16 February, 2014 by katelaity
Les Rieuses: not a gang, more of a club, though memberships were for life.
The lighthearted name and silly paper hats might leave you with the impression that this was a frivolous bunch. Au contraire: they took comedy very seriously — deathly so.
Though most of the club’s activities fell behind a veil of secrecy, there was a 1912 incident the tipped the genteel members into the unflattering glare of public exposure for a time. Details are sketchy. It seems the threads unravelled due to a certain Mlle. Porquai, who at that time held the office of secrétaire d’affairs. Her violent envy of her rival and then vice-présidente, Mme. Gabor, drove her to certain desperate acts on the night of the club’s annual grande prix de rire.
That spring the Seine had risen to unprecedented levels; it affected the mood of the City of Lights adversely, so much so that hardened Parisians found themselves longing for the countryside. The peculiar ambience figured in the trial of Mlle. Porquai, though it did not entirely sway the jury who were similarly affected.
Perhaps no one will know precisely what occurred that night. Eyewitnesses could only say that as Mme. Gabor prepared to deliver her long-anticipated punch line to her own variation on the traditional jeu de blaireau, a scream was heard from the ceiling above the parlour where Les Reuses were gathered. The scream derailed Mme. Gabor only for a moment, but the subsequent appearance of Mlle. Porquai in a full bathtub through the splintered floor boards from above certainly sabotaged any effect the intended riposte ought to have had in garnering laughter. That the lady in question was also accompanied by fourteen frogs and a badger, she could not later explain.
The badger bite, though it seemed a slight matter at the time — certainly in comparison to the broken leg Mme. Gabor suffered from the sudden weight of the tub upon it — had the lasting effect of potentially exposing the entire club to the possibility of contagion from la rage. It was the latter fact which resulted in Mlle. Porquai’s expulsion from the club, rather than the other charges, for there were those who upon reflection saw the potential for humour in the other elements had they been given time and opportunity to appreciate the juxtaposition.
Of course this episode is generally believed to be the true origin of the phrase manger de la blaireau enragée, which offers a colloquial way to say an event was without much laughter, although Professor Bergson has pooh-poohed the derivation.
[Our serial will return next week.]