The creator of hit sketch show Hipp Hipp!, comedian ANDERS JANSSON found his feet adapting Have I Got News for You to Swedish television. He went on to make remakes of QI, and is currently filming a headline series in the north of Sweden…
Anders, you’re a proud son of Lund but you’re in Boden at the moment. What are you doing up north?
I feel a bit like you, I feel like an exchange student! We’re filming a series here and it’s for six months (although I do go home every seven weeks). Usually, I wouldn’t be able to take on something like this because I’m always busy, but with the pandemic I have time.
What are you filming?
It’s a famous children’s series called The Whodunit Detective Agency (LasseMajas detektivbyrå): a sort of Midsomer Murders for 10 to 13-year-olds. I play the town policeman. Series one came out just before Christmas, and we’re filming series two now.
Sounds good! Swedish readers will know you best though for the Hipp Hipp! sketch series you started with Johan Wester. My Swedish isn’t good enough to understand it, so for those in a similar boat, could you just explain what it is and how it started?
Well, we’re going back over ten years ago now, Xander! Johan and I were working on the Swedish version of Have I Got News for You (Snacka om nyheter), but it was only for six or seven months each year, so we had time to think. We really enjoyed The Fast Show with Paul Whitehouse… because the problem with Swedish comedy at the time was that everything went on a bit too long! We started creating characters and doing stage shows, then we settled down with a manual from the BBC to turn it into a screen show. Our calculations said we need three years to shoot, but SVT told us they had an opening on Saturdays at 8pm and they needed five hours of content. So, we said yes, we cut away the studio part and we started airing in September 2001.
Jansson (left) with Fredrik Skavlan and Michael Parkinson
I didn’t know there was a Swedish Have I Got News for You! What was it like to adapt that very British institution?
It was great! Stellan Stundhahl, the host of Sweden’s Have I Got News for You had connections with British comedy… he knew John Lloyd (creator of QI), and he knew Ian Hislop and Paul Merton. He knew Johan and I from our student days, and he brought us in for our first writing gig. Every Monday we’d have nothing, then we’d start reading newspapers to get one thing on Tuesday, two things on Wednesday… and then we’d write on Thursday so by the time we filmed on Friday, we had a script of twenty-five pages.
There’s a Swedish QI too! How did that come about?
SVT bought the rights to QI and renamed it Intresseklubben. Johan Wester was Stephen Fry, I was Alan Davies. Unfortunately, it only lasted three or four series… sometimes Swedish television doesn’t hold on to its jewels. But it was one of the best shows I’ve been on because we had no preparation at all. I don’t like to prepare too much when I go on panel shows… I like to go on totally cold. Some comedians like a script, or at least suggestions from script writers. I don’t particularly.
Swedish humour has a reputation for being rather dark. Is this true?
It’s hard to answer because I’m Swedish! Sweden is a long country (well over two thousand kilometres long), so people in the north are different to the south. The northerners are the dark ones. Of course, though, we have the tradition from Ingmar Bergman’s films in the 1950s and 60s. They were all quite bleak. I don’t like people promoting dark comedy… just say it’s a comedy, people will realise it’s dark. Comedy is both universal and local: if you don’t make it local, it doesn’t become universal. Swedish is spoken by only ten million people, so we study German, French and English at school. Everyone speaks English quite well and we understand and love British comedy. But geography affects us all.
Finally, I have a friend in Lund who would like to ask you a question: Will Tiffany Persson return?
I get that question a lot! About 80 per cent of Tiffany Persson (the character I created for Hipp Hipp!) is based on my mother, which is quite frightening! My mother always told people around town that she was the original Tiffany Persson, but she’s also based on a shopkeeper I knew. My wife and I developed the character together, and I practiced her in the car, as I do with all my characters. She was fun to do… I learned to walk in high heels, and Johan and I became Hagrid, with the extras looking like Ron and Hermione! I’ve done two stand-up shows, and I’m hoping to do a third in the Autumn before taking it to England. So, I’m busy being myself. But I don’t think Tiffany will die… in fact she’ll always be 39, never 40!
ANDERS JANSSON is a Swedish comedian.
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