I remember hearing Robin Ince once do a bit of material about how the problem with going abroad is often it makes you realise how many things are wrong with the country you come from. I’m currently in Norway and this is one of the few countries that does exactly that for me. Even with a newly elected conservative government, and a substantial amount of voters opting for the anti-immigrant FRP group, their right wing groups are still less right wing than ours in the UK. Both of the mentioned parties overwhelmingly voted for gay marriage several years ago and while are generally (in my limited knowledge opinion & that of the audience I had last night) a bad thing for the Norwegian liberal way of being, they still pale in comparison to the Tory/Lib Dem coalition of the UK. And I find myself even thinking that a right wing-ish government in Norway will at least mean I may be able to afford a beer next time I’m here. Terrifying that that’s even crossed my mind.
But aside from politics, or the general ethos of Norwegians that I like so much, the one thing that makes me really question my lifelong home is gigging here. I did my first set at Latter in Oslo. I’ve done gigs in Norway before but this club is seen as the Comedy Store of the country. I hadn’t quite remembered what material I did last time, and spent ages going through all the references I have in my jokes incase any are too Anglo-centric. Tuesday’s are Latter’s quiet nights and there weren’t many in. The local acts who went on before me were complaining that they were a bit quiet. I felt slightly nervous about speaking slowly enough and hitting the right tone, but within seconds of being onstage I was having a great time. The audience were savvy, they listened and didn’t mind me questioning their own political system, despite being an outsider to it. I really felt I couldn’t have gone too wrong.
Compare this to last weekend in Birmingham. I was compering a gig of over 300 people, all of which were stag and hen-dos, or birthday parties. They had no interest in what I was saying, and I’m sad to say I felt no interest in trying to engage them with anything other than my old, tired material, after a few failed attempts of anything else. I did my job as host, and was completely adequate crowd control, meanwhile part of my soul quietly died. As I left, a man with a huge smile delighted in telling me he’d had a great night as he’d ‘heckled at least eight times.’ It took of my willpower to just smile, wish him a nice weekend and walk off instead of calling him a massive bellend and telling him never to darken the doors of a comedy gig ever again.
There are lots of reasons the two gigs might seem incomparable. Night of the week for example. A Tuesday crowd will always be in a different mind set to a Friday or Saturday night crowd. Audience numbers too are drastically different which can affect a crowd mentality. Comedy is also much newer in Norway, with stand-up having nowhere near the draw or popularity that it has in the UK, and considerably fewer acts. But as someone who’s gigged in the UK for ten years and Norway since last year, with shows to different sized crowds on different nights, I can tell you that all these factors are largely irrelevant. Stand-up in Norway is perceived as an art form to enjoy, it’s seen there as just entertainment. A form of entertainment where it’s fine to shout, heckle and tell the acts when they are wrong because their joke doesn’t fit with your opinion. Sure there are many lovely comedy fans and many lovely gigs too, but in even the nicest of clubs there are nights where hecklers seem to think it’s fine to disrupt the evening. That just doesn’t really happen in most other places in the world that I’ve performed.
Is it a bad thing that the UK audiences are like that? I’m not sure. It’s often very frustrating as a performer. On the other hand it means I have learnt to handle a British crowd, and as a result, find gigs in the rest of the world a breeze in comparison. These next two weeks will seem almost like a holiday. And speaking to Norwegian acts here last night, they were complaining that it’s too easy in Norway and it’s hard to really develop without criticism. So I guess the grass is always greener where ever you are. Though saying that, none of the Norwegians I spoke to had anything nice to say about our government….