Dieudonné began his career in comedy as the partner of Élie Semoun, of Moroccan Jewish descent. The two pioneered a distinctive brand of edgy, anti-racist comedy. In those days, Dieudonné was an opponent of the Front National and ran as a left-wing candidate in the 1997 legislative elections. In that same year, Dieudonné and Semoun split, with Semoun accusing Dieudonné, who managed the financial aspects of their joint act, of cheating him on the proceeds. By 2006, Dieudonné appears to have changed camps. He attended the annual festival of the Front National and met with Jean-Marie Le Pen in a well-publicized encounter. It was at that point that his evolution began, although in the 2007 presidential election he supported José Bové in the first round and Ségolène Royal in the second. Dieudonné eventually introduced the Holocaust negationist Robert Faurisson at one of his shows, and according to one court document joined with Faurisson and Youssouf Fofana, the leader of the "gang of barbarians" convicted of the kidnap and murder of Ilan Halimi, to attack Alain Jakubowicz, the head of the LICRA (Ligue international contre le racisme et l'anti-sémitisme) for slander.
As I ponder this history, I'm also reviewing a book that devotes several chapters to a number of prominent figures in France in the early part of the 20th Century. The ideological confusion, the mobilization of racial hatred, the mixture of artistic talent and fitful ambition to make a loud and "shockingly radical" "anti-Establishment" political statement to some obscure end--for all of these things one can find precedents in any number of figures of the 1920s and 1930s, from Léon Daudet to Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, Robert Brasillach, and Ramon Fernandez, from Maurice Bardèche to Jacques Chardonne. Any attempt to explain these bizarre and complex trajectories and shifting allegiances is bound to be inadequate. Perhaps every era, when looked at closely enough, is deeply confused ideologically and replete with such strange characters. But perhaps some eras are more likely than others to produce these chimerical creatures. I'm not sure. I think I understand something about the strangeness of the 1920s and 1930s. I'm less sure about the teratogenic character of my own times. But the case of Dieudonné may be trying to tell us something.