Dom Joly: Always look on the bright side of Lund

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The Independent Online

When I was invited to a Swedish comedy festival to appear at a question-and-answer session on my "life's work", I assumed that it was a joke. I checked and double-checked but the invite seemed to be serious, and the town of Lund did indeed have a comedy festival.

I had no idea that I was big in Sweden. Indeed, I had no idea that any of my shows had been aired there. After a tricky discussion with my wife, who was not thrilled about the idea of me jetting away to the land of blondes and saunas, I packed my bags and set off.

I'd only been to Sweden once before: I'd gone into the Arctic Circle to try to stay at the Ice Hotel. After an arduous journey, I finally arrived to find that it had not actually been built yet. It melts every summer and they then rebuild it.

It was my fault. I should have done some research. I spent three days in a little wooden cabin with only three hours of daylight a day. It was a valuable insight into the world of the manic-depressive.

I did not, therefore, automatically link Sweden with comedy. I racked my brains to try to think of any Swedish comedians. The only one who came to mind was the Swedish C hef in The Muppet Show. I was fairly certain that he wasn't actually Swedish, and confident that the Swedes might not exactly have seen him as the best comedic depiction of their nation. From what I could remember he would waffle on in a sing-song sort of voice about trying to "put the chicken in the basket..." while trying to hurl a live hen through a basketball hoop. He was actually hilarious and one of my childhood heroes, but I thought it safer to steer clear of mentioning him.

I arrived in Lund, a pretty town in the south of Sweden, not far from Malmo. It is the largest university town in northern Europe, with 50,000 students crammed into the place. I was met by representatives of the festival and taken to my rooms at the Grand Hotel. I had arrived just in time for a crayfish party. The hotel dining room was jam-packed with Swedes wearing pointy hats and huge bibs, eating off plates piled high with crayfish while necking Aquavit and singing a series of drinking songs. It was in at the deep end. I donned a bib and waded in.

After healthy lashings of Aquavit and far too many crayfish, the party wound down, and my hosts informed me that we were now off to the official opening of the festival. Some of Sweden's top comedians would be giving us a little taster performance of Monty Python's Spamalot which they were currently rehearsing in Malmo. It was also hinted at that it would be greatly appreciated if I could say a few words.

I am terrible at public speaking and the thought filled me with dread. In desperation I Googled "Lund", trying to find some interesting facts to use. After two local politicians had spoken at length in Swedish, I was invited on stage to say a few words. I informed a confused audience that it had been my childhood ambition to attend the festival (despite this being its first year) and proceeded to announce that the word "lund" in Punjabi meant penis. I sat down to a deafening silence.

Thankfully, the Spamalot cast came on and started singing in Swedish. As the audience perked up and began to join in a hearty singalong version of "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life", there was a commotion behind me: someone was having a heart attack and rolling around on the floor. The cast and audience sang on as the poor unfortunate was carried out. You couldn't make this stuff up.