Category Archives: Finland

Humour’s not a universal language – it’s a matter of personal or national opinion

I have sat through some weird shit in my time

Michael Powell’s movie Gone To Earth, Robin Hardy’s movie The Fantasist and Edinburgh Fringe stage show Sally Swallows and the Rise of Londinian. They spring immediately to mind.

And I can now add to that an ‘acclaimed’ Finnish ‘deadpan comedy’ movie The Other Side of Hope.

I was invited to an “influencer preview screening” in Soho yesterday afternoon. It was in English, Finnish and Arabic. With English subtitles.

The first person I saw when I arrived was Scots comic Richard Gadd. His factual movie drama Against The Law is being screened on BBC2 at the end of June.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m the lead actor in The Other Side of Hope.,” he told me, apparently slightly affronted that I had not known.

Some people will turn up to the opening of an envelope. I will turn up to anything which has the likelihood of free tea and salmon sandwiches. It does not mean I read the fine details of any press release.

“How come you are the lead in a Finnish film?” I asked Richard Gadd.

“Because,” said Richard Gad, “I am half-Finnish.”

“Heavens,” I said, slightly embarrassed, “I didn’t know that,”

“Well I am,” he told me, slightly wearily.

Thom Tuck (left) and Richard Gadd at Soho House yesterday

The next person I saw was comedian, writer and variably-hirsute thespian Thom Tuck, currently touring Britain in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman.

“Are you playing Willy?” I asked.

“No,” he said slightly wearily. “He is in his 60s.”

I thought it unwise to mention anything about ‘playing with Willy’ so, changing the subject, I said: “I didn’t know Richard was half-Finnish.”

“I only know how to swear in Finnish,” Thom replied.

“Don’t let me stop you,” I told him.

“Kusipää…” he said. “Vittu pois… Kivekset.” Then, looking at Richard, he asked: “Was my pronunciation OK?”

“Pretty good,” said Richard, generously.

As for The Other Side of Hope – the film we had come to see…

Well, as for the film…

What can I say…?

One selling synopsis for it is:

MORAL CLARITY IN PLURALITY
A poker playing restauranteur and
former travelling salesman befriends
a group of refugees.

It is about a Syrian immigrant from Aleppo during the current civil war who is in Finland as a refugee.

The film won the Silver Bear Award for Best Director at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and rave reviews for it include:

“Combines poignancy with torrents of laughter” (5-stars. Daily Telegraph)

“’Surreal and screamingly funny” (5-stars. The Times)

“I laughed, I cried, I shrieked.” (5-stars, Observer)

It currently has a 91% Rotten Tomatoes score.

People say comedy is a universal language.

Well, I am here to tell you it is not.

Rikki Fulton, Scotch & Wry: too straight-faced for the English

I remember working for a cable or satellite TV channel (I can’t remember which) and, in trailer-making mode, I sat through three episodes of Scotch & Wry, a legendary successful BBC Scotland TV comedy show which I had never seen and which I don’t think had been screened on English terrestrial television. It was absolutely terrifically funny,

After seeing the three episodes, I went back into the office.

“Have you seen Scotch & Wry?” I started to say. “Isn’t it absolutely…”

“Yes,” said someone. “It is utter shit, isn’t it?”

That was the general English view in the office and I think it was because star Rikki Fulton et al performed everything utterly straight-faced. I think deadpan comedy works with Scots audiences, not so well with English audiences and it may ultimately be a Scandinavian thing,

I worked in a Swedish TV company with Swedes, Norwegians and Danes. Each nationality’s sense of humour was slightly different and the Swedes in particular were very, very straight-faced though equally humorous.

My experience of Finns is mostly meeting them on holiday – particularly in the former Soviet Union and, as a result, in cliché mode, I think of Finns as very very amiable but almost always paralytically drunk (there are licensing problems in Finland and the exchange rate between blue jeans and vodka in Leningrad was highly in favour of the Finns).

All this comes as an intro to my opinion of The Other Side of Hope.

The film very-noir in its original Finnish: it translates appropriately as “Beyond Hope”

It was like watching zombies perform some dreary social-realist drama about Syrian immigrants in a grey city. It made Harold Pinter’s dialogue and pauses seem like Robin Williams speeding on cocaine.

The film opened with a woman wearing curlers in her hair. She was sitting at a table on which stood a spherical cactus with thin spines sticking out. I thought: This may be a commendably weird movie.

Well weird it certainly was but, for me, utterly titterless. Not a single titter dropped from my lips, missus.

There was a 10-15 minute section towards the very end of the film which showed signs of very straight-faced, deadpan humour involving a restaurant. But even that was titter-free.

I have obviously missed something.

It is oft – and truly – said that Tommy Cooper could walk on stage, do nothing, say nothing and the audience would laugh. I have often wondered if some American or German or Latvian who had never seen Tommy Cooper before would have laughed.

And there is the never-to-be-forgotten lesson of Scotch & Wry.

I am prepared to believe The Other Side of Hope has them rolling in the frozen deadpan-loving aisles of Helsinki. It left me totally enjoyment-free. It was a bleak film about a Syrian immigrant in Helsinki in which people didn’t say much. But, then, I did enjoy Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness, I like eating kimchi and, as a child, I enjoyed cod liver oil.

The Other Side of Hope has had great reviews. It can survive without me.

As a coda to all this, I should mention that, as we went into the screening room, Richard Gadd told me he was not half-Finnish and he did not appear in the film at all. He had just been invited along to see it because he is an “influencer”.

This turned out to be true.

He is not in the film.

Yesterday afternoon was just totally weird. I also met a man in a tube train who was wearing a giant banana on his head like Carmen Miranda. He was not smiling. He may have been an actor of Finnish origin.

Oh, alright.

I made that bit up. I did not meet a man in a tube train who was wearing a giant banana on his head.

The rest is true.

Though I am beginning to think I may have dreamt the whole of yesterday.

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Filed under Comedy, Finland, Humor, Humour, Movies

Are all Finns drunk all the time?

Anna Smith took this selfie in Antwerp

Anna took this selfie in Antwerp

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, lives on a boat in Vancouver. She has an exotic past.

And, indeed, present.

Exotic dancing is what we are talking about here.

This week, she told me about Finland.

I mentioned that the first Finns I ever met were an uproarious and paralytically drunk group of tourists in Leningrad.

Very very amiable but (literally) staggeringly drunk.

Almost every Finn I have ever met since then has been very very amiable but amazingly drunk.

This is what Anna remembered of Finland.


Trees and snow. Trees and Snow. Trees and snow.

Finland was the most civilised place I ever worked. There were saunas everywhere and sculptures of naked women, even in the post office.

I danced at La Scala in Helsinki for a week (which gave me the silly distinction of being able to add La Scala, Helsinki to my CV) and I toured the rest of the country for three weeks. It was the coldest February in decades.

La Scala was an ornate cinema on Esplanadi, the main esplanade on the Helsinki waterfront near the controversial mermaid fountain called Havis Amanda. When I danced at La Scala, the entire audience was composed of men wearing wolfskin hats.

The brochure produced by La Scala featured a photo of me baring my comely bottom and claimed that I was a “Upea Lumoojatar” (Gorgeous Enchantress). I danced to James Bond theme songs and emerged from masks and a cape, as the sea was frozen.

After years of poverty in England, I was enchanted especially by the food, which was included in my contract. I had shrimp cocktails daily and tried unsuccessfully to make myself sick of salmon, which I washed down with large glasses of thick piimä (buttermilk). Clusters of drunken men lurched towards me when I left the stage, pleading with me to drink with them. I cut a path through them by explaining: “Sorry, but I only drink piimä,” which sent them into convulsions and they echoed: “She only drinks piimä! She drinks only piimä!!!

I was followed out of the theatres several times by men – once by a beaming eighty year old who told me that I was very, very good at my work and that he knew what he was talking about because, as he said, “I am connasieur”.

In Tampere, an industrial town in the north, I was charmed to see the earmuff-wearing police. I performed in a vast hall that had no stage, so I had to dance on the floor in front of tables of pulp and paper workers. One of them was a woman who stuck her tongue out at me, but seemed to be enjoying my show. The sound system was terrible at that place. I could barely hear my music so I had to fake it as best I could, which was awful for me but the audience didn’t mind.

As I was putting my clothes back on in the washroom which served as my dressing room, the door suddenly burst open and a big drunk man came through it. He knelt at my feet and began howling out a stream of words in Finnish. I was standing by the sink wondering what to do next when four more drunk men crashed into the room. They were laughing but also apologetic.

“He wants to marry you,” they explained, looking back at me as they dragged him out of the room.

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Filed under Finland, Finland