British television has been suffused with the murk, murders and knitwear of Scandinavian dramas for some time now.
The streets and skies of Copenhagen, Malmo and Oslo almost feel like home thanks to Wallander, Borgen and Mammon. In all of these, though, comic relief has been somewhat thin on the ground. Now, for British fans of the Nordic sensibility, a new wave of comedians is offering a counterbalance to Scandi noir. Scandi light, if you will.
Denmark’s Sofie Hagen and Magnus Betner and Carl-Einar Häckner, both from Sweden, have been staples of the UK fringe for some time now. And while Norwegian comedy might previously have brought to mind lame jokes about nul points at Eurovision and Armstrong and Miller’s spoof rock band Strijka (Google their memorable hit ‘Ain’t that Just Norway’), it is Norway that is now leading the invasion.
Daniel Simonsen came to prominence when he won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer in 2012. He used to open his set by playing on the worst fears of audiences. “I had to leave Norway as there’s only one comedy club in the whole country. And the best comedian is really bad… That guy is me.” Surreal, compelling, with mesmerisingly odd vowels, he has since become a cult favourite, supported Simon Amstell on tour and starred in Vic and Bob’s House of Fools as Bob’s eccentric son Erik.
Then came “What does the fox say?”, a bonkers dance track about animal noises. It has 412million hits on YouTube – or 82 times the population of Norway – and was the top trending video on the site in 2013. Created by the Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis – brothers Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker – for their television show, it was “supposed to entertain a few Norwegians for three minutes—and that’s all”, said Bard. Instead, it made them into the next Psy.
The next act hoping to break through is The Norwegians of Comedy – aka Martin Beyer-Olsen and Lars Berrum. Already known at home for their spoof TV chatshow, Berrum and Beyer, this year they will play the Edinburgh Fringe for a third time. Tonight they play Aces and Eights in north London, with support from Kevin Eldon.
The pair met on the Oslo stand-up circuit a few years ago. Berrum was training to become a doctor when he got “hooked” on improv. Beyer-Olsen had been plucked from a sketch troupe to join Norway’s Saturday Night Live. “I was standing on the stage doing alternative, extraordinary things and nobody in the audience was laughing except Martin. So we started to work together”, says Berrum. “Eventually I figured out how to make Norwegians laugh.”
Now the challenge is to make Brits laugh. Their comedy style is “energetic and surreal, a combination of nonsense with pretty straightforward written jokes,” says Beyer-Olsen. Go on. “If you travel 1000 light years in one direction, you'll kill yourself. Sorry, I got that one wrong. If you travel 1000 light years listening to One Direction, you'll kill yourself.”
For both, learning to be bilingually funny has been a challenge. “The first time it started ok and then I found myself using more and more Norwegian words. I had to slow it right down”, says Berrum. “The things that work best are the things we write in English from the start”, adds Beyer-Olsen. “While in Norway everyone would understand we were being ironic about something, they might not get it in English. It’s about small differences in attitude.”
Both are heavily influenced by the British alternative scene and in 2011 set up the annual Crap Comedy festival to invite some of their favourites – Daniel Kitson, Robin Ince, Simon Munnery, Paul Foot - to Oslo. Now they hope that the Scandi-curious UK will embrace them in turn. “People come to our shows and think, ‘Oh, interesting. Norway is one of the most boring countries I know. Let’s see how their comedy is’”, says Beyer-Olsen.
Camilla Cleese makes her debut
It’s hard to stand out in a programme of 2,800 shows but one first-timer at the Edinburgh Fringe is likely to sell more tickets than most. Camilla Cleese, daughter of John Cleese and his second, ex, wife Barbara Trentham, will make her debut at the Gilded Balloon in August. Cleese, 30, tops an evening triple-header, American…ish, with US comedians Sarah Tiana and Cort McCown, under the billing “She of the tall father - making her own way in the world of stand-up”. Well, sort of. There won’t be any silly walks or mentions of the war at least. “The one thing we don’t see eye-to-eye on is stand-up comedy”, she said of her father this week. “Which isn’t really a surprise considering he’s a 74-year old man and I’m a 30-year old woman.” Of course, by the time he was 30 Cleese had already created Monty Python, so his advice might be worth heeding.
What I Watched…
Waiting for Godot
Sketch duo Totally Tom – aka Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton – are a youthful, dynamic (sort of) Vladimir and Estragon in this fresh take on Beckett’s classic. At the Arcola Theatre, London to 14 June.
Asking For It is a bold and brilliant takedown of rape jokes and sexism in comedy, performed with charm, wit and no trousers by Truscott. Not for the faint-hearted but utterly unique. At Soho Theatre, London to 31 May.
Jonny and the Baptists release the follow-up to their single ‘UKIP’ which so angered the party a few months ago. ‘Farage’, “rhymes with same-sex marriage”, seeks alternative definitions for the word of the moment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDU_bbtLEIQ