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'It's time the world laughed with Sweden'

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Greg Poehler in a scene from Welcome to Sweden. Photo: David Einar/TV4
09:37 CET+01:00

US-native Greg Poehler tells The Local why he turned his Swedish life into a TV show, that comparisons to his comedian sister Amy are inevitable, and why Swedes should be known for their sense of humour.

Even if he doesn't like it, 39­-year­-old Greg Poehler is best known as the brother of US actress Amy Poehler. But all that may change early next year when his new show ­Welcome to Sweden ­hits TV screens around the world.
 
Poehler, a seven­-year veteran expat in Sweden, wrote the programme based on his own life in Stockholm, and it promises big-­name cameos from the likes of Amy Poehler herself, Will Ferrell (who has a Swedish wife and accompanying Swedish summer cottage), Gene Simmons, Patrick Duffy, and Swedish stars Malin Åkerman, Josephine Bornebusch and Lena Olin.
 
Poehler plays the lead role, produced, and is currently in the final editing process for a premiere on Sweden's commercial broadcaster TV4, with NBC to follow, not to mention a host of other countries. The show, he says, will mark many Americans' first encounter with Stockholm, besides perhaps the gloomy Millennium books by Stieg Larsson.
 
And it's about time the subject matter is a little lighter, he adds.
 
"I think the world is ready to laugh with Sweden," he tells The Local. "I'm hesitant to say I want the world to laugh at Sweden... Sweden is coming out pretty well in this."
 
"The show is like a postcard of Stockholm at its best. The weather is incredible, the sun is always shining...  perhaps Sweden comes out a little too well. Sweden has this darker reputation with all the Bergman films... perhaps it's deserved, I'm not sure. But my plan for season two is to have an all­-winter, all­-dark season to show the other side of it all."
 
The show will be based on Poehler's experiences when he first came to Sweden in the middle of the summer seven years ago, a choice of timing he muses may have been a ploy by his then­-girlfriend to get him to fall in love with Sweden. The ploy evidently worked, as Poehler now calls Sweden home and he has graduated from boyfriend to husband.
 
While Poehler's character plays an accountant called Bruce (he was a lawyer in real life before taking up show biz), the majority of the show aims to give a realistic look into Poehler's life in Sweden as a love refugee. With an international audience, he was forced to avoid stereotypes and in-­jokes, and instead focus on life in Sweden from a stranger-­in-­a-­strange-­land perspective.
 
"But we do go into a few things, like Swedes not talking to their neighbours, for example," he adds.
 
Poehler made the leap from lawyer to laughter around two years ago, when a friend almost literally pushed him on stage at a stand­-up comedy gig. His success on stage pushed him to follow something he "secretly always wanted to do" -­ entertainment -­ a road his big sister Amy had taken long ago.
 
The older Poehler has charmed world audiences in Parks and Recreation and Saturday Night Live, and is one of the big draw cards of Welcome to Sweden, in which she will play herself in five episodes. Her kid brother admits that she played a crucial role in getting the show going.
 
"I'm not naïve enough to think my sister's name and connections weren't helpful and didn't get me invited to the party, but I think whether I get to stay at the party is up to me," he says, adding that he doesn't mind if she stays in the limelight for now.
 
"I can't start getting upset that the headlines all say 'Amy Poehler's brother is doing a show'. If I was just some guy it wouldn't be a headline. The headline would be 'NBC buys rights to a Swedish show' and no­ one would really care. I get it, that's why they're interested, and if that makes more people watch it then that's great," he explains.
 
"But if they're tuning in to see me fail, I think they'll be disappointed."
 
While the aim is to draw smiles, the US comic admits that life for an immigrant in Sweden isn't all fun and games. He was sure to include home truths in the show. He admits that in real life, he can't think of a time he was invited to dinner party by a Swede who he didn't know through his wife, for example.
 
"We do have some surprisingly low and sad moments," he says. "Life as an immigrant in Sweden is a hard adjustment, finding a job, friends, assimilating into society...  I think those who have done this, those who live here as expats, they'll relate and be proud of the portrayal. A lot of the humour comes from recognizable situations for those who live here."
 
So does the American feel any kind of pressure specifically representing the expats in Sweden for a global audience?
 
"I didn't feel any pressure before you asked, and I resent the question quite frankly," he says with a lengthy laugh.
 
"I can say that if the readers of The Local don't like it then I really am in trouble."
 
Oliver Gee

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