As an American living in Sweden and performing standup, I’m
part of a small and diverse community of funny, smart, and creative ex-pat
comics. But we have a problem: we’re
stuck doing the same three types of jokes.
Being stuck like this defines us as a group.

The first type is commentary on the Swedish language,
specifically words that sound dirty in English:

“’Masterkock’ means something normal in Swedish but in
English it’s COMPLETELY different and naughty!!”

The second type is shallow, mundane observations of Swedish

“Boy, you people sure love coffee! What do you take, like 40 coffee breaks a
day? And it’s so STRONG!”

The third type isn’t even a joke; we just say Swedish words

“My kid’s favorite show on TV is Bolibompa! Bolibompa!

We’re stuck like this for one reason and one reason only:
Swedes love it. Swedish audiences eat
this shit up with a spoon. That’s why-
believe it or not- I do not judge any of my peers that performs this kind of
material. I might sigh and roll my eyes,
but I know these jokes are not meant for me, they’re meant for the room full of
Swedes that are pissing themselves with laughter. Also, I do not believe that my brilliant bit
about pills that make semen taste like chocolate makes me more the next
Bill Hicks than someone who has a slutstation routine.

This problem became very apparent to me when Big Ben Comedy
Club began having all-English nights. (Yes, I know… it is odd to have a club called
“Big Ben” making an effort to have all-English nights.) Swedish comics translate their acts into English,
meaning the crowd hears all types of comedy and topics from them. We ex-pat comics go up with exactly the same
sets we perform at any other Swedish club, with one topic: Sweden. Often, THE ONLY COMICS SPEAKING SWEDISH ON
Granted, the crowd is usually 98-100% Swedish, but still. If there’s one night we should try to cater
to tourists, that’s the one.

My personal ambition is to perform material in Sweden that I
can perform in any country. To perform,
in other words, material with the same scope and variety of my Swedish peers. But I am not a saint; it can be half, if not
most, of my act on any given night that would not work anywhere other than
Sweden. That isn’t so surprising though,
because I live in Sweden. This is my
life. I am an American living in Sweden
and I can’t not address that on stage, just like someone with crazy hair or
being a Serb or having one leg or whatever characteristic is obvious to the
crowd. In fact, I say specifically at
the start of my act that I’m from the US because I have heard people in the
audience wondering aloud where I’m from when I don’t say anything.

To my ex-pat peers, a request: please bring more to the
table. Your life is in Sweden but that
isn’t the only interesting thing about you.
There must be other things worth talking about, so why not talk about
them? As an English-speaking comic you
already have the crowd’s attention; we don’t even have to work as hard as our
Swedish peers for that. Or don’t. One of the reasons I love standup is that we
can do whatever we want up there, be whatever we want. If you want to giggle about “fart” for seven
minutes, have a ball! Personally I think
you’re worth more than that, but I’m not your Guidance Counselor.

To my Swedish peers- I know a lot of you roll your eyes at the
ex-pat style of jokes and I can’t say I blame you. You think it’s an easy way to get laughs and
you’re right. But we like making them
laugh, so give us a break. We may even
make a living off making them laugh.
It’s not going to change until Swedes say, “You know what? When a non-Swede says a Swedish word that
really doesn’t qualify as a joke.”

Until then, slutspurt!