17 years. I’ve lived in Sweden for 17 years. I know I just talked about that in last week’s post but damn, it’s still on my mind. I keep wondering if I somehow got the math wrong but nope, I definitely moved here 17 years ago.

An aspect of Swedish life that’s always fascinated me is their relation to alcohol, which has come up now and again throughout my writing. I could probably do a deep dive and research to really understand it, but I prefer not knowing all the answers and maintaining the mystery. For example, did they really drink so much that the government had to step in and set up a monopoly on liquor sales, with limited hours of operation on Saturday and none on Sundays?

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the government liquor stores. Walk into the typical package goods store in the US and you wouldn’t feel surprised when you get shot. By a gun, I mean, not shots. Stores here are nice, generally well-stocked, and the prices are so low compared to bars that you feel like you’re making money by shopping there (which maybe goes against the goal of reducing drinking).

The only downside, other than their limited hours, is that they don’t have refrigerators. That decision is clearly motivated by keeping costs low, but amusingly they say it’s part of their mission to discourage drinking. I don’t see many bums needing to wait for their white wine to be chilled and beer is typically imbibed at a warmer temperature than in the US. We like our beer ice-cold so we can forget that our biggest brands have zero flavor.

I’m writing about booze this week, not because I’m an alcoholic thank you very much, but because it has a huge impact on audiences here. The Sober Swede is reserved, doesn’t want to stand out, can be reluctant to laugh in front of other strangers for fear of revealing what they find funny. The Drunk Swede is often a sloppy mess. Neither state is good for comedy and we hope to perform for crowds somewhere in the middle.

Because they don’t want to stand out nor, God forbid, for a stranger to talk to them, Swedes fill a club starting from the back row and only sit in the front when absolutely no other option is available (or drunk; see below). I was recently at a show for Greeks living in Stockholm and they started in the front and worked back. I imagine Swedes would accuse Greeks of doing it backwards, but Greeks are used to that criticism.

For the same reason, heckling is extremely rare here. But once the booze begins to flow, some Swedes overcorrect and decide they want to be part of the show. I should like this, in theory; I do think Swedish comics can have it way too easy, so it should be good that they get a curveball thrown their way now and then. Unfortunately, a heckle from a drunk rarely leads to a good joke. Much more often, it just leads to the heckler being insulted and being too drunk to understand that the comic (and everyone else in the room) hates them.

Last weekend, I checked the tickets of a group when they arrived and knew right away that they would either be great or a problem, as they had obviously pre-gamed hard. Despite being amongst the first to arrive, they sat front row center, which added to the uh-oh feeling. One of the women in the group heckled the host only minutes into the show and ended up on stage with him (by his invitation, at least), but fortunately it was a fun and spontaneous happening that all enjoyed.

On the other hand, this encouraged the woman to heckle other comics. Bill Hicks once told a crowd, “You’re not part of my act. Your involvement is limited to laugh, applaud, and a blowjob from every woman after the show.” Doing crowd work always has the negative potential to encourage crowds to heckle and even that could be okay except it’s usually only the drunks who have the liquid confidence to do so. After getting shut down quite harshly by another comic, this particular drunk sat sullenly quiet for the rest of the show. Afterwards, however, she held court, remaining in her seat while the room was emptied of furniture, loudly insisting to anyone who would listen that she wouldn’t take shit from anyone and was glad she shouted her feelings to the comics.

She probably remembered nothing the day after, God bless her.