Q&A with André Wickström
Published on July 3rd, 2015 | by Free Standup NYC
Q&A with: André Wickström and Andrew Bayroff
André, thank you so much for agreeing to share your background and thoughts on stand up and comedy in general. I'm sure all my readers will excuse your English, since it is not your first language.
First off, how many years have you been working as a professional comedian?
I did my first gig in 1995 but at that time, there were no stand-up clubs in Finland, so my first gig was at my high school’s 20th anniversary party. I continued doing stand-up at different university happenings and pizza parlors between the jukebox and the dart board. But in 2003, there were 2 in Helsinki, two clubs that actually paid money and you could even get some corporate gigs because someone had seen you perform at the clubs. So I quit my job as an theatre actor and started doing stand-up full time.
Who is your favorite comedian, why, and who has had the most influence on your comedy career?
Of course there are many great comedians in Finland as there are in Sweden, where I also perform regularly. Eddie Murphy was, for me, as for many comedians in Finland and Sweden, the first one we saw since Eddie Murphy Raw was the first stand-up VHS that you could rent from the local video stores. He was really big in the Nordic countries from movies like 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop. SNL was something that wasn’t aired over here. I was about 12 years old when I watched RAW and I hated it. I had only been studying English for three years and everybody was laughing and I did not understand why. I was left out. But a couple of years later there came a show on Swedish national tv called “Släng Dig i Brunnen” that completely changed my mind about stand-up. Here were people alone on a stage talking into a mic and making people laugh but I understood what they were talking about and the whole thing called stand-up just made sense to me. And after I saw those tv-shows, I re watched RAW and understood it and watched it again and again.
Imagine a black comedian making stand-up known to the all white Nordic countries. But more importantly making us laugh are asses off.
But this was of course before I had done any stand-up. When I did do stand-up my biggest influence was Steve Martin. No doubt. He showed me the diversity in stand-up. And now a days I look up to Louie CK, Bill Burr and Amy Schumer.
What was the first standup album you purchased?
Well, as there was no stand-up scene in Finland when I started, and there was no internet or Youtube, we did not know anything. Other than some friend’s friend who had been an exchange student and brought some comedy LP’s to Finland, there was no market for stand-up at all. I think my first cd was Dennis Leary’s “No cure for cancer”. There was a big record store that took that one cause it had the song “Asshole” on it.
How long have you been able to sustain enough income to live off of comedy?
Since 2003. I got to host a TV-show the same year so that boosted up my comedy career to a new level. But there are about 30 people who live off stand-up in Finland. But of course everybody has a side project like radio shows, TV, and directing stage comedies.
You told me that Finland didn’t have stand up comedy up until the 90’s, why is that?
Until 1986 we only had two TV-channels, and they were state owned. 1986 came and the first commercial TV-station. The only thing from America in those days where movies and some TV-shows like Happy Days, Hill Street Blues, The Love Boat, Fame, and MacGyver. There were no sitcoms or talk shows so we never saw stand-up. The only comedies were from England. On occasion they might have sent a Victor Borge special. I don’t know if that could be seen as stand-up? The closest to stand-up was Benny Hill. He had funny monologues.
What was your part in bringing Stand up to the Finnish speaking population? And how did that process work?
My part in bringing stand-up to Finland is best described that I was in on it on the second wave. There was the first wave in the early 1990 and then with me in 2002. There was an old stand-up club called Club Viirus, in Helsinki, that had stand-up, but also jugglers, magicians or somebody who could play a nose flute. It’s was more like a variety show back then. But when in 2002, I wanted to revive the local shows. A real stand-up club where I would host every night and we would have 2-3 local acts and the headliner would be somebody who had done it for years. Usually we took an act from Sweden but we also had two stand-ups from Ireland. Colin Murphy and Neil Delamere.
The other way how I introduced stand-up to Finland, was that as I got my tv-show, and newspapers and tv-shows wanted to do interviews. They actually always asked what they should call me. Actor or comedian? I always said “put stand-up comedian as my title.” That way people would see that I am a stand-up.
Also, my friend Stan Saanila, was an exchange student who went to the states and returned with comedy albums like Robin Williams “Reality… what a concept”, and started to dream about a stand-up comedy club in Helsinki. He is the first one to do it, forcing his three friends to follow. So in 1990, he was the first one to do orthodox stand-up in Helsinki. Go on stage with his real name, with his own clothes and with his own jokes. And he helped me a lot in the beginning as well and other aspiring comedians.
The US comic Jerry Seinfeld, said “Political Correctness Will Destroy Comedy”. Do you have issues with PC in your country? What are your thoughts on Political Correctness in comedy?
I think that we have to make a joke about everything. It is our job. Of course there is a time and a place for every joke and that is our job to know when the stars are aligned for a cruel joke. But in the long run, if people cant take a joke, fuck ’em.
Finland is still a pretty liberal country, when it comes to comedy, you can be very harsh on stage and the audience will understand that it is a joke. But it has changed a lot in 15 years; everything comes with a delay here in the east. So first Sweden will jump on the US PC bandwagon and two years later we will be sitting there as well. Sweden is very PC. Jokes that I can do in Finland will crash and burn in Sweden. Because of the PC thinking, but also because of the cultural differences. Finland is a very young nation. We got our independence in 1917 and’ have been in two world wars so Finland was a very poor country until the mid 80’s.
What is your most recent project?
Aside performing stand-up, I have been writing a comedy mini series for YLE (the Finnish broadcasting company). It’s for they’re web site. It’s a take on reality shows. My summer project is writing material for my new stand-up solo for Espoo City Theatre that premiers 23rd of September this year.
How do you see US comedy influencing Finland comedy, and do you like it?
Before YouTube, American comics influenced us a lot. Those who did stand-up, or knew about stand-up, started buying albums on every trip to the states. For example, when I came to NY for the first time in 2002, I bought everything there was on stand-up. Books, cd’s, VHS and dvd’s. When I got back, we started lending each other what we purchased.
The same goes for Sweden. They were heavily influenced by American comedians. America made stand-up cool, and that’s why American stand-up is what we saw. British as well, but British comedians tend to do comedy for the Brits, as American comedians made jokes about American movies and things that were known to us. Because we had seen movies about Baseball, that is not played in Finland, and we knew about donuts from movies (we have donuts now in Finland), but when a British comedian was talking about marmite and cricket we were lost.
There are no blockbusters movies about cricket or marmite.
"I think that we have to make a joke about everything. It is our job. Of course there is a time and a place for every joke...but in the long run, if people cant take a joke, fuck’em."