was a group of French musicians, singers, comedians and film actors, who were very popular in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. The group was active first from 1965 to 1966 as "Les Problèmes"
, the backup band for French singer Antoine. They renamed themselves Les Charlots
and remained active from 1966 to 1997, then again briefly from 2008 to 2011 (as a duo). Les Charlots
means "the clowns" or "the idiots"
rather than being a direct reference to Charlie Chaplin, who was generally called Charlot in France.Their light-hearted comedy style was influenced by the style of popular Italian group Brutos and by the anarchist humor of the Marx Brothers.The five members were Gérard Rinaldi (vocals / saxophone / accordion), Jean Sarrus (bass / backing vocals), Gérard Filipelli, a.k.a. "Phil" (guitar / backing vocals), Luis Rego (rhythm guitar / piano / backing vocals) and Jean-Guy Fechner (drums / backing vocals).Filipelli was nicknamed "Phil" as there were two "Gérard" in the group.Each member was easily recognizable : Rinaldi was the straight good-looking one with the crooner voice, Sarrus was the small one with the moustache and funny mimics, Filipelli was the tall blonde one who often found himself accidentally bare-assed in their films, Rego was the sarcastic Portuguese one and Fechner was the tall one a big bushy beard.
Creation of Les Problèmes
Rinaldi and Sarrus were musicians in various short-lived groups ("Les Rebelles" and "Les Tarés", for Sarrus) and they first met in 1963. They became friends and decided to form a rock band. In 1964, they were joined by Luis Rego, then in 1965 by Gérard Filipelli and Donald Rieubon on drums.In 1965, they became the backing band for French sensation, singer Antoine under the name of "Les Problèmes" ("The Problems") or sometimes "Antoine et les Problèmes" ("Antoine and the Problems"). They recorded two of Antoine's greatest hits, "Les Elucubrations d'Antoine"
and "Je Dis ce que je pense, je vis comme je veux"
, two songs that they parodied years later as Les Charlots with, respectively "Contre-élucubrations Problématiques"
and "Je dis n'importe quoi, je fais tout ce qu'on me dit"
. Basically, the group was to Antoine what The Band was to Bob Dylan.In 1965, while he was vacationing in Portugal (his home country), Luis Rego was imprisoned for a few months under the Salazar regime, for desertion and rebellion. During Luis' incarceration, Rinaldi wrote "Ballade à Luis Rego, Prisonnier Politique" ("Ballad to Luis Rego, Political Prisoner"),
a popular song that the group often played on stage. Rego rejoined the group as soon as he was released.In 1966, drummer Rieubon got drafted and left the band. He was replaced by Jean-Guy Fechner, brother of the group's manager Christian Fechner.
Success as Les Charlots
The five boys left Antoine and renamed themselves "Les Charlots" in 1966. They became instantly extremely popular for their humoristic / parodic songs like "Ce Monde Existe", "Si tu ne veux pas payer d'impôts", "Merci Patron"
, "On n'est Pas là Pour se Faire Engueuler", "Ballade à Luis Rego, prisonnier politique"
, "Paulette la Reine des Paupiettes", "Berrystock", "Sois Erotique"
(a parody of Serge Gainsbourg's "Je t'aime Moi Non Plus"
), "Je Suis Trop Beau"
(a parody of Jacques Dutronc), "Berry Blues"
, "Albert le Contractuel",
, "Cet été c'était toi"
, "Ouvre la Fenêtre", "Pétronille Tu Sens la Menthe", "Elle Avait du Poil au Ventre"
, "Hey Max"
(a parody of Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe"
), "Elle a Gagné le Yoyo en Bois du Japon (avec la Ficelle du Même Métal)", "Le Trou de Mon Quai", "La Biguine au Biniou", "Le Chou Farci", "Histoire Merveilleuse"
, "Chagrin d'labour"
, "C'est trop, c'est trop", "Ah Viens!", "Derrière Chez Moi"
Most of the songs were written by Rinaldi, more occasionally by Sarrus or Rego. Rinaldi was the main singer and the four others sang backing vocals.After they left Antoine, they toured a lot from 1966 to 1970, first as the opening act of prestigious artists like Johnny Hallyday, Françoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan, Claude François and even The Rolling Stones.Jean Sarrus remembers that when Les Charlots toured as the opening act of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and co. were always so late that Les Charlots - as a provocation or as a joke - used to play Satisfaction
in the opening act. One day, Mick Jagger told them : "If you promise never to play (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction again, I promise you we'll never sing Paulette, the Queen of the Paupiettes"...
In the late '60s, they began to appear in comedy sketches on French television, most notably in an episode of satirical television cartoon Les Shadoks, with Jean Yanne.In 1968, Rolling Stone magazine named them the best French rock musicians.In 1969, they recorded a cover album with songs by French legend Boris Vian. They made their debut as actors in an episode of French sitcom Les Saintes Chéries, playing themselves. They became the first and only French rock / comedy group of the time. In the late '60s, early '70s, Les Charlots appeared in the first "Scopitones",
the ancestors of music videos.
With their increasing popularity as a genuine rock / comedy group, they received many offers to appear in films. Producer Michel Ardan hired them for their first film "because his children had seen them on television and found them very funny..."
They starred in their first film, La Grande Java with comedian Francis Blanche in 1970, playing five members of a rugby team whose manager stole the money. The film wasn't very good, mostly due to the fact that Les Charlots weren't actors and didn't get along with director Philippe Clair (often considered to be one of the worst French directors ever). But surprisingly, La Grande Java was a hit with teen audiences. On the set, Les Charlots met a first AD named Claude Zidi, who later directed them in their best films.The following films, Les Bidasses en Folie (1971), Les Fous du Stade (1972), Les Charlots Font l'Espagne (1972), Le Grand Bazar (1973), Les Bidasses s'en vont en Guerre (1974) were all superior and very funny comedies. All their films from 1971 to 1976 (8 films) became phenomenal hits in France and all around the world thanks to the fact that (according to Rinaldi) "you didn't need to speak french to understand the plots!"...
About their films, Les Charlots have often said that their only criteria were the glamorous locations, warm weather and good food. None of them originally intended to become actors and they didn't think their movie career would last. They just started out of curiosity, with no ambition to become actors whatsoever. Acting in films was just the icing on the cake. But they had this youthful energy that young people of the time connected to, so after their first film became a hit, they caught the acting bug. Years after their acting debuts with Les Charlots, Gérard Rinaldi and Luis Rego pursued successful solo acting careers outside of the group.They continued to appear on stage and record albums but movies became their main activity in the '70s.Les Charlots wrote and performed the songs and music for all of their films.Their films focused on the group's anti-authoritarian lifestyle and free-spirited youthfulness, their friendship, freedom, love of music and pretty girls, their laziness towards work, their numerous blunders and their hatred of authority figures like the army. The films depicted the members in absurd situations and visual gags.In Les Bidasses en Folie (1971) and sequel Les Bidasses s'en vont en Guerre (1974), they played young musicians drafted in the army, trying their best to be sent to the regiment jail rather than taking part in the manoeuvres. Their nemesis was a bald and severe sergeant named Sergeant Bellec (played by character actor Jacques Seiler) who had to endure his new recruits' blunders and was ultimately always ridiculed by the boys.In their biggest hit, Les Fous du Stade (1972) they played reluctant athletes in the Olympics.In Le Grand Bazar (1973), they were reluctant factory workers, helping their shopkeeper friend Emile (Michel Galabru) fight against a brand new modern supermarket.In the big budget parody From Hong Kong With Love (1975), they reluctantly replaced a recently deceased 007 when Queen Elizabeth II is abducted by villain Mickey Rooney... For the occasion, actors Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell, cameoed in their roles from the 007 franchise as M and Miss Moneypenny respectively.In Les Charlots Contre Dracula (1980), they became reluctant vampire hunters...Rinaldi usually played the straight good-looking guy and the others were his goofy, faithful friends. Supporting actors like Jacques Seiler, Pierre Gualdi, André Badin, Paul Préboist, Roger Carel, Gérard Croce and renowned accordionist Aimable appeared in many of their films. They were directed four times by Claude Zidi who started his directing career with the group.They usually keep their real-life first names (Gérard, Jean, Phil, Luis and Jean-Guy) in the movies, except in the big-budget musketeers parody Les Quatre Charlots-Mousquetaires (1974) and sequel Les Charlots en Folie : A Nous Quatre Cardinal! (1974) in which they played the famous musketeers' valets, who were revealed to be the true heroes of the classic Alexandre Dumas story instead of their famous masters.
Departures of Rego and Fechner
At the height of their success, Rego left the group in 1971, just before the release of their second film, Les Bidasses en Folie to focus on a (successful) solo career as an actor. The split was amicable and Rego later rejoined his friends for two movies : Le Retour des Bidasses en Folie (1983) and Le Retour des Charlots (1992). Years later, Rego said he regretted his decision because the following Charlots films were extremely successful. Another reason for leaving the group was that he felt the scripts for their films or for their sketches on television often worked better with a four men team than with five and that he sometimes felt a little lost in the middle of the others or underappreciated. He appeared in massive hit Les Bronzés in 1978.Jean-Guy Fechner left the group in June 1976, a few months after the release of the expensive James Bond parody From Hong Kong With Love. Following a dispute about unpaid royalties, Les Charlots decided not to renew their contract with producer / manager Christian Fechner (Jean-Guy's brother) and Jean-Guy was torn between staying in the group or loyalty to his brother. He ultimately left the group.Les Charlots were supposed to appear alongside comedy legend Louis De Funès in another film by Claude Zidi. The project was to be called "Merci Patron", after their hit song of the same name. Following their acrimonious split with Christian Fechner, the film was rewritten for emerging comedian Coluche (who had appeared with them in a small role in Le Grand Bazar), renamed L'Aile Ou la Cuisse and became a huge success, launching Coluche's film career.The four Charlots were also supposed to appear in more serious films : one called "Charlots Charlottes", written by Bertrand Blier specifically for them and another one with filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix, but Christian Fechner bought the scripts of these films to make sure that they would never get made without him.With no producer and their legal issues with Christian Fechner unresolved, the band went on hiatus until 1978 and the release of their first film as a trio, the mediocre Et Vive la Liberté!
Les Charlots as a trio
Rinaldi, Sarrus and Filipelli went on as a trio from 1976 to 1986 but their five subsequent films, with the lack of a decent producer, lesser budgets, mediocre scripts and directors, were less successful and lacked the lightness of their other films. Only the mediocre Et Vive la Liberté! (1978) and the camp classic Les Charlots Contre Dracula (1980) were minor hits. All of their other films as a trio misfired. In 1983, former member Rego joined his friends in a supporting part in Le Retour des Bidasses en Folie, a very bad film that tried to capitalize on their 1971 hit film Les Bidasses en Folie, but where Les Charlots played different characters.Years later, Filipelli acknowledged that "if you are a fan of Les Charlots, it's best that you don't watch our last films..."
In 1979, they appeared in their first theatre play, "La Cuisine des Anges"
, a very successful experience.In the late seventies and early eighties, the three remaining Charlots focused on new songs and albums, releasing "Fesse en Rut Majeur"
(1985), an album composed of dirty lyrics, and also some of their boggest hits : "Chagrin d'labour"
, "La Bouche Camembert"
and the very popular "L'Apérobic"
. They still made a lot of television appearances and despite the lesser success of their films, the trio was still very popular.
After the release of their 14th film, Charlots Connection (1984), the lesser success of the group saw Rinaldi leave his friends in 1986 to focus on his movie and TV acting career. Sarrus and Filipelli were the only two remaining members. Rinaldi achieved great success with TV sitcom Marc & Sophie from 1987 to 1991.
The Richard Bonnot era : the beginning of the end
For Les Charlots, 1986 was the beginning of the end. After a hiatus following Rinaldi's departure, he was replaced in 1987 by a friend of Sarrus, small-time singer / comedian Richard Bonnot, who had been the opening act of the group a few times in the early '80s. In the following years, the three of them recorded a few more songs (including "Pour pas qu'l'amour Capote",
written for an AIDS awareness campaign) but not enough material to produce a new album. They toured very sporadically in smaller venues with little or no success, playing their old hits. But without Rinaldi's immediately recognizable voice (replaced by Bonnot's), the group almost sounded like a cover band.In 1988, their old friend Antoine invited Sarrus, Filipelli and former member Luis Rego to play on his latest album, Antoine Retrouve Les Problèmes (Antoine and The Problems Back Together). It marked the first time that Les Charlots performed under the name Les Problèmes
since 1966. Rinaldi was also invited but he was filming his hit TV series and couldn't appear on the album.In 1992, the reformed trio (Sarrus, Filipelli and Richard Bonnot) appeared in the group's fifteenth and final film, the ill-fated and embarrassing Le Retour des Charlots, directed by Sarrus himself. Once again, the trio was joined by former member Luis Rego in a supporting part. It was their first film in eight years.Years later, Filipelli jokingly declared that "that last film with Richard Bonnot was a joke, it was just an opportunity for us to go on a paid vacation."
(The film was shot on location in Portugal.) On the poster, Bonnot's face was intentionally blurred to create a confusion with the more popular Rinaldi. With almost no press and a limited release, Le Retour des Charlots was a critical and box office failure. At that time, Sarrus and Rinaldi were not on speaking terms. Jean-Guy Fechner was asked to appear in the film but a scheduling conflict prevented the reunion. The film was sanked by Rinaldi's absence, lame gags and a mediocre script. Now much too old to play young dreamers, burdened with the presence of Richard Bonnot who couldn't act or sing to save his life, the group split shortly after that.Having appeared in the least successful of all their films and barely remembered for his contributions on the last songs, Bonnot is never really considered by fans of Les Charlots as a true member of the group. After the group officially split in 1997 (but with almost no noticeable activities between 1992 and 1997), he made a few appearances as a comedian on television but his career remains pretty obscure.Sarrus and Filipelli are the only two members who appeared in every single one of the group's 15 films.Rinaldi appeared in 14 of them, Jean-Guy Fechner in 9 and Rego in 4.
Reunions and reformation as a duo
The five original members reunited on television in Michel Drucker's show, Vivement Dimanche in 2009. They spoke at length about their career. It was the first time since Rego's departure in 1971 that the five original members got together in the same room.From 2008 to 2011, at the initiative of Jean Sarrus (who's always tried to keep the spirit of the group alive), Rinaldi and Sarrus reunited and toured as Les Charlots, singing medleys of the group's biggest hits for the nostalgia tour "Age Tendre et Têtes de Bois",
featuring other French artists from the '60s and '70s. On that tour and the album that followed, Rinaldi and Sarrus didn't play any instruments, they only sang. They released an album of covers from their hits from the '60s and '70s named (Les Charlots 2008).The death of Rinaldi in 2012 marked the end of the group.
After Les Charlots
- Gérard Rinaldi achieved great success with French sitcom Marc et Sophie, from 1987 to 1991. He continued to appear in films and television (more than 50 TV movies) and dubbed many cartoons for cinema and television, most notably the French version of The Simpsons. He was the French voice of Krusty the Clown, Chief Wiggum and Mr. Burns.
At the time of his death, Rinaldi was working on "Un P'tit Air de Crooner",
a solo album with covers of popular French songs. The album was released posthumously on July 23, 2012.Rinaldi, one of France's most popular comedian and singer, died of a cancer of the lymph nodes (Hodgkin's disease) on March 2, 2012. He was 69. A few days later, holding back his tears Jean Sarrus paid homage to his friend and had this to say about him : "Gérard was the soul of Les Charlots. He excelled in everything he did : he had this wonderful singing voice, but he saw himself mostly as a writer, that's what he liked to do above everything else : writing songs. I admired his great sense of humor and his ability to laugh about everything, all the time. As he was dying, he even made me laugh about his illness. I saw him on his hospital bed a few days before he died, and he just tried to make me laugh in spite of the morphine kicking in. I'm going to miss him a lot."
Luis Rego also reacted to his friend's passing, saying that he was very sad and had a lot of admiration for Gérard Rinaldi : "he was so gifted that he would have had a great career even without the rest of the us".
Ten days after Rinaldi's passing, the French theatre and music world was reunited at Le Théâtre de la Michodière
in Paris for a special homage. Ex-members of Les Charlots Jean Sarrus, Jean-Guy Fechner and Richard Bonnot (Rinaldi's replacement in the group from 1987 to 1997) were present to pay their respects. Actors Gérard Jugnot, Marie-Anne Chazel, Marie-Pierre Casey, Marthe Villalonga, Julie Arnold and singer Philippe Lavil also attended.
- Jean Sarrus briefly became a TV host (most notably as the host of a show about country music), wrote and directed Les Charlots' last film in 1992 (basically as a late replacement because they found no other director to do it) and published "100% Charlots", a biography of the group in 2007. He appeared in Josiane Balasko's Un Grand Cri d'Amour in 1998 and in a few television films. He reunited with Rinaldi from 2008 to 2011. In 2012, after Rinaldi's passing, he wrote and published a follow-up to "100% Charlots" called "Définitivement Charlots".
- Gérard Filipelli retired from public life after the end of the group in 1997 but is still a musician and a philanthropist. He's working with underprivileged kids, teaching them music and acting. He often jams with his friend Luis Rego on the weekends. In 2011, at 68, he created and headlined a new rock'n roll group called King Biz.
- Jean-Guy Fechner never acted or sang again but worked as a publicist for his late brother Christian Fechner, one of France's most prominent producer. He worked on the releases of many important films such as Les Bronzés 3 in 2006, supervising trailers, posters and marketing campaigns. He appeared (in cameos only) in films produced by his brother or by his son, Sébastien Fechner who is also a producer / screenwriter. He retired after his brother passed away in 2008. Jean-Guy owns an impressive drums collection.
- Luis Rego is a popular and respected character actor, appearing in huge hit Les Bronzés in 1978 and with comedian Pierre Desproges in Le Tribunal des Flagrants Délires on television. In 1987, he directed his first and only film, Poule et Frites. After his departure from the group in 1971, he rejoined Les Charlots for two more films in 1983 (Le Retour des Bidasses en Folie) and 1992 (Le Retour des Charlots), in supporting parts.