Comedy masterclass

One of them compares the relationship to a perfect marriage. The other says they’ve never had a fight. Comedians Henrik Schyffert and Fredrik Lindström are in perfect sync.

The first thing you notice about Henrik Schyffert and Fredrik Lindström is that they are big. Big men, that is. Both are tall, and both have what people call “presence.” In short, you will not fail to notice them entering the room.

That’s a good thing when you’re an entertainer working a room, which is what the duo has done most recently, touring the past two years with their two-man show Ägd (“Owned”).

(Full disclosure: My son played a small part in the show between 2014 and 2016, and as his traveling companion I’ve seen the show dozens of times.)

Schyffert and Lindström take a bow with Son.

Besides being physically tall, they’re also comedy giants in Sweden. Schyffert, 48, was a member of one of the most legendary comedy groups in Sweden when he was in his 20s, while Lindström, 52, spent his 20s mostly at Uppsala University, studying Nordic language history. He was working on his postgraduate thesis when he became a member of a prank call comedy team, which Schyffert had just left, and emerged as a brainy funny man. He quickly went on to write and direct movies and TV series.

In 2011, they toured the country with Ljust & Fräscht (“Well-lit & Fresh”), a show about Swedes’ extreme interest in home decoration, and before that they directed and co-wrote each other’s one-man shows: Lindström’s on the essence of Swedishness and Schyffert’s personal take on the 1990s.

Ägd, their third collaboration, centers around topics like consumerism, the economy, YOLO and the price of only living once: death. Not your average comedy material.

With decades of experience under their belts, they’re done with just being silly. The shows are funny, for sure, but they will also make audiences think.

Schyffert and Lindström are like Mary Poppins, who believed that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

“To put together a show, you have to first find a topic you’re genuinely interested in but which people aren’t talking about yet, even if it seems obvious to you,” Schyffert says. “Nobody had done comedy on economy and consumerism like this.”

Schyffert compares their shows to a crossword puzzle in a Sunday newspaper, with a special theme in which everything connects to everything else.

The buddies finish each other’s sentences – if not each other’s sandwiches – and they speak over each other. They talk fast but they don’t talk loose, even on stage. What seems like two friends improvising as they shoot the breeze is the culmination of many years of work, and the audience isn’t even supposed to see the wires connecting things.

They take pride in their craft, and in having put a lot of work into their careers, and in each individual show.

“I like the idea of us not being that different from other craftsmen back in the day,” Lindström says. “You start somewhere as an apprentice and work your way up.”

Schyffert, who’s also had an impressive career as a stand-up comedian, has made a documentary on humor, looking at what makes people laugh. His conclusion echoes the words of legendary screenwriter William Goldman: “In show business, nobody knows anything.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time wondering why a certain joke doesn’t work,” Schyffert says. “We know we have the right elements in it but it gets no laughs – until it does. Trying to figure out what made the difference is like being a scientist who sees a reaction but doesn’t know what caused it,” he adds.

Having done several shows and a book together, they know each other well. They even live in the same apartment building in Stockholm, and they describe their working relationship like this: “It’s as close to what one might call a perfect marriage as you can get,” Lindström says.

You might call it a bromance and an early version of Ägd – which has changed considerably during its two years due to the duo’s tendency to keep writing bits to keep it interesting – even opened with a scene in which Schyffert told Lindström he loved him. (Lindström, playing the part of a cool Swede, simply thanked him.)

But they’re not really bros. Lindström is the professor, the historian, the academic, who politely opens the door to people at the supermarket. He’s quiet and likes to keep to himself. The first time I saw him get really excited was when I asked him about the etymology of Åggelby, the name of the Helsinki suburb I grew up in. He couldn’t solve the mystery for me, either, but he loved the challenge.

Schyffert, on the other hand, is the guy in the back of the class at school, the one who may sneak out for a smoke when nobody’s watching. He’s active on social media, and he’s not shy to let people know what he thinks.

“That may have something to do with age,” he says. “I went through the 1990s never wanting to have an opinion.”

It’s no surprise then that it’s Schyffert who gets the line with the F-bomb in Ägd. Then again, he also ends his emails with, “Hugs, H.”

Lindström likes his comfort zone, while Schyffert stretches the boundaries of his.

“He loves it when the comments section is cooking,” Lindström says. “I’m the opposite of that.”

Schyffert adds with a laugh, “His comments section is closed.”

They are each other’s yin and yang.

“Schyffert is much better than me about things that have to do with form, whereas I often bring in context,” Lindström says. “He doesn’t want to miss anything going on right now, whereas I’m afraid there isn’t enough time for me to catch up with everything I’ve already missed. Having said that, we’re about the same age, we’ve listened to the same bands, we just go to different wells for material.”

Schyffert adds, “The funny thing is that Fredrik and I have never really argued. When something doesn’t work, we let the other one work on it until something happens. It’s easy to say that opposites attract, but it’s difficult to do. I know that no matter what, I get so much out of this relationship.”

After two years of touring, it’s time for a short break, do something else, and have some fun. Then maybe they’ll start to work on a new show, possibly on the age of individualism, Schyffert says.

They may be Sweden’s hottest ticket right now, but it wasn’t even a dream of theirs growing up.

“We both originally wanted to become rock stars,” Schyffert says. “All this was Plan B.”

Lindström nods. And they may just be serious.

Published first in Scandinavian Traveler.

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