About midway into the Team Amerika tour, my comics-in-arms
began mimicking my act. ”He’s so
gooooood!” they’d say to me, referring to a line in a bit I call Bad Wife. Since we were on tour, performing for people
who’d paid to see us, I had put together my best twenty-minute set and was
doing the same thing over and over again.

Hearing that from the other comics made me very
self-conscious when I said the line on stage later. Especially since I could often see them out
of the corner of my eye, offstage, lip-syncing the line and giggling to each


Offstage, and unfortunately onstage more often than I like,
I mumble. I’m from the East Coast of the
US, we’re known for a high rate of speech.
I’ve had to slow down when talking to people from the Midwest so they
could understand me. Obviously, living
in Sweden forces me to slow down even more, and I’ve been here for so long
that, for the most part, speaking slower is second-nature. But I can slip into old habits when I’m
nervous, or excited, or drunk; sometimes I’m all three at once.

As a performer I have to be clear onstage, even more so
performing in English in Sweden. The
overall level of English comprehension here is embarassingly high, which is the
only reason I’m able to get away with it so often. Still, not only should I not mumble, I have
to be careful which words I say. Even if
the average Swede speaks English much better than I’ll ever speak Swedish, that
doesn’t mean they’re going to get complex or unusual words, at least not
quickly enough for a joke to land.

When I write, I find the best wording and the best way to
deliver the bit, then I find the best way to put all those bits together into a
long set. I think of it like watching a
band in concert: the songs might be a bit different live, but essentially the
same as on the album. When I’m just
doing a few minutes at an open-mic level club, I’ll try new things, or bring
back jokes I haven’t done in years, but when I’m performing for a paying
audience, I want to give them the best set I can.

The upside is that I’ve been fortunate to increase the
number of paid gigs each year. Mostly
hosting, but also the occasional headline spot or gigs like the aforementioned
tour. The downside is that I’ve become very
tired of the sound of my own voice.


This became painfully obvious to me a few months ago, when I
performed at the Lund Comedy Festival for the third year in row. I’m proud of that, of course; not everyone
gets a chance to be part of the festival once, let alone three times. The first two years I was there as part of
Team Amerika, this year with Cash Comedy Club, sharing the stage with four
other comics. We agreed to have ten
minutes each, so I put together the best ten minute set I could.

I was well aware, long before I stepped onto that stage,
that my set included one thing – one thing – that I hadn’t said onstage both
the years prior. On stage, as I was
wrapping up my planned material, I checked the clock and saw I had done just
over eight minutes. I was satifsfied
that I’d done well, but I had to make a quick call: do I end my set now, or
should I end with Personal Question (one of my favorite bits), even if it means
being onstage for eleven or more minutes in total? It would’ve been fine for me to have a longer
set than the others, since we eventually ended the show with time to spare, but
I chose to end without doing the extra bit.
Partly out of respect for the others, but mostly because I didn’t see the
sense in ending my set exactly how I’d ended my set the first two years.

One thing I respect George Carlin and Louis CK for is how
they masturbated in front of other people – kidding – is how they developed a
new hour of material every year. As I
said, on the open mic level I’m constantly changing things up and trying new
material, yet my core, go-to bits haven’t changed and I haven’t added any new
ones in a long time. It’s
frustrating. I know it’s because I’m lazy
– I host often and I found a way to do it that I’m happy with, so each time
it’s almost a brainless routine for me.
Muscle memory. I’m not
challenging myself enough. I can live
with not having a new hour for Lund, but not having a new goddamn ten minutes?


”Much of your pain is self-chosen,” said Khalil Gibran, and,
boy, is he right about that here. I know
a lot of comics who haven’t changed a word of their acts in years and seem
pretty content. This will sound like a
passive aggressive swipe, but I mean it sincerely when I say I envy them. They want to do well, found a way to succeed,
and enjoy getting laughs. It’s enough
for them! It is, after all, supposed to
be our job to entertain the crowd, so if it’s not broke, why fix it?

Unfortunately, it’s not enough for me. Making the crowd laugh maybe isn’t enough of
a priority for me, I’m more concerned with making myself happy. To be fair, I’m not doing the crowd any
favors if I’m bored on stage – they’re smart enough to recognize it, and react
poorly, if my heart’s not in it.

With all this in mind, I headlined a show last night and
started with eight minutes I’d never said before on stage, hadn’t even rehearsed
(except in my own head). The crowd didn’t
pay for the show, but I got paid for it, so it feels irresponsible to me to
gamble like that, to invite a bigger potential for bombing. I performed for twenty-five minutes, so everything
else I said was tried and true, but at least I chose bits that I haven’t done a
million times before, and not recently either.

It was reasonably successful. I didn’t slaughter but I didn’t bomb, either. We all had fun. Maybe the crowd would’ve had more fun if I’d
done a safer set, but I would’ve been unhappy.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask the crowd to meet me halfway.