English emerging as Sweden’s language of laughs

English emerging as Sweden's language of laughs
Al Pitcher
English-language comedy has established a firm foothold in Sweden, writes Ben Kersley, with even local comedians increasingly trying their hand at being funny in a tongue they speak with enviable fluency.

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.

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.

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