”Who’s on tonight?” asked a person considering buying tickets to a show I hosted last weekend. I get asked that from time to time and it always makes me laugh. Odds are, I’m not going to say one of the three or four names they’ve ever heard of before.

“Swedish standup sucks” is another comment I’ve heard said many times, by Swedes who don’t go to comedy clubs. I’ve always been fascinated by that; the reality is that the Swedish comedy community is enormous and diverse, yet the average Sven has no idea as the vast majority never appear on TV or have Netflix specials. There are a few superstars that have been around for decades, household names, but I’ve seen comics with less than ten years’ experience that can blow them out of the water.

With that in mind, I’ve consistently shook my head in wonder at how many comedy clubs operate in and around Stockholm. Back when I first started and told people there was at least one club open every night – and back in my heyday I was performing five or six times a week – they couldn’t believe it. The average Sven had heard of the one club that had become a Swedish institution, or maybe two, but not ten.

Bear in mind that this was pre-pandemic. Most of these clubs had no cover charge and while pure open mics were rare, it was common for a club to have eight, fifteen, thirty comics a night. Getting a spot was easy, sometimes at more than one club a night. Stockholm may be a capital city but considering the relatively small population size and the general awareness of standup, there was no reason to think there was enough interest to support that many clubs. And yet, it worked. Clubs came and went (a few of my own included) but there was always an active scene of one size or another.

Then came covid. While Sweden’s “lockdown” can’t compare with others, almost every club shut down for an extended period. One club gamed the rules and remained opened and no comic criticized them because, well, see the name of my blog. As the restrictions eased, some, but far from all, of the clubs bounced back.

While some clubs are still gone, probably for good, quite a few others have sprung up in their absence. As of this writing there are at least ten active clubs in Stockholm and nearly as many more in the suburbs. However, a major change is that almost all of them have a cover charge and more limited – even niche – lineups. There’s essentially only one where anyone can get a spot and, naturally, with a community this size the opportunities are fewer are farther between.

Gone are the days of racking up stage time, at least for most comics, including myself. I suppose I was lucky back in my early days to live close to Stockholm and to also have entered my first long period of unemployment – I could afford the time to be out five or six nights a week. Unfortunately, my alcohol consumption also increased and my addiction to snus made its debut… while I’m pleased to say I’m drinking less these days, I don’t foresee snus leaving my life anytime soon.

I’m curious to see how this will affect the development of the community at large. I’ve noticed that more comics are going on official tours than before the pandemic and that’s a good sign, plus more people are becoming aware of comics thanks to podcasts and social media, although there’s little improvement of standup on TV and mass media. Then again, TV and mass media are on the decline so maybe it’s normal to see those channels closed to us. It’s just too bad that rookies don’t have as many opportunities for growth.

It’s good to see the comedy scene coming back to life and my itch to open a club of my own is growing. I have an idea that would combine a few themes from previous clubs I’ve run into a new concept; at the very least, the club would be open to anyone looking for stage time. But with so many clubs operating already, it makes me less motivated to make the effort, like doing a podcast when everyone has a podcast. Plus, as much as comics have enjoyed rooms I’ve run before, I’ve never been great at attracting a crowd. Many was a night I pumped a fist in the air, happy that more than ten people sat in the audience. Running a club is hard work and I’ve found that just updating this blog every Monday is a chore.