English comedians, honing our jokes, they’ll tell me, ‘Bro, you talk too much. You can say this in 30 seconds. It takes you three minutes to get to the punchline.” 

But Badouri says that unlike in the past, when a comedian would jump from one topic to another and cover 10 different subjects in five minutes, audiences today are starting to appreciate storytelling more. That’s something he says he’s starting to hone.

With his latest show being so personal, he says he’s ready to really introduce himself to English audiences for the first time. “If it works, I want to do more shows across Canada and the United States.”

Badouri’s car may have broken down, but it looks like the Quebec comic’s career may be about to go into high gear. ■

Rachid Badouri is “the richest man on earth”

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis.