Sweden’s funniest man Al Pitcher returns to Edinburgh for the first time in five years after conquering the Swedish comedy scene. He talks to Malcolm Jack about why doing the odd gig for IKEA is actually pretty fun.
n a warm Friday afternoon in June, Stureplan – the hub of Stockholm’s swish, conspicuously moneyed Östermalm district – feels a million miles from the hectic, carnivalesque and highly pressurised environment of the Edinburgh Fringe. Stylish shoppers glide past carrying bags from local designer emporiums. Outside a nearby nightclub, disgustingly handsome teenagers and early twentysomethings are already queuing patiently around the block waiting for entrance to a music festival after-party. It’s Al Pitcher’s choice of meeting point, simply because it’s near his gym, from which he arrives directly, his sports bag slung over one shoulder. But my wait at Stureplan helps to illustrate the considerable leap which this English-born, New Zealand-raised comedian has experienced since he left London twoand-half years ago and relocated to his wife’s native city, where he’s since become the darling of the burgeoning Swedish comedy scene. Here he sells out theatres countrywide, appears frequently on TV and radio, and has been voted Sweden’s funniest man. He’s becoming a household name, even if he doesn’t yet speak more than a few words of
the lingo (with most Swedes speaking nearperfect English, he doesn’t need to). Conversation immediately turns to FIKA, his touring show named after the Swedish daily ritual of coffee and cake (“they drink coffee like bastards here”). It sees him share an outsider’s irreverent observations on the quirks of Swedish daily life, from the little blue plastic bags you wear on your feet in hospitals to Stockholmers’ manners—or lack thereof—on the underground. He recently played a corporate gig for Spotify. As Pitcher explains, while ‘corporate’ is something of a dirty word in British comedy and the shows can be torturous, here it’s a perfectly credible and enjoyable part of a standup’s working life. And yes, many of the shows are for a certain flat pack home furnishings giant. “In Britain I had one company gig in eight years, and I had to wear a suit and not swear,” he says. “Here, I do them for IKEA, I do them for other companies and they’re brilliant – there’s a sense of bonding [between the employees and] the owner. It’s their company, they’re very loyal. When I did a show for IKEA, I asked a woman what she did and she said she’d worked for IKEA
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for 28 years. Normally you’d be like: ‘28 years! Fuck off!’ But here? Applause from the whole room. “I find the Swedes think ‘right, my company has hired this guy, he must be okay.’ In England, it’s like...” Pitcher folds his arms and looks stern, “’I’ve never heard of this muppet, who the fuck? You’re funnier than him John, have a go.’” A child of an immigrant family himself (in the 70s, his Yorkshireman father responded to an ad in the paper looking for “engineers and football players” in New Zealand) Pitcher uses a music analogy to sum up the transformation he’s made since migrating to Sweden. “It was like – I had a couple of hits in Britain, the band were doing alright, then the record company dropped us. Coming here, I’ve done a Bon Iver – I’ve gone to a cabin in the woods and reinvented myself and got a new sound, and it feels really good.” Pitcher rates the Swedish comedy scene highly and yet he peppers our conversation throughout with references to successful peers back in the UK – Russell Howard, Andrew Maxwell, Jason Byrne and others. Sure, in Sweden, “the money’s better, the status is better,” but this raises an obvious question: why come back to Edinburgh? “Edinburgh is like the World Cup of comedy – it’s brilliant,” Pitcher replies. “But I’ve never had fun, I’ve never had a good time there, I’ve put too much pressure on myself. This time I just want to make people laugh.” He describes how watching Michael McIntyre’s rise to blockbusting fame typified the frustrations of the mid-level standup in the saturated UK market. “McIntyre’s brilliant and that’s what happens,” he says. “In comedy, we all shoot off – we’re doing well. Then it bottlenecks. There’s only three or four that can be big stars. Underneath you’ve got the circuit where there’s loads of really brilliant stuff; people like Craig Campbell, Tom Stade, Jarred Christmas. “I didn’t get disillusioned, but…” He trails off, then starts back up again. “There was a point where maybe I did get disillusioned.” Looking ahead, Sweden is very much the focus for Pitcher. With two more Swedish tours already booked, he’s confident that he can make a much more secure living here than he ever could have hoped to in the UK. In these tough economic times, that’s nothing to be taken for granted. “I feel very, very lucky,” he states, earnestly. Nevertheless, Pitcher insists, “British audiences are still the toughest audiences, and I’ll keep on coming back.” f
Al Pitcher: Tiny Triumphs @ Gilded Balloon Teviot
8:15pm – 9:15pm, 1–26 Aug, £5 – £10.50
Published on Jul 15, 2012