English emerging as Sweden’s language of laughs

English-language comedy has established a firm foothold in Sweden, writes Ben Kersley, with even local comedians increasingly trying their hand at being funny in a tongue they speak with enviable fluency.

English emerging as Sweden's language of laughs
Al Pitcher

Comedy has exploded recently in Sweden with clubs springing up all over the place and no end of people willing to try out a three minute rookie spot. There is an old guard of Swedish comedians, but most new comics draw their influence from the stream of English speaking comedy so easily available on the Internet, cinema and TV and also from the abundance of live English language comedy.

This Friday and Saturday, Al Pitcher, the award winning Kiwi stand up comedian is performing his ‘Al Pitcher Picture Show’ in Stockholm. Not so odd considering Al has performed his show to audiences all over of the world. What’s different about this gig, is that Stockholm has recently become Al Pitcher’s home turf.

Living in Sweden hasn’t affected his global touring schedule with gigs planned in Scotland, Slovakia and Australia in the coming months. In fact, he has just completed a whistle stop tour of India. But Al is convinced that this is the place to be with the comedy scene in Sweden bubbling away and ready to reach boiling point.

“I think we have a great future of comedy to come here in Sweden, and I’m delighted that I’m here in Stockholm, living in it.”

Stockholm, and to a lesser extent, Sweden’s other major cities, are now firmly on the touring schedules of a number of world class acts.

The Göta Lejon plays host to RAW comedy, which almost always has a headliner from the UK, Ireland, Canada or the US. There are also major tours taking place: At the moment, American superstar Pablo Francisco is on a 16 date tour covering the entire length of Sweden. And Eddie Izzard will perform to full arenas this December in Sweden’s three biggest cities.

Of course, all of these acts perform in English, and as any Anglophone who has ever opened their mouth in Sweden will confirm, this does not faze the Swedish audiences one bit. In fact, if anyone is thrown off their stride by the Swedish ability to pick up English idiom, slang and nuance it’s the comedians. Al Pitcher, for one, thinks it’s incredible:

“I think they are unique, I have been blown away by them, Swedes use English words my whole family have never heard of”.

But then again, he is an Antipodean.

The comic traffic is not only one way. There are an increasing number of Swedes who are performing in English and indeed making their mark on the comedy world outside Sweden. At the forefront of these are Henrik Elmér and Magnus Betnér.

Henrik Elmér, a regular on the Swedish scene for the last 10 years has been performing in English for several years and has performed at the Edinburgh Festival with his show ‘The Sweirdish World of Henrik Elmér’ and is next performing in the UK in October at venues in Manchester and London. He is also on the lookout for a UK distributor to his film ‘The Meaning Of Hugo’ due to be released here in Sweden later this year.

Magnus Betnér, a household name in Sweden who has headlined on the club scene in London, recently spent three months in New York playing the rookie slot at some of the dingiest clubs in the Big Apple. Although he doesn’t have any further plans to break America, he is planning to spend one week a month on the UK circuit during 2010.

Also of note is Ahmed Berhan, a tall gangly Stockholmer of East African origin, who is redefining the British view of what a stereotypical Swede looks like. Ahmed is making a name for himself in mainstream British venues as well as at black venues in London and Birmingham. Even in English his act is like a whirlwind stream of consciousness pouring out of him and bombarding the audience with his skewed observations on his skewed life.

Al Pitcher who has seen a number of Swedes perform in English is duly impressed by both performers and audiences; he describes it as the Swedish ability to change language channels.

The enviable ability of Scandinavians to speak such impeccable English means that performers don’t have to change the rhythm, tone or style of their acts to be understood. And with no subtlety lost in the language, the shows can become tailored to the local audience and are never just a tired version of a worn out show.

The English speaking shows that come to Sweden are fresh and none more so than Al Pitcher’s who bases his show around digital pictures he takes of the city on the day of the performance. His freewheeling, improvised take on the mundane and everyday allows us to reconsider the things that we usually just ignore.

Al enjoys the fact that his public is made up of Swedes and non Swedes as the range of backgrounds add depth to his audience banter. And as Swedes take him to their hearts, they are beginning to realise how lucky we are to have a comedian of his calibre who is proud to call himself a Stockholmer, regardless of what language he performs in.

‘The Al Pitcher Picture Show’ is playing at The Playhouse Teater (Sibyllegatan 29) on 18th and 19th September at 20.00. Tickets are available from

Ben Kersley ( is a writer and performer. He blogs for The Local about being Sweden’s only Swinglish stand up comedian.

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Bill Bailey: ‘Why can’t I find a decent coffee in Spain?’

Bill Bailey, musician extraordinaire and stand-up comedy is bringing his live show Larks In Transit to Spain.

Bill Bailey: 'Why can't I find a decent coffee in Spain?'
Photos by Andy Hollingworth

Ahead of gigs planned in Madrid, Barcelona and Torremolinos, the comic made famous for his role in sitcom Black Books spoke exclusively to The Local about the Spanish leg of his European tour.

His Spanish dates come in the wake of a tour first around Britain and then other parts of Europe

“The show I’m bringing to Spain , Larks in Transit, is particularly well travelled, and has just been well received all round Norway, Iceland, Sweden , Denmark and Belgium so it’s perhaps my most international show yet,” explains Bailey. 

British comedy can draw big crowds in Spain, with Eddie Izzard performing sell out dates in Madrid recently, even learning Spanish for the occasion. Fellow Black Books star Dylan Moran also toured Spain last year.

“I’ve found that in the last few years there’s been huge amount of interest in English-speaking comedy around Europe and indeed around the world. I’ve performed my show in places I would never have imagined former Soviet bloc countries, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia as well as those further afield like Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. 

“I think YouTube has had a large part to play in this, as anyone can now see all kinds of comedy online,” adds Bailey. 

So can his Spanish audience expect to hear him tackling the local lingo?

“I like to learn some of each language for a few greetings, and I do a few checks to find out if a few cultural references will work, but other than that I tend not to change or adapt, I find that the show is well worked out, and balanced.”

He knows both Madrid and Barcelona having visited the cities on holiday but has also added a gig in Torremolinos. Why Torremolinos?

“Come on it’s sunny! It’s freezing in London, pouring with rain, we’re in the grip of Storm Beyonce or whatever, and I need some sun. Plus, it’s the holiday destination of my youth, and I’ve not been back in a long while,” he explains.

He is also hoping to find in a bit of mountain biking in breaks between shows… and eating. 

“I love the food, and the biking.. so I’m looking forward to tapas, and taking to the mountain bike trails.”

But he admits he is baffled as to why he can’t find a decent coffee in Spain.

“I was just in Baqueira Beret for half term skiing with my son, and couldn’t get decent coffee,” he revealed.  “So I’m bringing my own hand press!”

Anyone familiar with Bailey’s humour will know he is a master of all musical instruments and this latest show also includes musical interludes. So can we expect any Spanish influences to appear? 

“Perhaps some opera, some flamenco,” he hinted.

And, in his first tour to Europe since 31st January when the UK left the European Union, will he be mentioning the ‘B’ word?

“You can’t not mention it. It’s the elephant in the room. But I won’t dwell on it .. I might mention it in passing,” he says. Asked if there was anything ‘funny’ about Brexit? He replied with an emphatic: “Not really”.

I ask Bailey who is an avid birdwatcher – he is author Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to British Birds –  if he has a favourite bird, and he recalls one he recently saw in Spain.

“I watched a Gryphon vulture soaring in the Pyrenees recently at nearly 3000 metres up, and apparently they go much higher, cruising at altitude looking for leftovers, that’s my kind of life.”

So what plans does Bailey have for the future? Is there a Black Books sequel on the cards? And would he like to play Doctor Who?

“Yes, I think I’d be an excellent Doctor.. perhaps one who also has an interest in owls, and owl conservation, uses his powers to stop the destruction of habitat.

“As to a Black Books sequel, I wouldn’t have thought so.. maybe a musical , or branded swimwear maybe?”

And finally, does he have a favourite ‘knock knock’ joke? 

“It’s actually a backwards one that happened by accident,” he recounts. “My wife opened a cracker at Christmas, there was a knock knock joke in it, she read it out as “Who’s there? Then someone replied Knock Knock ….. .. mysterious, brilliant.”

Bill Bailey is performing in Madrid on March 2nd, Barcelona, March 3rd and Torremolinos on March 5th. For more information about tour dates and tickets click HERE

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like a Spaniard