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English emerging as Sweden's language of laughs

The Local · 17 Sep 2009, 14:51

Published: 17 Sep 2009 14:51 GMT+02:00

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Comedy has exploded recently in Sweden with clubs springing up all over the place and no end of people willing to try out a three minute rookie spot. There is an old guard of Swedish comedians, but most new comics draw their influence from the stream of English speaking comedy so easily available on the Internet, cinema and TV and also from the abundance of live English language comedy.

This Friday and Saturday, Al Pitcher, the award winning Kiwi stand up comedian is performing his ‘Al Pitcher Picture Show’ in Stockholm. Not so odd considering Al has performed his show to audiences all over of the world. What’s different about this gig, is that Stockholm has recently become Al Pitcher’s home turf.

Living in Sweden hasn’t affected his global touring schedule with gigs planned in Scotland, Slovakia and Australia in the coming months. In fact, he has just completed a whistle stop tour of India. But Al is convinced that this is the place to be with the comedy scene in Sweden bubbling away and ready to reach boiling point.

“I think we have a great future of comedy to come here in Sweden, and I’m delighted that I’m here in Stockholm, living in it.”

Stockholm, and to a lesser extent, Sweden’s other major cities, are now firmly on the touring schedules of a number of world class acts.

The Göta Lejon plays host to RAW comedy, which almost always has a headliner from the UK, Ireland, Canada or the US. There are also major tours taking place: At the moment, American superstar Pablo Francisco is on a 16 date tour covering the entire length of Sweden. And Eddie Izzard will perform to full arenas this December in Sweden’s three biggest cities.

Of course, all of these acts perform in English, and as any Anglophone who has ever opened their mouth in Sweden will confirm, this does not faze the Swedish audiences one bit. In fact, if anyone is thrown off their stride by the Swedish ability to pick up English idiom, slang and nuance it’s the comedians. Al Pitcher, for one, thinks it’s incredible:

“I think they are unique, I have been blown away by them, Swedes use English words my whole family have never heard of”.

But then again, he is an Antipodean.

The comic traffic is not only one way. There are an increasing number of Swedes who are performing in English and indeed making their mark on the comedy world outside Sweden. At the forefront of these are Henrik Elmér and Magnus Betnér.

Henrik Elmér, a regular on the Swedish scene for the last 10 years has been performing in English for several years and has performed at the Edinburgh Festival with his show ‘The Sweirdish World of Henrik Elmér’ and is next performing in the UK in October at venues in Manchester and London. He is also on the lookout for a UK distributor to his film ‘The Meaning Of Hugo’ due to be released here in Sweden later this year.

Magnus Betnér, a household name in Sweden who has headlined on the club scene in London, recently spent three months in New York playing the rookie slot at some of the dingiest clubs in the Big Apple. Although he doesn’t have any further plans to break America, he is planning to spend one week a month on the UK circuit during 2010.

Also of note is Ahmed Berhan, a tall gangly Stockholmer of East African origin, who is redefining the British view of what a stereotypical Swede looks like. Ahmed is making a name for himself in mainstream British venues as well as at black venues in London and Birmingham. Even in English his act is like a whirlwind stream of consciousness pouring out of him and bombarding the audience with his skewed observations on his skewed life.

Al Pitcher who has seen a number of Swedes perform in English is duly impressed by both performers and audiences; he describes it as the Swedish ability to change language channels.

The enviable ability of Scandinavians to speak such impeccable English means that performers don’t have to change the rhythm, tone or style of their acts to be understood. And with no subtlety lost in the language, the shows can become tailored to the local audience and are never just a tired version of a worn out show.

Story continues below…

The English speaking shows that come to Sweden are fresh and none more so than Al Pitcher’s who bases his show around digital pictures he takes of the city on the day of the performance. His freewheeling, improvised take on the mundane and everyday allows us to reconsider the things that we usually just ignore.

Al enjoys the fact that his public is made up of Swedes and non Swedes as the range of backgrounds add depth to his audience banter. And as Swedes take him to their hearts, they are beginning to realise how lucky we are to have a comedian of his calibre who is proud to call himself a Stockholmer, regardless of what language he performs in.

‘The Al Pitcher Picture Show’ is playing at The Playhouse Teater (Sibyllegatan 29) on 18th and 19th September at 20.00. Tickets are available from Ticnet.se.

Ben Kersley (www.speakup.se) is a writer and performer. He blogs for The Local about being Sweden’s only Swinglish stand up comedian.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

23:43 September 17, 2009 by jag2009
This once again shows the swedish lingo is going down.
00:38 September 18, 2009 by max79
Going down? Don't think so. Ages ago it was Latin, then French. And yet, the Swedish language is alive and well. Granted, we live in a more globalized world these days. Such things has a tendency to make people wanting to protect and preserve the language, so it could have the complete opposite effect.

And, this is something native English speaking folks cannot understand and never will, we can actually handle two, or even three, language at the same time without any problem.

And in all fairness, English is a mixture of the old Germanic languages to begin with, so it all kind of goes in a big circle.

Btw, I saw Lewis Black a few months ago in Stockholm and it was a great show!
03:58 September 18, 2009 by jag2009

Are you saying that the swedish lingo is not changing? Either way lets face it from a rough number of 9 million who speak it, I don't somehow think it will ever be the lingo, as chinese will be dominant eventually. Even your universities teach largely in english. I think your be misunderstood with the fact that many in england speak just as many lingos. Also think your find the only lingos which matter is English, Spanish and Chinese.

Yes english is a germanic lingo just like swedish, german etc etc......Lewis Black yahoooooo his superb!!!!!
14:37 September 18, 2009 by Nic_D
Presumably Ben Kersley is a native English-speaker? In which case...

" this does not phase the Swedish audiences one bit' is somewhat remiss of him... it should read 'this does not faze the Swedish audiences one bit'.
15:12 September 18, 2009 by max79
Sure it changes, so does all languages. I think modern English consists of 30-40% words taken from French, or even more. If we were to travel back in time and try to speak English, or Swedish for that matter, we wouldn't understand much.

I just don't see Swedish disappearing into thin air, which some seems to think. At least not in the near future.

Don't forget that Norwegian and Danish is very similair to Swedish, plus Finland where Swedish is also widely spoken. It would be cool if they all could merge into some kind of Scandinavian language. I love the fact that I can speak Swedish to my Norwegian friends and they in Norwegian, and we understand each other just fine.

Who cares, we'll all be dead soon anyway! :)

Oh yeah, Jeff Dunham was also here a few months back, another great show! :)
15:13 September 22, 2009 by Bigd
Surprised the journalists had not noticed this in the discuss panel and included it in this ere article on the rise of english comedy in clubs!

So, I'll do it on there behalf!

The premiere of Sweden's first all English Comedy Club (which I run) will be at Fagan's Irish Bar in Malmö on sunday, october 11th, 1930 showstart - free entrance. More info is at www.wisecrackers.se - we will be guesting company events and other locations throughout the year!

22:06 September 22, 2009 by louiszezeran
The good English comedy doesnt stop in Lund too, Stockholm is getting its own all English Standup Club coming in the next weeks also

Check out http://www.theliffey.se/laughs/

Laughs At The Liffey!
09:40 September 23, 2009 by judoflares
Ahhhhhhh a pint at the Liffey would sound nice if it wasn't 62kr a pop

anyone know a reasonable priced Irish Bar in town, they'd corner the market?
12:01 October 15, 2009 by SteveSmith
I'm glad to hear that English comedy is doing so well in Sweden. I believe the use of English in any walk of life allows for humour, so to use it specifically in comedy has great potential for laughs.

With a friend, I've recently had a book published about the funny things we all say that are unique to English. It's called 'Beat About The Bush: The Funny Side of Language'.

Have a look at: www.beat-about-the-bush.co.uk

Steve Smith
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