Of course, there are countless jokes about Norwegians or about alcohol, at the top of the list of standbys, and normal in a country where alcoholic drinks are sold by bureaucrats in state shops to Swedes who can't stand up.
What the Swedes love, however, is a parody of their own aspirations. The new recipe for comic success is teasing the aspirational dreams of the middle class. The series “Solsidan” (“The Sunny Side”), which is a real neighbourhood, has been broadcast on the private channel TV4 since 2010 and has a quarter of the Swedish population.
It has been voted the most popular Swedish comedy series of all time. Nothing like this has ever been seen before. The third season is in production, while the contracts for fourth and fifth seasons are already signed.
“It’s one of the better things I’ve done”, said Felix Herngren, author, comedian and director of the series, after the first season. A rather left-wing group even organised a safari bus tour last winter through the bourgeoisie territory, in the upscale suburb of Stockholm and got pelted with eggs by the gilded, leather-jacketed youth. See? I told you it was funny.
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”The ironic generation”
One of the keys to its success, besides the large budget for a series of this type, is that viewers can recognise themselves. Performance anxiety, the Law of Jante – which is a Scandinavian concept to stop people getting ahead of themselves and warns them not to pretend to be something they are not, (although naturally the opposite happens), snappy replies, self-deprecation, all the hallmarks of “Solsidan” which tells the story of a group of a few families.
Alex, played by Felix Herngren, is a dentist who hates conflict and returns to live in his hometown to find his best friend has become a successful businessman. The parody is biting and spot on.
Herngren, 45, leaves the politics out of it, however, and just implies it instead. “I belong to the ironic generation,” he tells Le Monde. “Comedians of the older generation have criticised my comedy a lot for not having a political message.” But the audience is responding. “Solsidan is about people and their foibles; of our generation, our problems, our relationship to consumption, societal norms and neighbours.”
The comedian, who has also directed television adverts, admits that there are still taboos, even in a country that is hardly conservative. “Jokes about asses are okay in private, but as a comic one would be accused of taking the easy way out and not doing your job as a writer. Jokes about feminism are more delicate.”
While continuing with Solsidan, Herngren is now running another big project with the Nice FLX Pictures production company, a film adaptation of the bestselling novel "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of his Window and Disappeared" by Jonas Jonasson. “A very funny book,” says Herngren, who sees in it a satire of our times, where everything depends on status and money, but where you still find yourself alone in an asylum for the old. “And it's very liberating that the old man decides to strike out on his own.”
Read the other parts of the series: