An ex-Honey Monster (yes, really) and Sweden’s only Svengelska stand-up comedian, now bringing his Tuesday Chinwag to the Stockholm Stadsteatern stage – Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you this month’s extraordinary expat – Ben Kersley!
Ben Kersley, British actor and comedian, has been making Linköping life that bit funnier for a number of years. In 2012 he decided it was time to take on the big city on a regular basis and created The Tuesday Chinwag together with fellow comedians James McKie and Ben Richards.
On the 24th of August, the Chinwag, a show which is described as “as much fun as it is possible to have with three bespectacled English blokes having a nice cup of tea and a chat”, will play at the Stockholm Stadsteater. YLC caught up with Ben Kersley to find out more about his past, present and future.
On coming to Sweden
Kersley, originally from Birmingham, was living with his Swedish partner in Hackney, London, when they woke up one day and decided to up sticks and move to Sweden. As one does.
“After our baby was born in 2005 we decided that we needed to move away from Hackney – and then we thought ‘why not try Sweden?’,” Kersley tells YLC over coffee.
”We decided to give it a year or two to see what happened. That was in 2006. We had no real idea of what we wanted to do, and we have really ended up doing completely different things than what we thought we’d be doing.”
Having studied drama at Bristol University, Kersley had worked for a number of years both in front and behind the camera, doing comedy gigs and the occasional radio job. Although he had featured on children’s show Brum (”We’ve all done Brum, love”) and frequently played the iconic British role of the Honey Monster, he claims he was lacking real direction and wasn’t leaving too much behind when moving to Linköping, in southern Sweden. Also, he had plans.
”I initially thought I would use my drama expertise to teach people, in English, how to use acting skills in the corporate world but I soon realized that I knew absolutely nothing about the corporate world and the whole idea was sort of lost,” Kersley says.
Having lived in abroad in Hungary and Romania, countries where one needs to learn the language in order to communicate with locals, Kersley didn’t think learning Swedish was as big a challenge as many expats initially fear it will be.
”The vocabulary isn’t that hard and pronunciation isn’t as difficult as people think. To be honest the hardest thing about learning Swedish is that so many people can speak English – you can survive here for ages without speaking Swedish.”
If you are here as a visitor for a week or for a year, learning Swedish is not important, according to Kersley, but to him it is inconceivable how anyone would want to live in a place and not understand the basics – being able to read a sign or follow a conversation. It would be very difficult to get a grasp of the culture without being able to communicate with locals in their language.
“With the exception of (fellow comedian, eds note) Al Pitcher,” says Kersley. “He’s terrible at Swedish, he admits it himself, but he has actually got to the absolute core of Swedish culture, without speaking any Swedish.”
On being a comedian in Sweden
After eight or nine months in Sweden, Kersley stumbled across an open-mic night advertised in Linköping. He had performed comedy in the UK before coming to Sweden, but thought he’d left that world behind him after the move. Nevertheless the seed was planted and he eventually decided to go for it… In Swedish.
”The comedy was good – it was funny, but my Swedish was awful,” Kersley told YLC.
However, the experience of moving to Sweden has taught him that doing what you believe in and are passionate about are the keys to success, no matter where you come from or where you end up.
”Instead of trying to change yourself – you should continue doing what you were doing and find that world in the new place,” he explains.
Today, comedy is a huge part of his life. He frequently travels to Stockholm to perform and he generally does a couple of corporate gigs a month. Earlier in the summer, he held a workshop teaching university lecturers how to use acting skills to make their presentations more engaging.
However, Kersley is modest about his career as a comedian, stressing that it is still not his full-time job and that he couldn’t make a living on comedy and performing alone. For three and a half days a week, Kersley works for a voiceover studio in Linköping, where he writes copy for adverts, manages projects, produces sound and records his voice for different advertorial purposes.
”So I do have sort of a proper job where I go in at 9am and leave at 5pm-ish, or 5.30 if the boss is reading. Which is actually a really nice job,” says Kersley.
Swedes have responded well to the character Kersley adopts when performing in Swedish.
“Everyone has a stage persona; some are tough guys, others are Lotharios. Mine is a sort of dumb idiot who gets things wrong. I have a certain vulnerability through the constraints of the non-fluency, people respond to that.”
However, Swedes don’t have a different sense of humor from English-speakers, according to Kersley, they just have more influences.
“Here in Sweden, people are more open to both UK and US comedy and sometimes both. Swedes have a good sense of humour though – which comes from being well-read and exposed to many influences,” he says.
On the Chinwag
The Tuesday Chinwag came about after Ben Richards and Kersley had performed in small town Örebro, in central Sweden.
“We were having breakfast in our hotel surrounded by deaf footballers who kept cheering on all their team mates by waving their fingers in the air (this is how deaf people applaud – True fact). We had both spoken independently with James about doing something together and so we decided to start a monthly night in Stockholm, which would be 100% improvised. We sent James a text message, shook hands and all the deaf footballers all started applauding spontaneously… or so it seemed!”
After hosting the popular Tuesday Chinwag regularly at a Södermalm venue in 2012 and the beginning of 2013, Kersley, McKie and Richards decided to bring the gig to the Stockholm Fringe Festival in August 2013.
“I was there last year and saw a naked Mexican hermaphrodite singing opera. This, I thought, is the perfect platform for James, Ben and myself,” says Kersley.
And according to Kersley, a good laugh is guaranteed.
“It’s the most fun you can possibly have in a darkened theatre with three English men in glasses drinking tea and talking rubbish.”
Look below for a snippet of Ben Kersley doing what he does best in Helsinki: