Magnus Betner at the Smock Alley Theatre

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October 21, 2010 by Smock Alley

The Irish Times – Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Found in translation – a punchline

Joking in tongues: Swedish comic Magnus Betnér

Brian Boyd

SMALL PRINT: A SWEDISH MAN, a Dutch man and a German walked into a bar. Not for a drink – they were performing in the bar/venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Magnus Betnér, Hans Teeuwen and Henning Wehn respectively all had great festivals despite the fact that they were performing in a second language – English. And if you thought stand-up was difficult in your native tongue, try formulating clever wordplay in a foreign language in front of some of the most demanding comedy audiences going.

While Betnér is a comedy superstar in Sweden (as is Teeuwen in the Netherlands), Wehn never did stand-up in his native Germany and only took it up when he moved to England. What attracted big audiences to their shows each night was the joy of watching these performers stretch and bend the English language in order to get their comedic message across. At times during any of these shows you felt like you had walked into a Flann O’Brien novel. They were offering something richer and more textured than the Cockney gabberfest around them.

Betnér is the best of the Johnny Foreigner bunch. He comes over to do his first solo Irish shows at Smock Alley Theatre on Exchange Street, Temple Bar, tomorrow and Friday. An intelligent and highly politicised comic, you soon forget Betnér’s nationality (he has fluent English), but he says his Swedishness is key to his act: “Part of Sweden’s problem overseas is that everyone thinks we’re like Abba and Ikea. That we’re a nation of beautiful people singing happy songs in stylish modernist apartments. But that’s not how we Swedes see ourselves. We have a very, very dark side, and I think you’re only just finding out about it now.”

With an uncensored, confrontational style, Betnér casts a baleful glance over political and religious institutions and a few minutes into his set you’ll realise how he earned his “scandalous” image back in Sweden. This is not Michael McIntyre territory – Betnér seems more intent on channelling the spirits of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.

“When people come to see me I don’t want them to just have a good time,” he says. “I also want them to have something to think about and discuss the next day. I don’t want them just to laugh and forget it.”

With Betnér, you can cleanse yourself of the blandness of the new comedy mainstream orthodoxy and take a walk on the wild side.

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