The French blockbuster of the third season of the Amazon Prime Video series “LOL: Qui rit, qui sort” eloquently testifies to the extreme popularity of the Japanese variety format in France.
The Amazon original series adapted from LOL: Last One Laughing has had its biggest launch to date on Prime Video in France since bowing on March 10. The show is one of the streamer’s first unscripted originals in France and has been a major coup as a branding exercise that has succeeded with limited resources – compared to scripted comedy, of course. The “LOL” adaptations also found success in Italy and Germany, where they became the most popular local titles on the service, respectively. Local versions are also available in Spain, Mexico and Australia (hosted by Rebel Wilson).
Following the landmark success of LOL: Qui rit, qui sort, the French teams at Amazon Studios are now developing a spin-off of the franchise that will combine comedy and horror. Like “LOL,” the untitled spin-off will bring together eight famous actors who will have to be the last to scream and laugh in order to claim the top prize.
Hosted by Philippe Lachaux (“Alibi.com 2”) in France and produced by Endemol France, “LOL” is a rarity for an unscripted show because it features movie stars who are not necessarily known as comedians. Season 3’s cast boasts Virginie Efira, who just won a César for Revoir Paris, Adele Exarchopoulos (“Blue is the Warmest Color”), Leila Behti (“The Restless”) and Pierre Nini (“Yves Saint Laurent “). The stars are taking part alongside comedy stars Jonathan Cohen (Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom), Geraldine Nakash, Gad Elmaleh, Paul Mirabel, Laura Phelpin and Francois Damien.
Lasho, a Californian-looking comedian turned helmer, is a local celebrity himself. His latest film Alibi 2, which he directed and starred in, has sold more than 3 million tickets since its February 8 release, becoming the second-highest-grossing French film.
Thomas Dubois, head of original movies at Amazon Studios in France, says big-name actors have been lined up to join “LOL” after Season 2, which marked a “turning point” for the franchise locally.
“It was so successful! We started getting calls from actors like Leila Behti and Jonathan Cohen, and others followed suit because they all know and love each other,” DuBois recalls. “LOL” captures what happens inside the mansion, where the actors confront each other armed with their best jokes while the cameras keep rolling. Filming takes about a day and a half.
DuBois admits that the show “is quite a challenge for any actor, even for those who are used to acting in comedies, but it gives them an opportunity to show themselves more authentically and easily.”
James Farrell, Head of International Original Films at Amazon Studios, has watched every adaptation around the world with delight since the original Japanese show, produced and starring comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto, was released in 2016.
“When you watch the French version, you can tell it’s the most authentic. It’s real and there’s a lightheartedness to it — just like seeing people at a party trying to make each other laugh,” says Farrell, who had the idea to approach Matsumoto to work with him on the new format.
“In some other countries they start clapping each other. The Mexican one got pretty violent, and the Japanese one, everybody gets naked at some point, they’re all like naked and chasing each other around the room,” quips Farrell. “But French, yeah, they’re definitely not naked and they’re not hitting each other!”
Farrell says the German adaptation “surprised everyone” when the presenter brought in a famous opera singer. “Everyone sits and looks at the opera singer and then he sucks the helium balloon, so it was like an opera with a helium voice!” – says Farrell. “It’s so creative and unexpected and amazing.” Produced by Constantin Entertainment, LOL was nominated for an International Emmy Award last year.
Although French makeup looks more spontaneous than in other territories, DuBois says the actors are matched with comedy writers who help them create jokes and rehearse. “We don’t let actors into a series without preparation, and even if it’s not a scripted series, it has brilliant writing,” says the French executive, adding that improvisation provides some of the series’ most enjoyable bits.
Discussing the “LOL” spin-off, Dubois says it will begin filming by the summer and will air before Season 4. The idea for the spin-off came when the set of “LOL” Season 3 went dark. “When that happened, people were scared, and we realized that fear was a great source of comedy,” says Dubois, who predicts the spinoff will further strengthen the franchise.
Farrell says “everyone is very keen” to see the French spinoff go international. Amazon Studios has been highly anticipated ever since “it was revealed internally that France was doing it.” “They don’t have to wait until Halloween, they can just wait until they actually start shooting, which is going to be very soon, and watch the cut and we’ll see how it goes,” Farrell says.
Farrell also revealed that the success of the French team’s other unscripted program, Orelsan: montre jamais ça à personne, has also inspired other countries. The documentaries provide an intimate look at the French singer Arelson, filmed by his brother over the course of several decades.
“‘Orelsan’ was a huge success, and all the other countries immediately (and forced) to catch on (and say) ‘Hey, that was really cool. How can we do that?” So India is going to do one, a bunch of other countries are going to follow as well,” says Farrell.
DuBois says unscripted content accounts for about 40% of Amazon Studios’ local production slated for this year. Along with the second season of LOL, Amazon Studios is working on a documentary series as well as a new season of Celebrity Hunt. The streamer also intends to release four French original films this year, notably Franco Gastambido’s critically acclaimed adventure Medellin, which was shot in Colombia.