“Weeeuuuu Weeuuuuu!” Leaning on a table in the bar car of a TGV en route to Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes), hidden under a cap and sunglasses, a man is preparing his joke. He awakens the travelers from their torpor by shouting: “This is a police raid! Yes, I was disguised as a young…” This sketch and its variants, improvised four years ago on the sidelines of the Cannes Series festival, reappeared on Twitter a few weeks ago, to the point of becoming a recurring and popular gag in the evening and at the office.
Their author? Jonathan Cohen, a 41-year-old actor with a winding career, who in a few years has become an essential face of French humor. He returns, accompanied by a five-star cast (Pierre Niney, Ana Girardot, Jérôme Commandeur, Kad Merad, Gérard Darmon, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Camille Chamoux…), Monday May 23 on Canal+ in The torchwhere he resumes his character of egocentric idiot, born in The flame : “MYAAAARRRRRCCC”, as Leïla Bekhti belches. This time, it is no longer a question of parodying “The Bachelor”, but “Koh-Lanta”.
Here’s how Jonathan Cohen, who could have continued to sell windows if he hadn’t fallen in love with boards, found his place in the sun.
All those who have crossed his path say it: Jonathan Cohen is a funny guy, and not just a little. Raymond Acquaviva, his first drama teacher, remembers a boy “hyper motivated, friendly and very funny”. “He has an inexhaustible energy for comedy, he’s the best funny storyteller I know, he brings laughter wherever he goes”confirms director Alexandre Castagnetti. “He’s someone who is always funny, always inventing, experimenting, looking for creation”adds the director Elise Vigier.
This taste for the joke goes back to college. “I needed to find my place and I started making jokes, Jonathan Cohen tells Konbini. Afterwards, it was a nature, I had found a place in which I was liked. But this son of a bank employee and a salesperson, who grew up in Pantin (Seine-Saint-Denis), was far from imagining himself leading an artistic career.
“I was only waiting for one thing: to cross the ring road and earn my ‘life’ in Paris.”jonathan cohen
Crossing the ring road goes through the sale of windows. His friend Olivier Rosemberg, who plays his best friend in the series Family Business, shows him another path: that of the stage. In 2002, he attended a course in costume with his sales rep briefcase, it clicked. “I freaked out, I quit my job and threw myself headlong into the business”Jonathan Cohen told AFP.
“You could see that he was discovering the world of theatre, tragedy, verse, he wondered what it was. But he was very spontaneous and very hardworking, retraces Raymond Acquaviva. He said to me: ‘OK Raymond, I will do it, I will do it’. Right away, he hooked me with his smile, his passion, his way of addressing me.”
Jonathan Cohen plays the comic repertoire of Feydeau, but he also rubs shoulders with tragedy, especially with the play Titus and Bereniceby Cornelius. “I wanted him to open his acting palette, but he had no limit”, explains Raymond Acquaviva. “He just had to find his concentration, a medium in his voice. Feydeau decentered him, but the tragedy refocused him. He managed to be a very moving Titus against Bérénice.” His teacher pushes him to try the formidable competition of the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art. “Jonathan didn’t feel legitimate, he didn’t know what it was, he thought we were talking about tin cans and didn’t understand the relationship with drama”laughs his master.
The student passed the entrance exam in 2003. Here he is in the middle of Louis Garrel, Audrey Lamy or even Céline Sallette. “I only found myself with faces, while I, in my luggage, I only had an apple”he said to Parisian (paid article). The question of his legitimacy is raised when he is asked why he wants to do this job. “I saw everyone inhabited by something very powerful, but not me at all. Simply, I enjoyed being on stage, he claims at Konbini. Am I an impostor? Do I deserve to be in this school? Was I in my place?
The theater offers him a framework with which he plays naturally. His profile catches the eye of directors, notably those of Marcial Di Fonzo Bo and Elise Vigier. The duo meet him during their training and hire him to play a Russian spy with a pronounced accent in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. “Jonathan Cohen was not afraid to be ridiculous and to fail”remembers the director, praising her “freedom of play”his “inventiveness” and his “report to the public”.
After the boards, Jonathan Cohen takes his first steps in the small and the big screen. Alexandre Castagnetti offers him several roles, in the series The invinciblesthen in the sitcom The Sunday Song, the series and finally Loves and Turbulencesa romantic comedy with Ludivine Sagnier and Nicolas Bedos, where he plays the latter’s best friend.
“”It was a tragicomic role, because Jonathan really has the talent to interpret these roles that make you laugh and cry at the same time.”Alexandre Castagnetti, director
“When I meet him, I don’t meet a youtubeur or a stand-upper. I meet a comedian who comes out of the Conservatory with a comedic nature”, remembers the director. Released in 2013, Loves and Turbulences does not meet the expected success and Jonathan Cohen still has to wait a little before bursting the screen. But “it was predictable that it was going to work for him”, assures Alexandre Castagnetti, adding: “You rarely meet people so talented and made for this job”.
Jonathan Cohen finally made a name for himself on Canal+ three years later. His character of Serge le Mytho, first appeared in the short program Blocked with the rappers Orelsan and Gringe, then in his own pastille, opened the doors to success for him. “He was supposed to make an appearance. He wedged himself between the two and launched into an improvisation of more than 40 minutes without stopping, we were all hilarious”remembers in The Parisian Harry Tordjman, the producer of this short program. During 30 episodes, the cheeky character and mythomaniac tells the truth about Jay-Z, goes to the Inuits or reveals that he is the descendant of Louis XVI. Always in contact with Orelsan, during a visit on the rapper’s tour of Switzerland in 2019, Jonathan Cohen invents another aberrant character, Fucking Fred, a vulgar and scruffy singer.
This ability to engage his audience in his stories was there very early. “At school, I used to say that my father had created K2000 [série mythique des années 1980 mettant en scène une voiture intelligente] and that he made mini-K 2000s for children. Around 14, I made believe that I had caught a girl who had given me her photo in the subway with her number. Except one guy tested the number. The humiliation was such that I never did it again”he tells The Obs (paid article). “He has this way of telling stories, of branching off, of digressingobserves Elise Vigier. He has an ability to take people anywhere.”
Crazy stories also happen to him for real. Like this Christmas Eve 2015, where, staying with a friend in Los Angeles, married to a producer, he finds himself face to face with Mel Gibson, one of his childhood idols. “I was still in my underwear, he had come to massage my friend’s back with his kind of medicinal creams”he tells the Sunday newspaper (paid article). The unusual anecdote does not stop there. On the way home, Mel Gibson has a road accident. “We took him to the hospital where I had to help him undress”, continues Jonathan Cohen. To thank them, the star of Braveheart invites them to his house to eat grilled meats. Jonathan Cohen will take the opportunity to brandish the legendary sword of William Wallace.
The comedian grew up with the hero of The lethal Weapon or Bruce Lee’s kung fu movies. He admires Tom Hanks or Jacques Brel. But the real click, he had it by discovering the comic universe of the Americans Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, and the Briton Ricky Gervais. A “monumental slaphe lets go in the JDD. They have this desire to tell real things in a comedic tone.”
“Judd Apatow is clearly one of his role models, confirms Alexandre Castagnetti. He brought novelty to comedy by observing and pointing out the faults of his characters, by evoking taboos, by talking about what makes us ridiculous and cowardly, but with a comic genius.” Like Judd Apatow, Jonathan Cohen has this team spirit. “At the time, he worked a lot with his friends, I think he still has that spirit”says the director. “He is a unifier, someone who seeks to create a link”abounds Elise Vigier.
Jonathan Cohen sees himself one day “play in english”the language of its models, “just for fun, the challenge”but he defends himself from everything Career Objective. Elise Vigier and Raymond Acquaviva, they would see him doing stand-up. While waiting perhaps to go back on stage, Jonathan Cohen has become essential on the screens. A few weeks before The torchthere have been The same time, by Benoît Delepine and Gustave de Kervern. Soon there will be the next Asterixdirected by Guillaume Canet and Making-ofthe first comedy by Cédric Kahn. “JI no longer ask questions of legitimacy. I go for it, I do and it’s exhilarating to realize your ideas”he savors in The Parisian. No need to go through the window, the doors of success are now wide open.