Les Inconnus (literally "The Unknowns") was a trio of French comedians and actors, the success of which peaked in the early 1990s. It was composed of Didier Bourdon (born January 22, 1959 in Alger), Bernard Campan (born April 4, 1958 in Agen) and Pascal Légitimus (born March 13, 1959 in Paris). Their sketches savagely satirized all aspects of the French (or otherwise) cultural landscape, from show business to advertising, television and politics, and are still heavily referenced to this day.
They were five originally (with Seymour Brussel and Smaïn, who both left), when they had their first successes on stage in The '80s as Les Cinq ("The Five"). When reduced to three, they took the name "Les Inconnus" and became famous for their parodic Sketch Comedy TV show La Télé des Inconnus (literally TV of the Unknowns), which premiered in 1990 and ran with great success until 1993 on the Antenne 2 channel (renamed France 2 since). They made their theatrical debut in 1995 with the comedy The Three Brothers (Les Trois Frères).
After Les Trois Frères came out, their manager Paul Lederman claimed ownership on their group name by lawsuit, causing them to drop the use of it, and they never made sketches together again. Nonetheless, several films have featured at least two former members together since. 2001's Les Rois mages (The Three Magis) and the 2014 sequel to Les Trois Frères, Les Trois Frères: Le Retour (The Three Brothers are back) reunited them all. Most of said movies were written and directed by Bourdon and Campan.
Most of their sketches and music videos can be watched on their Youtube VEVO channel.
The group's works provide examples of:
- All Jews Are Cheapskates: Mr. Cohen from "Des Chiffres et des Lettres juif" ("Jewish Countdown") can't stop thinking the calculations he has to do in that Game Show are about money and gets them hilariously wrong, thinking he's being scammed.
- Artistic License: In "Les Branleurs", Didier Bourdon's character tells he got aroused when watching the scene where "the [male] vampire bangs the chick" in Bram Stoker's Dracula. There's no such scene in the movie.
- As Himself:
- One skit consists in the three Inconnus in their own role going through the press to find reviews of one of their shows.
- "Virginie ou c'est le métier qui rentre" is a porn movie parody. At one point, the action is interrupted by this:Didier Bourdon: Hello, I'm Didier Bourdon, I'm a member of Les Inconnus. I'm preparing a show for Les Inconnus on Antenne 2. Err... I've been said you're preparing a porn movie, can I watch for a while?
- Asians Eat Pets: One of the many characters in "Les restaurants" is a Chinese waiter (played by Bourdon) who explain to the patrons that the dish named "Cinco" in the menu is a special Chinese meat. When the patrons order it, Didier Bourdon turn around and call "Cinco, come on!".
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: In "Thierry la France" (parody of Thierry la Fronde), Thierry and his Merry Men hold their nose upwards and start repeating "Well, well, well" to fool two English guards long enough to knock them out and reach Thierry's hostage Love Interest. The guards, meanwhile, talk using quotes from songs of The Beatles.
- Bad "Bad Acting": In the porn parody "Virginie ou c'est le métier qui rentre", the acting of Campan, Légitimus, and the two female extras is abysmal (bad acting is a common critic about the genre). Bourdon plays his own role (he barges in during the film's shooting) and his acting is way better.
- Big "SHUT UP!": Bernard Campan gives a epic one in "Télémagouille", annoyed by Mamadou (played by Pascal Legitimus) repeatedly boasting about doing "n'golo n'golo" with his wife.
- Black Comedy:
- "Chilean News Bulletin" has the journalists being immediately gunned down after telling bad news during the television news (said "bad news" being harmless things like "the national team lost a match"). At the end of the skit, the weathercaster frantically removes each rain forecasts from the Chile's map right before the start of the weather bulletin, then meekly announces there will be "a tiny spot of rain, just here" (the one he forgot to remove), and gets shot, too.
- Three of their commercials' parodies were based on horror movies: the first two came from The Kiss (1988), featuring a rabid cat-demon attacking people, and are used as cat food commercials ("You still haven't served his Krit-and-Krat!"). Even worse, a scene from Dolls, where a woman is slowly stabbed, sliced and beaten by living puppets, ends with a German-accented voice-over which says : "Ach! It's almost Christmas: think about our Klaus Barbie dolls!" Some children don't remember fondly these parodies.
- Pascal Légitimus (who's of Armenian and Afro-Caribbean - Guadeloupean - descent) put darker makeup on to play a South-African anchor who's revealed to be handcuffed and forced to host a news broadcast disguising the country's reality (this was right after Nelson Mandela was released from prison towards the end of the Apartheid era).
- Inverted in a Talk Show parody skit where Legitimus' face is covered in white make-up.
- Blatant Lies: The "Nuclear Power Plant" skit is about a nuclear power plant's director reassuring the audience about nuclear power being a safe source of energy. During his speech, the guy looks more and more diseased, coughs, pukes some sort of slime, and gets a third arm growing from his back. At one point, he's also interrupted by one of his employees, who looks and sounds exactly like your stereotypical Igor.
- Cluster F-Bomb: The trailer for the fake film Fuck You — The Movie, which parodies Martin Scorsese's notoriously swearing-filled crime films. Starring "Al Pas d'Chez Nous" (pun with Al Pacino) and "Robert de Negro" (pun on Robert De Niro), with the two trading nothing but "F-word you!" at each other throughout, with different meanings between each French subtitle. It ends with a Visual Pun, with one of the characters showing the photo of a seal ("phoque" in French) and asking the other what it is — "phoque" is pronounced very much like "fuck".
- Conscious Hip Hop:
- "C'est ton destin" ("It's your destiny") is a parody of the French hip hop culture of The '90s that blossomed in the banlieues (suburbs with heavy concentrations of populations stemming from non-European immigration especially around Paris, unemployment, drug trade and general hatred of police forces — all thematics are reprised in the song).
- Subverted with "Auteuil Neuilly Passy", a Spiritual Antithesis to the above with privileged bourgeois from the richest districts of Paris complaining about how "hard" life is in their "ghettos".
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: "Antenne 3 Marseille News Bulletin":New Anchorman: Accident? Stupid accident which yesterday evening caused the death of Baptiste Fitucchi, well-known director of the Marseille's Croix-Sourire clinic, and manager of the Macumba's Night night club. While he was quietly sleeping next to his chainsaw, it turned on on its own, and sliced the poor man, who jumped down the window to escape from it, then landed in a barrel of fresh concrete which has been discovered immersed off the Old Port this morning. However, police doesn't rule the suicide hypothesis out.note
- Crosscast Role: When their sketches included a female character, she was usually played by Bernard Campan with a wig, makeup and effeminate voice, although all three have done this at some point (even Légitimus, with his moustache). And whenever a character from their movies has to be Disguised in Drag, it's Campan again.
- Deconstructive Parody: "Whoopee Morning" parodies morning shows with the twist being that animators of shows broadcasted very early in the morning chronically lack from sleep. Not only everyone has Exhausted Eye Bags and a somewhat slow, exhausted sounding speech pattern, but their exhaustion has predictable consequences (Played for Laughs), like the cook chopping his own hand while showing a recipe or the gym coach falling asleep during the fitness segment.
- Deliberately Monochrome: "Thierry la France", being a parody of Thierry la Fronde, a show from the black-and-white era television.
- Exact Words: In a Soap Opera parody skit, at one point one character says to another: "Mets-toi à ma place." They immediately switch their place on the sofa they were sitting on.note
- Fake Nationality: In-Universe, Skippy the Great Guru from "The Sects" pretends to be a Tibetan man related to the Dalai-Lama. All his lines are spoken with a thick accent typical from South-Eastern France.
- Girls with Moustaches: There's a few skits when Pascal Légitimus is disguised as a woman. He still has his moustache (poorly hidden with makeup).
- Hypocritical Humor:
- "We Have Enough of Rap" is a rap song which explains that rap is a dead genre.
- The interview segment of "C'est toi que je t'aime" has the interviewer asking who is the leader of La Negra Bouche Beat band. Everyone answers at the same time there's no leader, then one of them (Bernard Campan) authoritatively orders everyone to shut up, and...There's no leader! I created the song and I play them, there's no leader.note
- Intimidating Revenue Service: One of their most famous parody songs and music videos, "Rap-tout", is about tax vampires who suck money out of people instead of blood, as a Take That! to successive French governments that never stop creating new taxes. Legend has it the song earned them a tax control in Real Life.
- Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: The former thief who became a cultist in the sect of Skippy.Cultist: I stole, I did bad things... I was a genuine thug. But thanks to Skippy, I found a total freedom of cosmic thought towards a new reminiscent age!
Interviewer: And you don't steal anymore?
Cultist: I still do, of course. But I give everything to Skippy.
- Kung-Fu Jesus: The sketch "Jesus II: The Return", in which Jesus is portrayed as a Rambo-like badass.
- Laugh Track: They were notable for averting the use of laugh tracks at a time when most comedic TV programs used them aplenty. One of the exceptions is their sitcom parody "The Hamburger Family", in which a laugh track is required.
- Loony Fan: Véronique in "Télémagouille", who's obsessed with princess Stéphanie of Monaco.
- Manchild: Tommy in "Hard rock singer" who acts like a kid and plays with toys during an interview.
- Mockumentary: They made a number of documentary parodies.
- No Sympathy: In "Savoie Régional", the in-universe audience constantly interrupts the news by loudly celebrating the next Winter Olympics will be held in the medium Savoyard town of Albertville. At the end of the skit, the last news is about a plane which crashed next to Albertville's bobsleigh track; the track hasn't been damaged. The speaker's only comment: "We don't know yet if there's victims. If there was, too bad for them, because they won't able to attend THE ALBERTVILLE OLYMPICS!"
- Parody: A number of 1980s/early 1990s movies, popular TV shows and music genres got parodied by them, from Choudenshi Bioman all the way to Martin Scorsese's swearing-filled crime films.
- Parody Assistance: In 1992, they made a parody sketch of the long-running gameshow Fort Boyard titled Fort Boyaux ("Fort Bowels"). Which was filmed... entirely at Fort Boyard, with the help of the usual team responsible for the show, including then-current show host Sophie Davant As Herself. Recreating such an iconic set elsewhere would have been very hard (and costly).
- Punny Name: Skippy the great guru. In French, it's "Skippy le grand gourou", a pun based on Skippy the Kangaroo, who worships Richnu.
- The Runt at the End: The Athletism skit shows a series of tall black athletes lining up for a footrace... and at the end is a skinny white guy about a head shorter (the camera does a "Down Here!" Shot to find him).
- The Savage South: The French version. Several characters have a very thick Marseilles accent, who are either criminals, sexists or racists or all of this combined.
- Scam Religion: Skippy's cult from the skit "The Sects" is a very blatant one."[chanting] Each good you detain is a worry which represses you. [normal tone] And Skippy helps us to get rid of all our worries."
- Did we mention the group's name literally means "The Unknowns"?
- One of their skits features the comedians in their own roles going through various newspapers to look for a review of their previous show, and being unable to find one.
- In "Thierry la France", each of the English soldiers' lines are extracts from various Beatles' songs.
- In the chorus of "Rap-tout", the tax vampires refer themselves as "les frères qui rappent tout", which is both a pun (either "the brothers who rap about everything" or "the brothers who steal everything") and a reference to the Beagle Boys (in French "les frères Rapetou").
- "Poetry" is about a fictional hard rock band, and include scenes where the band perform one of its hits. The chorus is an extract of Charles Baudelaire's "L'Invitation au voyage".
- In "C'est toi que je t'aime", the members of La Negra Bouche Beat introduce themselves as "Riri", "Fifi", and "Loulou" (the French names of Huey, Dewey, and Louie Duck).
- Something We Forgot: In "Thierry la France", after knocking out the two English guards, Thierry goes to his love interest Isabelle... then doesn't untie her from the tree she's tied to, starts gloating about this day's victory with his Merry Men and... leaves the scene with them, with Isabelle still tied to the tree.
- Song Parody: They made a number of them, including:
- "C'est toi que je t'aime" ("It's you that I love you", literally) by the fictional band La Negra Bouche Beat, a parody of the Alternative Rock band La Mano Negra.
- "Auteuil Neuilly Passy", a rap parody satirizing the French bourgeois upper class.
- "C'est ton destin" ("It's your destiny"), another rap parody, about life in the banlieues this time.
- Supernatural Repellent: At one point in the "Rap-tout" skit, the vampire taxmen are repelled by a man wielding a Monaco passport. The fact that said passport sports a cross isn't the important thing; rather it's the fact that Monaco is a well-known tax haven.
- Take That!:
- The TV show Club Dorothée, which massively introduced France to anime among other things, got its fair share of ridiculing by Les Inconnus, especially their singer Bernard Minet (who sang cheesy French openings for some animes), for it was considered as purely commercial and stupid.
- The above-mentioned "Rap-Tout", which was a satire about the French government never stopping to enforce more taxes.
- Tautological Templar: The sketch with the drunk hunters."A bad hunter, when he sees something moving, he shoots. A good hunter, when he sees something moving, he shoots... but... he's a good hunter."
- Vampires Are Sex Gods: Invoked in "Les Branleurs", three beaufs are discussing their sex life, then decide to talk about something else. Cue an awkward silence, followed by this:"I rented the Bram Stoker's Dracula videotape yesterday evening, it was very good. Especially the scene where the vampire bangs the chick! Wow, just for this, I would like to become a vampire!"
- Weird Crossover:
- Ever thought about a crossover between a Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts/action movie and Dangerous Liaisons? Well, Les Inconnus made one.
- Also, a "faithful adaptation" of Les Misérables... Mad Max-style. Featuring "Jean-Claude Van Damme", like the above.
- The skit "Les Escarres".note One of the speeches given during the ceremony is spoken by a Japanese moviemaker (actually Didier Bourdon on Yellowface), saying that his company has future movie projects with titles like Return of Jean Valjean and Bioman, and Cyrano de Bergerac Versus Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- What's Up, King Dude?: "The Revolution" is about the rehearsal of a schoolplay made to commemorate the 200th aniversary of the Storming of the Bastille; Bourdon and Legitimus play two schoolboys, respectively cast as Louis XVI and as an Allegorical Character standing for the people (Campan plays their teacher). The first encounter between the king and the crowd is this:Louis XVI: Hello people, how are you doing?
The People: [high-five] Fine, and you?
- Word Salad Lyrics: Taken to absurd level with "Vice et versa". The chorus can be roughly translated as "The absolute shouldn't be annihilated by the illusory precariousness of our impeached loves".
- Yellowface: As with blackface, some sketches have the trio putting yellow make-up as in "Biouman" or "Les Envahisseurs".