English-language stand-up is getting a rise out of audiences here in Denmark, with a growing number of Danish comics also diverting away from their mother tongue. As more English-language comedy clubs and festivals spring up around Copenhagen, more foreign comedians are opting to perform in a country where the competition is less fierce than they are perhaps accustomed. Local comedy club owners say the standard among the funny imports is exceptional, and what’s more, they charge a lot less than their Danish counterparts.
The founder of Cohen Comedy Club and self-proclaimed funny guy, Jonathan Cohen Wolff, has made it his mission to convince people that English stand-up is better than the Danish variety. “I’m sure the future of comedy here is English speaking stand-up,” he said.
According to Wolff, who is Danish, the local scene is years behind stand-up in the UK and the US. He thinks the sheer density of comedians in countries like the US and England pushes up the quality as comics have to fight for their spot on stage. “They have to be the best and have to keep making new jokes all the time. When you look at what they are doing in the US, compared with what they are doing in Denmark, they are two different worlds.”
Comedians get plenty of monetary support here, so they are under less pressure to make their routines extraordinary, contends Wolff. “Some of the young guys have so much potential, but they just rest on their laurels. They get their money each month from the government anyway, so they don’t have to work really hard to do their stuff.”
The picture is a lot different abroad where comedians like Los Angeles-based Danielle Stewart, who came over for the 2011 Zulu Comedy Festival, might perform up to eight times a week and be lucky to get paid. Quality comedians like Stewart, not yet famous in their home countries, relish the opportunity to perform in Denmark and will often do it for less than the locals.
The key organiser of the Copenhagen Anglo Comedy Festival, and owner of Bispebjerg Comedy Corner, Jakob Havemann, says Danish acts are expensive to book and the price tag is usually no measure of standard. Amazingly for Havemann, it is often cheaper to bring over a foreign comedian with 20 years experience and cover their flights, accommodation and expenses, than book a middle-range Danish comedian. “For some of them, it’s all about the money, not about the art,” he said.
Comedian Joe Eagan, who runs English-language comedy club Wisecracker’s at The Dubliner in Copenhagen, thinks the intensity of the UK comedy scene, and the backstabbing that goes along with it, makes it appealing for comedians to try their luck in Europe instead. Bristol-born comedian Nigel Williams – one of the performers on the Copenhagen Anglo Comedy Festival line-up – has had success doing just that, moving away from the UK and establishing himself as a household name on the Belgian comedy circuit. “I guess he thought ‘why should I be one in a thousand in the UK when I can be the number two in Belgium?” observed Eagan.
But Wolff believes the trend of foreign comedians venturing into Denmark for English-language gigs will have a positive impact on the standard here. “If the Danish comedians want to survive, they will have to evolve and do better,” he said.
With the advent of shows like the Copenhagen Anglo Comedy Festival, Zulu Comedy Festival and the Cohen Comedy Club’s upcoming tour in September, Havemann adds there is even an increasing tendency for Danes doing their stand-up routines in English. Comedians like Mikkel Rask and Anders Stjerlholm, he believes, are even funnier in English than they are in Danish. Morten Sørensen and Claus Reiss – another two comedians eager to make it overseas – also appear regularly at festivals in Leicester and Edinburgh.