Making Dreams Come True for Comics and Speakers since 1984
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Gefilte Fish Out of Water - Doing Comedy Internationally

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!

Al Pitcher and Judy
"New Zealand" comic Al Pitcher
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!)


Unknown said...

ha-he, orbit jokes should go really well in Russia =) have loads of fun!
lol, & enjoy shewing sugar free orbit =)

P.L. Frederick said...

I love reading your emails, I get so much out of them, what with your wonderful writing and stories. Judy, do you ever do workshops in the East Coast, specifically the Boston area?

P.L. Frederick (Small & Big)

Phil Johnson said...

Sounds like it was a great experience. I'm guessing there wasn't really a language barrier problem?

Also, could some of the, say gay marriage material, have been re-framed as "look at what stupid Americans fight over"?

Hi there. My name is Tara Igoe. said...

i love your blogs and honesty about your experiences - and the encouragement about female comics- thank you so f*&cking much :)

Anonymous said...

So you did it Judy, got me wondering if I need to go to Sweden.. I will try my luck in America. I haven't been doing comedy long but I feel like I can be a great Comedian. So hopefully you will see me in Sweden one day. Love your ensights.
P-Paul Pimpin

Johnny "Hollywood" Rotnem said...

Hi Judy,

Welcome to the World of International European Comedy.

It was fun to hear about your experiences, because many comics come over here to perform and don't understand it that people sometimes only laugh when the say f*&cking stuff. Because, universally the Europeans know that word.

Most of the cultural or colloquial referenced stuff takes a dive except if the audience has members that have lived in the UK, Canada or USA.
That makes doing the comedy over here so much fun. You have to become inventive and sometimes even use body language to make a set work.

So, if you come to Europe to perform, send your host a video of the stuff your planning to do and they might be able to give you tips on how to re-adjust your material or find equivalent phrases to make it work.

I know you'll do well in Russia, especially after Sweden and Berlin.

Had a great time gigging with Avi Liberman while he was here and if you see him, ask to see his videos of his Berlin daytime tour.

Thanks for a great post on this subject Judy. You are the best.

Cheers, Smiles, Laughs and Success,

Archie said...

Hi Judy,
loved everything you say. You said, that you found yourself somehow pushed back 25 years in time.
Imagine, how it is for me, who is trying to build the road to openly gay stand up acts here in Spain, where everybody fears and hence doens't accept that they belong to a certain social minority.
Sometimes, I have my difficulties making a broad audience laugh; many straight people don't have any gay references (besides of the old fashioned sissy impersonations cage aux folles style) and from gay people I get feedback like "why do you have to say yo are gay in public?!". And we have full gay rights since 2005. It's both, frustrating and challenging. But I won't give up.
Love reading you

Ron Rigby said...

Damn Judy, I wish I would have known you were performing in Sweden. You could have done (maybe you did) some good Tiger Woods stuff. His wife that he cheated on 6000 times is a very well known Swede. How was the cheese and chocolate? And did you ask anyone what makes their watches so fucking special?? Be careful in Russia because you know they kidnap American women over there and force them to be sex slaves....Joan Rivers would ask the audience if anyone knew where she could go to put in an application for that type of work. Maybe make a little extra money while she's there. I'm having trouble imagining comedy clubs in Russia. I'm picturing you on stage completely engulfed in cigarette smoke from an audience full of scary looking men in leather jackets. Hopefully I'm way off base on that, but be careful anyway.

Henry Smith said...

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 Amisulpride, and audiences are flooding the comedy clubs, hungry to see live comedy.