Sleepless in Svendborg

Sowerby & Luff write…

While becoming ever more deeply immersed in the world of what clever people call “on-demand audio”, we continued to support ourselves by running comedy writing workshops every couple of weeks in London. It was through the website for one of these workshops that we received an unexpected email from a man in Denmark called Micael.
“Would you like to come to Denmark,” he wrote, “and present one of your workshops at the Svendborg Comedy Festival?”

Georgina looked up Svendborg on the map. It was a tiny seaside town in the south of Denmark.
“It doesn’t look big enough to have a comedy festival,” she said.
I peered over her shoulder at the map. “It doesn’t look big enough to have a post office.”

One of the rules of working freelance is if you’re offered a job which you don’t really fancy doing, you quote an unrealistically large fee and demand first class accommodation. Unfortunately this ploy didn’t work with Svendborg. For reasons best known to them, they were determined to have Sowerby and Luff at their comedy festival.

A few weeks later, our plane touched down in Copenhagen, and a train whisked us across a fjord to a place called Nyborg, where we were to be met by Svendborg’s “King of Comedy” Micael.

Micael was a painfully polite man of about 40, with a shiny bald head. As we climbed into his tiny car at Nyborg station, Georgina and I looked at each other as if to say “What the fuck are we doing here?”

During a long and uncomfortable car journey to Svendborg, Micael explained, in perfect English, that he was a huge fan of Monty Python, and that it had always been his dream to run a comedy festival in Denmark.
“Why didn’t you hold the festival in Copenhagen?” asked Georgina.
“Because this is the Svendborg Comedy Festival” Micael replied, with quite staggering logic.

It slowly became clear that with only a tiny amount of support from Svendborg Town Council, Micael was financing this extravaganza himself. He dropped us at our hotel and said he looked forward to working with us the next day.

Svendborg was clean. Disgustingly clean. If it had been any cleaner you would have had to wear white rubber boots and a surgical mask to walk down the street. We ventured out that evening, and the entire town was deserted. We walked for what seemed like miles and neither saw nor heard anyone. Eventually we walked into a restaurant and ordered two pizzas.
“What’s this on the pizza?” asked Georgina when dinner arrived.
“Peas,” said the waiter.
Georgina giggled and whispered in my ear. “Who puts peas on a pizza?”
“People in Svendborg,” I whispered back.

We didn’t sleep very well that night. It was too quiet. And clean. The next day we rose early and after a healthy breakfast of bacon, eggs and peas, we walked though spotless, silent streets to the medieval town hall in which the comedy festival was to take place. The doors were locked and bolted, and there was a chain across the outside.
“I can’t see any publicity for the festival,” said Georgina.
Like a vampire, Micael suddenly popped into view out of nowhere, making us both jump.
“There is a poster!” he said, and he pointed at a small A4 photocopy, stuck hastily to a brick wall with Bluetack.
“Svendborg Comedy Festival,” it said. It looked as if Micael had made it himself the night before.
“Where is everybody?” we asked.
“They will be here soon,” he said. “They are sharing a car from Sweden.”
It soon became clear that there were so few attendees for our workshop in Denmark, they were able to share the same car. Even more bizarrely, they were coming from another country.
“Comedy is very popular in Sweden,” said Micael.

Our hearts sank. We’d apparently flown half way across Europe for nothing, and it was quite possible that our host was a fucking lunatic. We were led into a large meeting room, with a high, echoey ceiling, and supplied with warm bottled water and biscuits.
“When will the people from Sweden be here?” asked Georgina.
“Any minute now,” said Micael, and sure enough, ten minutes later we were joined by a small group of Swedish people, who wanted to talk about comedy with Sowerby and Luff.

We usually began our workshops by going around the table and asking each person in turn to tell us a little about themselves. I kicked off with our host, who was sitting at the far end of the table, looking a little nervous.
“My name is Micael,” he said, “and I am the organiser of the Svendborg Comedy Festival.” 
He obviously couldn’t think of anything else to say about himself, so we moved on swiftly. 
Next was a middle-aged lady sitting at the other end of the table. She was blond and strikingly good-looking, and explained that she was a highly successful comedian in Sweden, who had for many years fronted her own television series. It has to be said, this was not the kind of background information we usually get from the budding comedy writers who attend our workshops in London.
“Why are you here?” I inquired politely. 
“I am a big fan of Monty Python,” she said.

The group from Sweden were friendly, funny and forthcoming, and the day passed surprisingly quickly, as the seven of us chatted about various theories of comedy writing. But at the back of my mind was a nagging question – where was the rest of the Svendborg Comedy festival?

When the workshop finished at around five o’clock, Micael led us all downstairs, and into a cavernous wood-panelled hall, with a stage at one end. In the centre of the stage was a microphone on a stand, and sitting around a single table in the middle of the room were seven or eight elderly locals.
“Who are these people?” I asked.
“This is the audience,” said Micael.
“The audience for what?” I asked.
“You,” he said.

It transpired that two of the people in the audience were Micael’s mother and father. They sat and patiently waited for the show to begin.
“Do they speak English?” asked Georgina.
“A little,” said Micael.
I looked at the blond TV lady from Sweden. “Will you get up and do five minutes for them?” I pleaded.
“No fucking way,” she smiled.
At that point, Miceal put on a face mask and a top hat.
“I’m afraid,” I whispered to Georgina.
“It’s OK” she said, “I promise I will get us out of here alive!”

Not surprisingly, neither Georgina nor I speak Danish, but we managed to follow Miceal’s act. First he told a couple of jokes, then he sang a little song. Then, to my utter horror, he introduced me.
“Ladies and gentlemen, all the way from London, Mr Brian Luff.”

I walked slowly onto the stage, accompanied only by the sound of my own footsteps and Georgina giggling in the back row. I began with an old warm-up routine I had once seen MacKenzie Crook do at a club in Hammersmith.
“You’re probably wondering why there are so few people here,” I said. “Well, we were expecting a coach party of people from Hull.”
Georgina was now literally sobbing with laughter, but the rest of the room was as silent as the grave. I continued.
“I was wondering if one of the tables here wouldn’t mind pretending to be the coach party of people from Hull.”
There was only one table in the room, so I edged towards them. “Would you guys like to be the coach party of people from Hull?” I asked.
“Pardon?” came a quiet voice. I heard a thud, as Georgina fell off her chair.

That was the climax of the Svendborg Comedy Festival. Even as we write this, we still can’t quite believe that it actually happened. But the good news was that Miceal asked for our invoice at the end of the day, and paid us immediately. He even invited us back the following year.
“Will it be in Copenhagen next time? Georgina asked.
“Of course not” said Micael, “It is the Svendborg Comedy Festival.”

It is one of our greatest regrets that we didn’t take any recording equipment to Denmark that week, as the comedy night in the old town hall would probably have made one of our funniest podcasts ever.