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'Danes will laugh because you've taken time to notice something about them'

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
'Danes will laugh because you've taken time to notice something about them'
The English comedian Conrad Molden has only performed one set ever in Danish. Photo: Neculai Deloiu

English comedian Conrad Molden hadn't performed standup for years when he arrived in Aarhus to study. He now sells out clubs across Denmark and performs on national TV. He tells The Local what makes Danes laugh.

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"No matter the audience, sex jokes are always going to do well," the 33-year-old says of Danes' penchant for smut and double entendres. "Danes do like their humour to be a bit dirty."

But the meat of his act revolves instead around Denmark, Danishness and the Danes, the appeal being the foreigner's view of the country he gives to his predominantly Danish audiences.  

"Obviously, they like jokes about their own language and little cultural things you see. Some of those don't even need to be that clever - it could just be that you've taken the time to notice something about them," he explains.

Not that it's always easy to tell how well gags are going down. 

"Danes generally are very humble, and they're very, very quiet. Even if something something's going badly, they will tell you with silence rather than heckling you," he explains. "Danes will also say, 'oh, it was a good show you know. People weren't laughing, but they were sitting and smiling'. And I think that's a nice way of saying 'it was shit'." 

This contrasts with other international audiences who he says "can get really rowdy".

"If there's a lot of Eastern Europeans and Spanish people, those guys will make you know it if they don't enjoy what you're doing." 

READ ALSO: Why don't foreigners get Danish humour?

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His Danish friends tend to put his success in the country down to the national inferiority complex. 

"They always say the same thing to me, which is that 'it's because we're a very small country, and we don't think a lot of ourselves and we're so surprised that someone would come along and observe us'."

He questions, though, whether Denmark really is quite as insignificant as its inhabitants tend to claim. 

"They keep banging on about being a small country, but they're actually pretty much an average-sized country. It's not San Marino. It's a six and a half million people." 

Bringing comedy to the Danes

Molden's first experience of standup, as a severely overconfident teenager at an open night in London, put him off for years, with his comedy ambitions on hold until he arrived in Aarhus in 2012 to do a Masters degree, for which Denmark at that point offered free tuition to Brits and other EU citizens.

He soon found that he had scribbled down enough material on his new life to make an act, which he took to the stage at Aarhus's comedy club just two months after arriving, going down a storm. After that he started getting gigs in nearby towns and cities like Aalborg, Vejle and Skanderborg. 

"There was no English comedy scene, so in the clubs, everybody was Danish and everything was in Danish except me," he says. "So at some point, I was so embarrassed that I was like, 'Okay, I have to start something in English' and then we started an English comedy night. But that usually was still, like, 25 percent Danes."

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It is only recently that his language skills have reached a good enough level for him to dare to risk stand up, podcasts, and other appearances in his rough but serviceable Danish. 

He performed a gig in Danish at Aarhus Comedy Club as a way of saying goodbye before he moved to Copenhagen this January.

"It was a really strange experience. I think that my Danish is so bad and sounds so silly that it didn't need to be really clever for them to find it funny. I just sat down with my material and was like, 'okay, what can I confidently speak about in Danish?' and then that really started to filter what I could choose from'."

More recently, he has recorded podcasts in Danish, and even performed improvisational comedy in Danish on Danish radio.

"It honestly went a hundred times better than I thought it was going to. The only thing was, when you speak in another language, sometimes you're about to say something, and then your head goes, 'I don't know the word for that'. And that can be a bit heartbreaking."

Photo: Neculai Deloiu

What works in Jutland stays in Jutland

Moving to Copenhagen has brought him into contact with another audience from what he was used to in Jutland. 

"I have this feeling that the more provincial that you go, the more people will laugh, or are willing to laugh, at the little experiences that you've had of where they live," he says. "They will even let you insult them just because you know something specific about them."

"If you do jokes in Copenhagen, where you try to make fun of the country as a whole, they have this feeling where they're like, 'Yeah, but we're not like the rest of them'. If you make jokes about Danes always being on time, they'll be like, 'Yeah, but we live in a big city. And it's not like that'." 

The differences are so marked that he has written his current show, ÆØÅ, to be adaptable depending on where he is performing it. 

"I have a whole bit that talks about Jutland and Zealand, and then there's also the island in the middle called Funen, and depending on where I perform the show, I have a different list of jokes that I do."

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"Jutlandish Danes," he says as an example, "will always joke that the Copenhageners are Swedish right, like, that's the big, hilarious thing, that Copenhagen and Zealand is all part of Sweden, because of the history. And if you perform those jokes in northern Jutland, or even near the German border, people are crying laughing.

"But then when you go to Copenhagen, you don't want to make those jokes because people find them tired. You know, they've heard all that crap before and it's not true." 

So when he's performing in Copenhagen, he'll tend to turn these jokes around. 

"All you have to do is make fun of the fact that in Southern Jutland, they live in the past and there are no roads and you have to go everywhere in a Land Rover because it's all a big muddy field, and they think that is hilarious." 

Molden is performing his current show ÆØÅ in Skive on April 4th, Viborg on April 10th, Herning on April 14th, Odense on April 25th, and Copenhagen on April 27th and 28th with the tour then continuing June 10th. In September, he is launching his international tour A Man in the EU at London's Comedy Store on September 23rd followed by dates in Paris, Berlin, Rotterdam, Stockholm, and Oslo. 

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