The first time I performed in Swedish, back in 2013, I was
very proud of myself. Not only that I’d
performed in another language, but that it worked almost as well as when I’d
performed in English. Kept smiling all
night and at the bar after the show, a woman from the crowd spoke to me, except
in English.

”I thought you were funny, but next time, please perform in

”Gee, thanks.”

”No disrespect meant!
But you lost me when you tried to say ’sju’.”

”Sju” is the Swedish word for seven. It was also the first thing I’d said. ”Hi my name is Ryan Bussell, I’ve lived in
Sweden for seven years,” except in Swedish.
So I lost her then.

The comment annoyed me and I started telling that story on
stage. After one such time, a female
comic gave me unsolicited feedback – see? that happens sometimes – saying, ”The
problem with that bit is that you say ’sju’ perfectly!”


I’ve performed in Swedish several times since then, but it’s
rare. I want to be perfect, which will
never happen, and not being perfect keeps me from practicing, which keeps me
from improving. That’s my problem in
general when it comes to Swedish, not just on stage.

Also, I want them laughing for the right reason. A comic offered me a gig at a Youth Club in a
Stockholm suburb. Said comic apparently
likes to invite me to that town to bomb; previous gigs with him there were
abyssmal. Anyway, although I can usually
rely on the solid English skills Swedes have, I knew that I would be dealing
with a group of 12 – 16 year olds, so I decided to perform in Swedish. Took about 30 seconds before they were openly
– and loudly – mocking my accent.

Then there was the time I was booked through an agent to
perform at a birthday party outside Mälmo.
The birthday boy knew I performed in English, but still wanted me to do
30 minutes at his party in Swedish. Hey,
it’s his money, and despite having months to prepare I waited for the train
trip south to write and rehearse the whole thing.

Got to the party and found, despite my strong advice, that I
was a surprise to the guests. Sigh. It was already awkward as I began, but in
Swedish, ”Hi, I’m Ryan, I rarely perform in Swedish but it’s a special night,
so why not?” The birthday boy shouted,
”Well, do it English then!” Nope, I’d worked
too hard on that set to give up. (Yes,
waiting until the last minute is working hard in my world.). He was happy, his
guests were confused.

Writing that first Swedish set had two unexpected
benefits. First of all, it isn’t enough
to Google Translate my English material into Swedish. It needs to have the right flow and, more
importantly, I need to be careful which words I choose. I’m not skilled enough to say any and all
Swedish words. Writing so carefully and
deliberately in Swedish helped my English writing as well.

The second thing is that, to me, Swedish is a much more
emotional language than English. It has a
sing-song quality and I’ve often said to non-Swedes that, if they would observe
two Swedes in conversation, they might not understand what was being said but
they would know how the Swedes felt.
(It’s interesting, then, that when many Swedes speak English, all
emotion vanishes. It can be like talking
to a robot that has perfect chinbones.)

Because of that, I found emotion in my material that I
didn’t know was there. Saying the same
line, but in Swedish, I was much more expressive in my delivery than I’d been
when I’d performed in English, so I brought that energy into my English sets as

However, I’ve noticed that my tougher material gets a much
better response in English than in Swedish.
It’s like I get a pass saying dark, offensive things as a foreigner, but
when I say the same thing in Swedish, the reaction from the crowd is, ”nooo, we
don’t say such things here.” For that
reason, and the fact that I don’t recognize the sound of my own voice in
Swedish, performing in Swedish will remain a rare event.

I was contacted by a Big Name who asked me if I had any videos on YouTube where I perform in Swedish. “Yes!” I replied, excited for the opportunity he was about to hand me.
“Great! I’m planning to perform as an American speaking Swedish and I need to learn that accent.”