Some time ago, I was reading some comments online, and someone made a reference to Frere Renel. I had to see for myself who this Frere Renel was, and what he was all about. And boy, did I find out. Frere Renel, it turns out, is one the ruling Haitian comedians on Facebook.
The comedian tells Kreyolicious that he was born and raised in Croix-des-Bouquets and is currently based in Atlanta. From that little corner in the Deep South, he concocts mental scripts about Haitian societal norms—as lived—in America. His sketches are a model of brevity, but they never fail to make a comedic statement. He appeals to different age groups and different tastes, and he knows how to tailor his videos to appeal to a multi-generational demographic.
In a video entitled “Diferans De Ansent E Gròs” (The Difference Between Pregnant And Preggers), he explains how the words “ansent” and “gròs” are used in Haitian culture to differentiate between pregnancies of married women and single women. It’s an interesting Creole lesson, but it’s also a piece of social commentary. Other videos tackle issues like immigration, bad behavior of the faithful at church, and even long-distance calling behaviors of those in the Haitian Community in the United States.
The stereotype about internet comedians is that they just post a few jokes online, and through sheer luck, they get undeserved props and views. Frere Renel’s videos have such depth that their success cannot be attributed to mere luck. Another stereotype about internet comedians is that they’re bums with little accomplishments to their name. Frere Renel has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and is a Certified Emergency Medical Technician. The entrepreneur is also the founder of A Little Piece of Heaven Foundation, a non-profit organization.
Kreyolicious: Were you told, “Man, you’re funny” a lot when you were little?
In my class, I was the craziest. I was always making fun of the teachers and some students. I knew girls liked a funny man, so I was always trying to say or do things to have more girls. And I remember some of my classmates saying, “Wow dude, you are so funny”. And to be honest with you, comedy was like a safe heaven for me. Reason why? My stepmother hated me. She treated me unfairly all the time. So, laughter was how I healed my verbal and physical abuses. Making people laugh was a way for me to be popular—since at home—I was kinda a nobody when my father was away.
Kreyolicious: Social media, it seems, plays a huge role in getting word about there about your work.
Yes. I believe I was the second Haitian comedian on Facebook, and my materials are raw. I believe people like that. I say things that many times people would like to say, but do not have to courage to say. [Laughter] The new generation embrace me since many of them have Facebook accounts, Twitter, and Instagram. The young Haitians in the Diaspora show me a lot of love and if it wasn’t for social media, I don’t think you and I would be communicating right now. [Laughter] So after God, I am grateful for social media.
Kreyolicious: For sure…Out of the sketches you’ve done, which one do you personally find the most amusing?
OMG, some Haitians take things so personally and so seriously. They sometimes forget that I am a comedian. I made a video on how to make love to your woman [Laughter] and some of the guys went crazy on how they didn’t like it. [Laughter] I even received emails from a lot of people about it…so that was very amusing to me.
Kreyolicious: Speaking of which, what usually inspires your sketches?
To be honest, I don’t even know. Everything just comes to me naturally. Many a times, I wasn’t even thinking about a sketch and the idea just comes up. I take my iPad, and next thing you know, I have a five-minute video, 100+ likes, 100+ comments and shares. I can’t remember [my ever saying purposefully] “Let me make a video today about this subject.” Sometimes, I’m driving and an idea just comes up. I just park my car and make a video. [Laughter]
Kreyolicious: Which comedians do you look up to?
Kreyolicious: How does your family feel about your being a comedian?
My brothers and sisters like it, but I think sometimes they are mad when they are reading the bad comments people are saying about me. I have to remind them sometimes that it’s not a big deal. When you are popular, of course some people might not like [how] you [go about your] craft.
Kreyolicious: When did you first realize that you were getting popular?
I was at an airport Dallas, Texas and I met two guys who recognized me and wanted to take pictures with me. Deep inside, I felt like a billion dollars.
Kreyolicious: That’s so cool…What are some of the awesome things that have resulted as a result of you being a comedian?
When I received emails about something I said and people took it to heart on a positive level—for example going back to school, starting a business, treating their spouses differently. I even have a guy who’s nineteen-years-old and he said, “I used to be so disrespectful towards my mother, but I listened to your video even though it was funny but I feel like you was speaking to me personally.”
Kreyolicious: Besides lots of awesome video sketches, what are we to expect from Frere Renel?
I already mentioned that I am the founder of a non-profit organization A little Piece of Heaven Foundation since 2008. I love feeding the homeless. I am a youth soccer coach, helping kids with behavior issues through my soccer program. I can see Frere Renel as a public speaker. I love talking to people. I love to empower others—since we don’t really have a Creole-speaking public speaker.
[Photo Credit: Main Photo—TrIp Team. Stage Pic: Jerry Joseph Photography; others provided by subject.]