The Sweirdish Mind of Henrik Elmer
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2006
Contemplating his shortcomings of the last two decades, Swedish comedian Henrik Elmer suddenly realised that life mustn't be taken too seriously. Especially not other people's lives.
Henrik wrote a TV pilot reflecting his new insights. Since he doesn't own a TV channel he will present his script from stage. The TV show will take place in the audience minds, with the help of extremely modern technology. A microphone, a sound system... and, if he can afford it, a mind projection device.
Henrik believes his script might help other people in his own situation. If there are any, which is doubtful.
As a Swede, Henrik Elmer is no doubt used to unforgiving icy environments virtually devoid of life, which must be ideal preparation for a mid-afternoon slot in one of the Fringe's less high-profile venues.
So with a sparse smattering of punters but quite a lot of furniture, it's difficult to get much of a lively stand-up vibe going. And since jolly audience banter isn't this strange, cerebral comic's strongest suit, as he proves a few times this afternoon, the show proves hard work for both him and us.
Running at only three-quarters of its advertised hour, The Swierdish Mind Of Henrik Elmer is fifty per cent clever, crafted jokes; fifty per cent mind-bending weirdness that doesn't quite connect. It has all the hallmarks of a strongly written 20-minute set diluted by experimental, unfinished work undertaken just to get enough material together for a Fringe show.
Elmer's best lines come from applying a warped, but ruthlessly rigid logic to things he's seen, or, better yet, his own self-confessed eccentricities. He has overwhelming compulsions, for example, to throw his keys in the river, because by going through with it, the tension of thinking that he might possibly do something so stupid will be relieved. In a similar vein, he imagines overtly complex practical jokes to get back at minor irritants, so convoluted and time-consuming that they'd be more like impractical jokes.
It works because Elmer's persona is so clearly bonkers. Bonkers in a restrained, Scandinavian way, hidden behind an implacable façade, rather than it any tiresomely zany way, but bonkers nonetheless. It's not coincidence that he gets one of his biggest laughs not from a smart punchline but by the set-up: 'As I child, I was a bit strange'
Alongside his arid, but inspired, stand-up, Elmer reads the outline of a nonsensical sitcom episode he's created, a contrivance that only detaches him further from the audience. Parts of this are unnecessarily complicated especially the convoluted and self-consciously surreal idea of training a parrot to say he's a monkey while reading Arthur Schopenhauer philosophy books to it, which loses any joke in its labyrinthine exposition.
That said, Elmer does also apply his steely reason to come up with the perfect, incontrovertible answer to religious evangelists proclaiming that 'Jesus died for out sins', so kudos for that.
All his ideas are woven together elaborately, with callbacks
aplenty creating a detailed, layered show. If only all the material
were up to his best, he'd really be on to something.