France’s humorous ‘February 29’ newspaper now available in newsstands

La Bougie du Sapeur is only published on leap years. Its last edition (2020) sold 120,000 copies

Jean d'Indy has been the editor-in-chief of the newspaper since 1996
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A quadrennial newspaper named La Bougie du Sapeur has printed 200,000 copies of its 12th edition and has gone on sale in newsagents and news stands across the country for a month.

Copies of the humorous newspaper will be sold for €4.90. It is made by a team of friends who want to make each other laugh.

Current editor-in-chief Jean d’Indy told The Connexion that the newspaper is a quotidien (a daily publication): “The definition of a quotidien is a newspaper with the day as the date, as opposed to a longer period of time like Sunday to Sunday.” The peculiarity of La Bougie du Sapeur is that its date is always February 29.

“Our newspaper is just like any other quotidien, with the same format and sections, such as politics, lifestyle, sports, international, etc.,” he continued. The only difference is that all the articles are humorous.

“If we can make each other laugh, then hopefully our readers will laugh as much or even more than us,” said Mr d’Indy.

History of the newspaper

It was first published on February 29, 1980, by a group of friends who wanted to make a funny newspaper. They filled eight pages with stories, articles and inside jokes that made them laugh and to “push the joke as far as it could go”, they sent it off to the printers.

To their surprise, the 30,000 copies they printed were all sold and newsagents requested more.

The friends decided not to reprint but that they would continue with the idea and print again in the next année bissextile (leap year).

The newspaper has been successful ever since, increasing to 20-24 pages and selling 120,000 copies in 2020 (or “last year” as Mr d’Indy refers to it throughout the interview, due to it being the last edition) despite the Covid lockdown put in place 10 days after it was distributed.

The name is inspired by the sapeur Camember, a military simpleton from a bande-dessinée written by Christophe from the end of the 19th century.

Camember was born on February 29 and can only celebrate his birthday once every four years. The name of the newspaper refers to this and can be translated as ‘Camember’s birthday’.

The sapeur Camember is not widely known nowadays but Mr d’Indy feels compelled to not change the title of the newspaper, as he believes it is now part of the “landscape of the press.”

Running La Bougie du Sapeur

As opposed to satirical newspaper Hara-Kiri, which described itself as ‘bête et méchant’ (stupid and mean), La Bougie du Sapeur is “probably a bit stupid but not mean. It does not mean that we are not critical but we do not snoop into private lives, publish scandals or seek to destroy careers,” explains Mr d’Indy.

He is not too sure who the readership is as he does not have any data and does not send out any surveys, although he does know that it is popular among collectors.

The cover of this year’s edition of La Bougie du Sapeur
The cover of this year’s edition Pic: La Bougie du Sapeur

To make the newspaper, Mr d’Indy and around ten of his friends collect stories they find amusing for a bit less than four years.

They then meet at a bistro, which is their equivalent of an office, and through a process which includes a lot of laughter, jokes and “more liquid than solid purchases” as he put it, they write the newspaper.

Then, around five illustrators draw to complement these stories while the editor-in-chief “censors” his friends by choosing the stories he finds the funniest.

Read more: French cartoonist Plantu retires after 49 years at Le Monde

For this edition, a few AI-generated images have been used: “We had no choice. For example, one story was about a cow flying over Paris and we did not manage to snap a photo of that happening,” he explained.

The serious side

There is one serious aspect of the newspaper, the only one according to Mr d’Indy. The money made from sales is divided between two things.

Firstly, enough is put aside to keep the newspaper running, by making sure it has enough to print the next edition.

Then, everything that is left over is donated to A Tire d’Aile, a charitable association which runs a shelter for autistic adults.

The newspaper and the association have formed a close partnership as it has been supporting the shelter for four editions - or 16 years.

Partnered with the Olympics

The Bougie du Sapeur is partnered with the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics, “which our readers may or may not choose to believe” says Mr d’Indy.

It will be handing out an award called the No Sport award, inspired by Winston Churchill who allegedly credited a lack of sport for his longevity.

It will be given to the first athlete eliminated from the Olympics and will be in the shape of a turtle, as turtles live a long time with very little physical activity.

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