Scandinavian comedy

Coming over here, taking our comedians' jobs… we investigate the Scandi stand-up invasion

Call Sarah Lund: Nordic stand-ups are invading comedy rooms across the capital. Ben Williams dons his best jumper and investigates.

© Rob Greig

We’ve cracked their crime dramas and wrapped up in their knitwear, now it’s time to say ‘tak’ for Scandinavian stand-up.

London’s comedy circuit has long been a haven for North American and Antipodean acts. But recently there’s been an influx of comics from the northern lands. So why are Scandi stand-ups suddenly flocking to our slightly warmer climate?

© Rob Greig

Leading the pack is 29-year-old Norwegian Daniel Simonsen, who moved to London in 2007 and last year won the Foster’s Best Newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe. Why did he make the move? ‘There are very few clubs in Norway,’ he tells me. ‘It’s hard to get stage time; most people only do two or three gigs a month.’

While studying in Paris Simonsen worked at an English-speaking comedy club where he met UK-based comics. ‘We didn’t know about London until recently,’ he explains, ‘but now, “Live at the Apollo” is on all the time on Norwegian TV. I had no idea that you guys even did stand-up until I met Stewart Lee.’

© Jonathan Perry

Twenty-three-year-old Sofie Hagen, from Denmark, moved to London after two years on the Danish circuit. ‘The possibilities are very limited in Denmark,’ she says. ‘I went to London because it seemed more challenging. Besides, it’s more fun performing in English. English has four times as many words as Danish, so the possibility of creating the perfect joke is bigger.’

Indeed, these acts are performing stand-up – an artform reliant on wordplay and sentence structure – in a second language. When Eddie Izzard performed in French to Parisians a big hoo-ha was made about how impressive it was. But no such fuss is made of Scandis performing in perfect English. ‘It’s part of our culture,’ says Simonsen. ‘We listen to US music, we have UK TV shows and you learn English from when you’re a kid. It’s mandatory.’

© Jesper Hedlund

Bleak, Stockholm-born comic Magnus Betnér thinks it shouldn’t be praised either way: ‘Who cares if it’s my second language?’ he says, ‘I shouldn’t be judged on the fact that it’s more difficult to do it in English than in Swedish. It’s not a circus.’

Betnér is a household name in Sweden, but regularly performs in the UK. He’s relatively unknown here, and that’s exactly why he comes. ‘To be nervous again and try to push myself a bit further… I think it’s made me a better comedian in Swedish too, to be working so much in English.’

Of course, London isn’t the only global comedy city, and Simonsen, part-jokingly, has one final, simple explanation as to why Scandinavian acts are flocking to the UK: ‘It’s closer than New York!’

Daniel Simonsen: Champions’ is at the Soho Theatre, Jan 29-Feb 2 2013.

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