The theatre bosses said it would never work: a lone Frenchman on stage before a crowd of paying Parisians, trying to make them laugh for an hour at their own bad manners -- in English.
Now a former waiter has proved the doubters wrong.
Comedian Olivier Giraud plays to a packed 200-seat theatre in Paris, and the locals in the audience are laughing the loudest of all. Next stop: the United States and Canada.
"Even the small theatres thought I was really stupid," Giraud said, sweating after performing his one-man-show, How to Become Parisian in One Hour.
The 32-year-old's comic guide to Parisian rudeness while eating, commuting and sleeping around in the French capital -- performed in simple English easily comprehensible to non-native speakers -- draws locals and visitors alike.
Giraud's hour of risque capering and facial mugging runs through the Paris stereotypes: rude waiters and taxi-drivers, pretentious nightclubs, and the many and varied meanings of the words "Oh la la".
"Ladies, watch out when a Parisian man asks you home for a last drink. In Paris, last drink means first sex. So don't tell him, 'Oh thank you, I'm really thirsty'," he says, in a warning to foreign nightclubbers.
"I thought it was going to draw lots of foreigners, lots of tourists. Then I saw that Parisians were coming to laugh at their own everyday lives," said Giraud, a native of Bordeaux in the southwest and an adoptive Parisian.
"That's cool. I didn't expect it at all.... When you really live the Paris life you see the show and say 'That's what I do,' and you realise you're a real idiot."
Rejected by most venues, he approached the controversial Theatre de la Main d'Or, run by the comedian Dieudonne -- a pariah in France who has been branded an anti-Semite for his outspoken shows on Israel and the Holocaust.
"It caused me some problems at the start. People said to me, why are you performing there?" Giraud said. "I said it's either that or go back to my life working in restaurants, which I don't like at all."
Giraud dreamed up the show during five years living in the United States, where he managed a restaurant in Florida.
As a Frenchman abroad in his 20s, the aspiring entertainer found US manners so alien he was inspired to devise a show for French and non-French audiences, lampooning both sullen Parisians and wide-eyed foreign visitors -- particularly Americans.
One of the eight "lessons" of "How to Become Parisian" warns American girls not to scare Frenchmen in nightclubs by over-sexy dancing and portrays Parisian women -- by way of detailed mimes -- as cruel and unforgiving in the bedroom.
Fourteen months since his first performance last year, Giraud's gamble is paying off: he says 30,000 people have seen the Paris show, now prolonged to December after which he plans a tour of Canada, the United States and Europe.
Giraud braved the public's reservations about Dieudonne's reputation and says his material was soon judged harmless -- though he still has to pitch his impersonations carefully for his multinational audiences.
"I avoid making jokes about the Japanese" for fear of falling into racist stereotypes, he said, and has toned down impersonations of beggars from eastern Europe -- currently a red-hot topic for Nicolas Sarkozy's government.
"There are Americans who get shocked by a lot of the jokes," he added. "I'd like to make jokes about the English but I find it hard. They're just not very funny."
Playing to audiences which he estimates at 60 per cent French, 30 per cent expatriates and 10 per cent pure tourists, Giraud says his show is proof that "the French laugh at everything very easily."
"And to all those who didn't believe in me," Giraud signs off with a cheeky four-letter expletive, delivered with gusto in English, before taking his final bow.