I found myself in Sweden, and all of a sudden I had a distinctive brand: the baffled American. It wasn't what I planned, but the situation chose it for me, since most of the reliable chunks I take for granted in my act had to be eliminated.
For starters, out went my Jewish material -- because there are not many Jewish people in Sweden. (They're not familiar with the Wailing Wall, Hanukah -- and certainly not matzo.)
Then, many other jokes had to be tossed because of references that just didn't translate. They don't have the SAT like we do, so no jokes about that. Acronyms don't work because the initials stand for something in English that doesn't match what they would say in Swedish. References to hot topics like gay marriage (the Swedish support it), capital punishment (they don't have it), and health care (they already have it) all don't get the reaction they would in the States.
And lastly-- going in the other direction, the things I thought I knew about their culture were all wrong. They actually do eat other things than meatballs, they aren't depressed all the time, and they don't buy all their furniture at IKEA. And, after a lot of wasted time looking for a smorgasbord (the word sounds Swedish, doesn't it?) -- I was told they only have those at Christmas.
(Important travel note: Swedes do NOT understand you if you try talking like the chef from "The Muppet Show"... even if you do it well.)
But even with the cultural difficulties, the comedy scene in Sweden is anything but depressing. Clubs there are all filled with audiences ready to laugh. In Stockholm, you can go to plenty of open mics -- and they've never even heard of bringer shows. Overall, it's like standup used to be in America 25 years ago, where the comics are just developing a point a view, there are plenty of performance opportunities, and audiences are flooding the comedy clubs, hungry to see live comedy.
There are also some comedy festivals where you can be seen. One in each of the towns of Malmö, Lund and Stockholm.
There also seems to be a very positive environment for female comics. One woman who attended my workshop, Babben Larrson, is a 50 plus comedian who's had her own TV show and performs in clubs, does corporates, and has a one person show. Another, Cecilia von Strokirch, is a 30 year old librarian turned comic who performs all over Sweden. She even landed corporate sponsorship from a diet company, since she does a lot of material about weight loss. (There's LOTS of opportunity in Sweden.)
And lastly -- if you like the money you can make from corporate gigs, but miss the uncensored freedom of working clubs, in Sweden, you can have both!
At Stockholm's main comedy club, Norra Brunn, I performed along with co-headlining Al Pitcher. He's originally from New Zealand, but he knocked around England for 5 years, and, after finding that market flooded, came over to Sweden to work corporate gigs and comedy clubs. What he was pleasantly surprised to find out is that you can say whatever you want in Sweden - even in a corporate gig! There's no censorship. None.
I did a radio show and we used every curse word in the book - on the air! ("Really, you can say f*#% at a corporate gig?" "Absolutely!")
That's something I could get used to! But -- now I'm off to Russia. I might need to remember to watch what I say there --- or I could get in a lot of f*#%ing trouble. (Time to chew some Orbit gum!)