‘Do the Swedes know what Cheetos are?’

Funny, intelligent and highly controversial, US comedian and talkshow host Bill Maher has won himself fans and enemies alike on both sides of the pond. Here, he tells The Local's Emma Löfgren how he thinks his particular brand of telling-it-like-he-sees-it comedy will fly when he hits the Swedish stand-up stage next week.

'Do the Swedes know what Cheetos are?'
Bill Maher is bringing his stand-up tour to Stockholm. Photo: David Becker/WireImage

“I'm starting off my show in Europe a bit like the Dixie Chicks when they got in trouble a couple of years ago for saying critical things about the Bush regime,” he says, referring to the country-and-western band who were met with intense abuse on home soil for blasting the Iraq invasion in 2003.

The 59-year-old comedian himself pulls no punches. Famously fired from his late-night talk show 'Politically Incorrect' for stating the September 11th attacks of 2001 were not acts of cowardice, he has not stopped mincing his words as host of HBO political talk show 'Real Time with Bill Maher'.

“There's a rule – I don't know where it comes from or if anyone wrote it down – as an American you're not supposed to talk badly about your country. You can criticize it when you're in America, but when you go abroad you're supposed to talk about how great it is,” he says.

“Now, I'm not going to do that [in Sweden], because my whole act is to talk shit about America.”

Maher's tour kicks off in Amsterdam on Wednesday this week and will hit the Göta Lejon theatre in Stockholm on Tuesday, May 26th, followed by a stop in Oslo the next day.

“If you're an American comedian you can't speak other languages well enough to perform in them, so we look for countries that are completely fluent in English. But I'm already starting off feeling guilty because I thought it's rude to go to another country and not speak their languages,” says Maher.

He reveals he has been working on the material for the tour – his first ever in Europe – for “months and months and months” to make sure he brings out the laughs.

“I have a contact in each of the countries I'm visiting, and I've been emailing people in Amsterdam, Oslo and Stockholm asking questions like 'do they know what Cheetos are?' or 'do they know who Ariana Grande is?' In 95 percent of the cases they emailed back and said 'you're good to go',” he says.

“I'm always nervous that foreign audiences are not going to understand me, but they always confound my expectations and I'm so impressed. Again, it's only the American audience I have a problem with!”

On his talkshow, Maher regularly puts forward Sweden as a shiny beacon of liberal social democracy, and many of his views would be unlikely to cause a stir in the Nordic country: he's a supporter of same-sex marriage, and a strong proponent of animal rights and the fight against global warming.

However, some of the atheist comedian's recent remarks about religion, and Islam in particular, have sparked some tension even in his own left-leaning political circles. A clip in which Hollywood actor Ben Affleck accuses Maher of “gross” and “racist” comments after he describes Islam as “the only religion that acts like the mafia that will kill you if you say the wrong thing” went viral last year.

In the Scandinavian country, which prides itself on its tolerance and in many respects political correctness, many of his fans are likely to side with Affleck. So how will the Stockholm crowd react to his stand-up routine?

“I hope it's not a problem, but you never know. That's why I'm doing this tour, to find out. I never think I say anything that's offensive, but other people think I do. To me political correctness is just another way of saying bullshit. The fact that a religion oppresses a lot of people, is not going to make me stop being on the side of the oppressed,” he says.

Maher, who received a Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 2010, grew up in New Jersey in the early 1970s and made his first appearances on US legends Johnny Carson's and David Letterman's shows in 1982. And despite his provocative material, he says his first priority remains his childhood dream to make people laugh.

“I think I just wanted to be a comedian because my father was very funny and it was something that bonded us as a family when mom, dad, my brother and sister would sit in front of the TV and all laugh at the same thing. It was a communal feeling and I wanted to be the person to make everyone laugh,” he says.

“When you get into comedy you have to find what makes you unique in the world and find your voice. I discovered that I was interested in politics and then I just developed that.”

For members


WHAT’S ON: Events for English-speakers in Sweden in February

It's a good idea to go out and socialize during the dark Scandinavian winter. But where to go? Here's an overview of events taking place for English speakers in Sweden for February 2020.

WHAT'S ON: Events for English-speakers in Sweden in February
Looking for a fun activity to brighten up February? Priscilla du Preez / Unsplash


English Debate Club

Where: Cafe Dox, Stora Nygatan 31, Gamla Stan, 111 27

When: February 4th, 6pm – 8pm

Event by: The English Debate Club

The English Debate Club in Stockholm is a place where people can improve their English language and debating skills. Native English speakers who would like to brush up on their debating skills are also welcome. The event is free to attend.

Spanish tapas gastronomic workshop

Where: Ekhagsvägen 44, Östermalm

When: February 4th, 10am – 1:30pm

Event by: Anna Fernandez

Are you looking for some sunlight in the dark Swedish winter? Dive into the Mediterranean cuisine during this cooking workshop where you'll get started with Spanish tapas. Among other things, Spanish artichokes, tortilla and prawns are on the menu, and tickets are 950 kronor. 

Architecture, Food trends and Microgreens seminar 

Where:   Gärdesgatan 14, Stockholm 

When: February 6th, 5pm – 9pm

Event by: Istituto Italiano di Cultura Stoccolma

The Italian Trade Agency is organizing a seminar about sustainability, social engagement and the new shape of local production in the food industry. The event is part of the Stockholm Design Week, running from February 3rd to 9th. Anyone interested in developments in sustainable food production is welcome at the Italian Cultural Institute.

Workshop: What You Need to Thrive As a Freelancer and Entrepreneur

Where: Frey's Hotel Lilla Radmannen, Rådmansgatan 67

When: February 13th, 3.30pm – 5pm

Event by: Supreneur

For many people, the freedom of working as a freelancer is a dream. But what do you need to make your start as a freelancer or entrepreneur a success? This workshop promises to give you the necessary knowledge and tools to create a flying start with your projects. The events costs 120 kronor plus VAT per person.

How To Fall In Love, an improvised romantic comedy

Where: Pygméteatern, Vegagatan 17, 113 29 

When: February 14th and 15th

Event by: Half the Group

The show 'How to Fall in Love' is billed as “a romantic comedy that has never been seen before”. The performance is improvised and based on suggestions from the audience. Enjoy a Valentine's celebration with a difference at the Pygméteatern. Tickets are 200 kronor.

Old School Recreational Dodgeball

Where: Location available after registration

When: February 15th, 2pm – 4pm

Event by: Sport Friends Stockholm

Sport is a good way to meet new people in Sweden, and dodgeball may be familiar to you from school. It's a ball game where players from two different teams try to throw balls at each other while preventing them from being hit themselves. If you get hit, you're out. Attendance costs 50 kronor to cover the cost of venue hire.

Milo Edwards: Pindos

Where: Bacchi´s Pub och Restaurang, 5 Järntorgsgatan, 111 29 Södermalm

When: February 10th, 8pm – 10pm

Event by: Milo Edwards

Comedian Milo Edwards is taking his award-winning comedy show 'Pindos' to the Swedish capital. The show is about his experiences with living in Russia, where he “became a Russian TV star, got arrested in deepest Russia and discovered what happens when a country is run by a shirtless man on a horse”. Buy tickets via the Eventbrite site.


Joe Eagan presents: Malmö English Comedy Night

Where: Scandic Triangeln, Triangeln 2, 211 43

When: February 7th, 8pm – 10pm

Event by: English Comedy Malmö

This event marks the start of a new season of English Comedy Night at Scandic Triangeln. This show welcomes acts Stephen Carlin (Scotland) and Rahul Kohli (UK). Tickets cost 175 kronor for early bird tickets and 195 kronor for regular tickets.


Start your own business

Where: Ekska Huset, Sankt Petri Kyrkogata 4, Lund

When: February 6th, 1pm – 5pm

Event by: International Citizens Hub Lund

During this event Åsa Ohlsson from Coompanion Skåne and Helén Forssander from Lund Nyföretagarcentrum tell you all the ins and outs around starting your own business. What do you need to start your own company? And how to achieve success and build a network? You can join the event for free, but registration is compulsory.

Visit to Lund Cathedral

Where: Lund Cathedral, Kyrkogatan 4, Lund

When: February 21th, 10am – 11am

Event by: International Citizens Hub Lund

Did you know the cathedral in Lund is the most visited church in Sweden? The medieval building attracts over 700,000 visitors per year. The International Citizens Hub Lund is organizing a guided tour to this historic site. The event is free of charge, but you do have to register to attend.


Philosophy reading group: Essays in Love – Alain de Botton

Where: Svartbäcksgatan 19, 753 32 Uppsala

When: February 12th, 7pm – 8.30pm

Event by: Uppsala English Bookshop

The English Bookshop in Uppsala hosts several themed book clubs. This time the philosophy reading group is reading 'Essays in Love' by Alain de Botton. It costs 60 kronor for tea and cake, plus an extra 165 kronor if you want to buy the book. The event starts at 7pm, signing up for the event is possible by either dropping by the shop or contacting them via Facebook.


International Coffee Morning

Where: Cafe Birger – Bollbrogatan 1, 252 25 Helsingborg

When: February 11th, 9am – 10.30pm

Event by: Helsingborg International Connections

The International Coffee Morning in Helsingborg is a place to meet new friends and learn more about Helsingborg. The event is hosted every month at the library cafe near Stadsparken. Helsingborg International Connections organizes English-speaking events for the local international community more often and is available for anyone with questions about living, working and studying in Helsingborg.


Bear With Me comedy show

Where: Ågatan 39, 582 22 

When: February 13th, 8pm – 10pm

Event by: New York Legends

Three international comedians from Israel, Croatia and Russia join their forces at New York Legends in Linköping. The very well-reviewed show is about relationships, politics and the mysterious “Russian soul”. Tickets are 120 kronor online or 150 kronor (cash) at the door.


Thursday meetup and afterwork at a pub

Where: O'Learys – Skolgatan 64D

When: Thursday February 13th, 6pm – 8pm

Event by: Umeå Language & Culture Exchange

A meetup at a pub is always a good idea. The group 'Language & Culture Exchange' brings together native and non-native speakers of many different languages in the northern town of Umeå. Students, immigrants, expats or travellers are all welcome to join at the pub O'Learys at Skolgatan.


Yin Yoga in English

Where: Karl Johansgatan 84, 41455

When: Tuesday February 11th, 6.45pm – 7.30pm

Event by: Mindful Yoga

For those who need to become completely zen, you can go to Yin Yoga in Gothenburg. The lessons are taught in English. During the 75 min class, the focus will be on gaining flexibility and mobility and developing a habit of listening to your body.

Friday afterwork at Yaki Da

Where: Yaki-Da – Storgatan 47

When: Friday February 21th, 7pm – 1.30pm

Event by: Göteborg Expat Group

The Gothenburg Expats group organizes weekly events for internationals in the Swedish port city. The Friday afterwork is organized in the 'Yaki Da' pub. There is free pizza and drinks are half price 10pm.