I visited Sweden at least once a year from 1995 – 2006, met
my (now ex-) in-laws many times. Nice
people, overall, but very upper class.
Frequently I was told, “Immigrants, they come to Sweden, they get free
apartments, free TV…” So when I became an
immigrant in 2006, I was psyched to get lots of free stuff! Didn’t get anything other than free Swedish
lessons. SFI: Svenska för Invandrare, or
Swedish for Immigrants.

A few months later I met one of my ex’s cousins at a garden
party and he asked me what I was up to. “Looking
for work, studying at SFI.”

“Oh, that’s good,” he said, “but.. oohh, don’t call yourself
invandrare, you are not invandrare.” I knew immediately what he meant. “You’re not an immigrant, you’re white and
speak English.” It was the last, best
piece of evidence I needed- when many Swedes say invandrare, they mean n—-r.

As much as I love living here, two things bother me more
than any other, and I often focus on them in standup (the story above has
appeared a dozen different ways). The
first is Sweden’s lack of self-esteem and patriotism- either they have no pride
in themselves, or too much (the “former” Nazi party the Swedish Democrats, for
example). The second is the massive gulf
between Swedes and invandrare, the lack of integration and us vs. them

For my last two gigs of 2015, I thought of a way to address
this on stage. A portion of it went as

have to talk about immigration, but we can’t because the conversation is often
so negative and ugly. But I have a
suggestion… From now on, it is illegal for white people to say invandrare. Instead, they have to say n—-r, in a really
ugly way. I know, that might not make
much sense. The problem is, white people
are too comfortable saying ugly things about immigrants and we have to take
that comfort away from them- imagine the law is in place, you’re at a bar, you
hear some drunk white guy going off, “This country is going to Hell and I’ll
tell you what the problem is, the problem is all those goddamn… uh….”

go on.”

I don’t mean it in a bad way, it’s just too easy for, uh, them to get in here.”


know, uh…. Okay, never mind.”

This was not an easy set for me to perform, it made me
extremely uncomfortable and I’m glad it did.
The reaction from the crowd was interesting- the 2nd night I
had a black guy to my left in the crowd staring daggers into my face- and it
wasn’t a laff riot, not that I expected it to be. There certainly were shocked giggles and
nervous laughter the moment I dropped the bomb.
What meant the most to me was getting it out on stage, because it’s one
of the most important bits (to me) I’ve ever written.

However, I won’t be doing it again, not in its current
state. That word has so much power, it
deserves a stronger bit written around it.
Taboos don’t mean much to me, I think everything should be said, there’s
no such thing as too soon, etc. But I
also know how hollow it would be for me to say it’s just a word and we should
take all its power away by removing the taboo it has. That’s all well and good, but the reality is
that it does have a lot of power, it is taboo.
And I don’t want to be the type of comic who throws it out there just to
shock the audience.

I’m also very influenced by Pryor. Pryor used the n-word throughout his career
until a trip to Africa inspired him to never say it again. One critic claims, “When Pryor stopped saying
‘n—-r’ he stopped being funny,” which is one of the most absurd things I’ve
ever heard. Listen to his studio albums
in order of release, you hear him developing away from characters and becoming
more and more personal and honest.

Paul Mooney was a writer for Pryor and one of his closest
friends and completely disagreed with him on this issue, kept using the word
himself for decades. Mooney gained fame
with a new generation through his appearances on Chappelle’s Show. Then Michael Richards had his infamous
meltdown on stage, screaming the n-word at hecklers, and Mooney saw the light,
announced that he realized just how much hate is in the word, and vowed to never use it again. “Instead I say, ‘What’s
up, my Michael Richards?’”