The Swedish version of the Christmas office party is the julbord- literally Christmas table. The whole office gathers for a smorgasbord of traditional food and alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.

It’s also traditional to hire a comic for entertainment. Someone at the office thinks it would be a good idea to hire one of the three comics they’ve heard of and is horrified when they hear how much it would cost for their services. Unless it’s a big company with deep pockets.

That’s where agents come in handy. An agent will have a roster of available, unknown comics with far lower price tags. Hell, most comics will perform for a beer, if even that. A gig is a gig!

Not to brag, but I’m signed up with four different agents. Sounds impressive until I tell you only one ever got me any gigs and it’s been years since I last heard from him. But hey, I don’t have to explain that on my cv.

It was through this agent that I was contacted by a CEO looking to book an English-speaking comic for his julbord. I was a perfect fit, since I speak American and was in his price range. He told me I would be a fun surprise for his employees.

“You’re the customer so it’s absolutely your call, but I can tell you from experience that everyone will have a lot more fun if you tell them in advance that I’m coming.”

“…. So it’ll be surprise…”


“My idea is that I introduce you as the new Key Account Manager for the UK. You go up, pretend it’s real for a bit, and then you do your thing and everyone figures out you’re a comic!”

His money, his call. I wasn’t then in a position nor am I now where I could turn it down. I take what I get.

I was given an address, a time to arrive and a phone number I could call to be discreetly let in. What I wasn’t told was the exact nature of the dinner or, more specifically, if alcohol would be involved. Swedish audiences love to laugh but only as a group- to be the only one in a club laughing a joke would be a nightmare. It’s worse when a company goes to a club as a group, because no one wants their co-workers to see what they think is funny. A little alcohol goes a long way, however; get them lubed up a little and they relax. Unfortunately, when employees get to drink together, especially when the booze is free, there’s no such thing as a little alcohol. When they’re smashed the last thing they want to hear is some stranger telling them dick jokes.

I faced three possible scenarios. One, that everyone would be completely sober and this would be awkward for everyone involved. Two, they’d be so blitzed I’d barely be able to tell them my name, let alone a joke. Or three, they’d be pleasantly buzzed and this would be a fun gig. I went to the venue hoping for the latter, but not counting on it.

I called the number when I arrived and was greeted by a young woman with a big smile on her face. “This will be so fun!” she said as she led me to a room I was to hide in until my time. “They’re having dessert now and then I’ll come get you. You’re actually the first surprise. After you, we have a salsa group that’s going to perform!”

“Nice!” I said. “So… is everyone drinking?”

“Ohhhhh yeahhhhh,” she said, drawing out the words as her smile was replaced by a frown. “They were already drunk before dinner. We had to start giving them water. They heckled the CEO off the stage.”

Okay. It’s going to be one of those gigs.

I waited in the room for far longer than I anticipated; I guess they needed a lot of water. Finally, the CEO half-stumbled into the room with a sloppy grin and said it was time. He led me down a hall into a large room with a lot more people than I’d expected, at least fifty. As planned, he introduced me with a false name and said I’d just been hired.

I took the stage and said, “Yeah, I’m also surprised to be here. I was walking down the street talking to a friend and suddenly your CEO stopped me and said, ‘Oh, you speak English? How would you like a job as a Key Account Manager for the UK?’ I was unemployed so I said sure, but if that’s all it takes to hire me, I guess he’s a shit CEO.” I probably still nursed a little resentment over the whole surprise thing.

I didn’t feel like keeping up the pretense so I dropped it immediately. I introduced myself for real, said I was from the US, and launched into my act. I was happy to see that they were in much better shape than I’d feared, it was a nice room and nearly felt like a proper club gig.

Nearly. Five minutes into my set and midsentence, I was interrupted by a shout from the crowd. “Where are you from?” I spotted her in the middle of the room, so drunk that her eyes were looking in two different directions, swaying back and forth. Swaying back and forth in her chair. How much does one need to drink before being unable to sit straight?

“I told you, I’m from the US.”

“Yeah but where are you FROM?”

“Oh,” I said. No one had ever asked me to be specific. “I’m from New Jersey, close to Philadelphia.” No response and her face remained impassive, so I went back to my material. I figured she was satisfied.

I figured wrong. Five minutes later, in the middle of another joke:

“Where are you from?”

“I told you twice that I’m from the US!”

“Yeah but WHERE are you FROM?!”

“My mother’s vagina! What do you want from me?”

The room erupted around her as she remained as expressionless as ever. A guy next to her put his hand on her shoulder and, mercifully, there were no further outbursts.

I’d been hired to do thirty minutes but, as is usually the case, I could tell after twenty minutes they’d had enough. I thanked them and headed back to my room, glad I’d done well and that everyone had enjoyed it.

When I entered the room I found the salsa band getting ready for their turn in the spotlight. The band being two men tuning their instruments and two women dressing up to dance while the men played. “Dressing up” is a strong statement as they were going for a Rio Carnival look.

Between the copious amounts of alcohol and the g-strings and pasties, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who remembers this gig.