Not too long ago I had the opportunity to interview Frank Hvam (left) and Casper Christensen, the Danish comics behind Klown, the Danish TV show and later the film, which was just released by Drafthouse Films (currently in theaters in a handful of markets and on VOD everywhere). In Part One of the interview, we covered the surprisingly contentious relationship between Frank and Casper, and the way rival comedy “gangs” developed in Denmark, even as they were working towards the same goal (as well as who you’re allowed to make fun of when your entire country’s stand-up scene is handful of people who all know each other). Definitely check out part one if you haven’t yet, I found it to be one of the more interesting interviews I’ve been a part of.
In part two, I ask them about the inevitable comparisons to Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Hangover, and what it was like trying to cast Klown‘s Thurman Merman-esque scene stealer, Bo (Marcuz Jess Peterson – above middle). In Denmark, apparently, you might be trying to cast a chubby kid, but you’re not allowed to put out a casting call for a chubby kid. And if you play a character named after yourself, don’t expect any of the acting guilds to know that you’re acting. Enjoy.
Just a reminder, the audio of this interview (parts one and two) will be available as a bonus episode if you subscribe to the Frotcast on iTunes.
VINCE: So at what point did comedy become something you could do as a job?
FRANK: After a couple of years.
VINCE: Was there any one break that you got that made it possible?
FRANK: No, for me it came very slow. I was not doing that much progress to start with. Heaps of sh*t shows. Many bad shows, and then I started to do TV work.
VINCE: Bad TV shows or bad live shows?
FRANK: Bad live shows, and then I started to do some TV. I was a hard working little bee. It helps a lot. I have bigger, bigger jobs in the business, and then I had this funniest home video show, which I hosted. To be honest, it was not a good program, but it gave me some experience, and then Casper called me.
CASPER: It’s funny, you wanted to be an actor and then you did all of this stand-up, and I think you’re just right for it, but it’s really when you started acting in comedy parts that we did that it took off for you. Then afterwards people love you and then you can go out and show who you really are but in stand-up. That’s been a perfect combo. For me, it was the other way around. I got a game show that became really big, and that was just myself, and then I had to go out and do stand-up afterwards, but that was like a family game show that I did, and then doing stand-up, it just didn’t work out. There’s like two different ways about it.
VINCE: Was it hard to learn how to play a character instead of talking as a stand-up would?
CASPER: That’s why we play by our own names, and by improvising. It’s more fun for us, and that’s what we are good at. Don’t you think? (to Frank)
VINCE: You’re still acting.
CASPER: We’re still acting. A funny story, there’s as an actor’s guild in Denmark, they wouldn’t allow me in because they thought I would just be myself.
FRANK: Yeah, you’re right. That was funny. You have played yourself in 68 episodes in a sitcom, a fictionalized sitcom written from start to the end…
C & FRANK: and this was not even improvising.
CASPER: A lot was written down. Scripted.
FRANK: They wouldn’t have him in.
VINCE: It seems like a very subjective criteria for…
FRANK: It was so old-fashioned. It was so snobbish.
CASPER: It was shot in a studio. I think they kind of believed that apartment existed in real life.
FRANK: They thought we were improvising. They thought, “They’re just stand-up comedians, they’ll just come up with something or make it up.”
VINCE: What’s the harshest criticism that you’ve gotten of this movie? Was there any backlash at all?
CASPER: That’s a good story. The guy from [Danish paper], the critic’s writing about this movie…
FRANK: No, that was our live show.
CASPER: Was that the live show?
FRANK: Yeah. We had good reviews.
CASPER: That’s right, sorry. We just did a live comedy show together, and we got good reviews, but there was one guy who just gave it 1 out of 5 stars. Hated it. He wrote, “I’ve never seen stand-up before in my life, I’ve never heard these guys on radio or seen on television, and I haven’t seen their movie. I’ve never heard of them before and I hated everything I saw.” We find out that normally he’s a theatrical ballet critic. But that was just, “Why did they send this guy out, man?” The movie was pretty good.
FRANK: We tried to get it to the Gothenburg Festival, a Swedish film festival. A couple of weeks later there was an extremely angry lady on the phone. She said she had seen the movie, it was the worst movie she had ever seen, it was immoral, it was a thing they would never show at the festival and we should not even try to call them again if we made a new movie.
CASPER: We weren’t even allowed in the festival.
FRANK: They hated us so much.
CASPER: That’s maybe what you call “not that good of a review.”
VINCE: In American comedies, even ones that are supposedly outrageous, there’s still certain taboos that you notice. In American movies you almost never see the male character cheat on someone. Like abortion, they sort of don’t talk about even in movies that are supposedly progressive and outrageous. Are there any Danish taboos that you notice that even when Danes are trying to be dark and go outrageous they still don’t?
CASPER: I think people try to do comedy out of everything, but it’s not always working. Cheating on your wife? That’s kind of a taboo in Denmark too. Not that many people succeed making comedy out of it. We’re not censored. So it’s up to yourself to find out a way to work around a controversial topic. Nobody else has taken responsibility for it, so you can’t blame anybody. You can’t say, “Oh, it becomes essential. We couldn’t go there or around it.” We know we can do whatever we want. If we want to make it a success, we want to make people laugh, it’s up to us to do it. That’s a good thing.
VINCE: How long was it before you were allowed to do what you want? How much creative oversight was there in the beginning? Were people telling you what you could and couldn’t do?
FRANK: We started out on a very small channel. That helped us a lot. It was a cable TV channel. It was made for young people, so there were no boundaries, no limits. If we had started out in prime time, of course, it probably would have been that.
CASPER: That’s what I’m talking about before doing the game show and having some comedy in that game show on a big channel at 8 o’clock at night, you kind of have to do your comedy in a certain way. The freedom of just going on a small channel later at night, it was just wonderful. That’s why I did it.
VINCE: Was it hard to go from being seen as the guy on the game show that’s for families [to where you are now], was it a hard transition to make?
VINCE: No? People just accepted it right away?
CASPER: No they didn’t, but that’s how I started. I started doing sketches and stand-up, and then you get picked up by the network and suddenly you are this family guy, big star thing. But that’s not what I want out of it. I think that if you are doing what you’re good at and love, you’re going to do better. Definitely going to have a better life, though.
(no idea what’s being said here. I think I heard ‘Stand up’ and ‘Thailand’)
VINCE: I wanted to read you a passage from the Wikipedia entry on Klown. It seems very passive-aggressive. It says, “Klown shares many concepts with the American sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm by Larry David. Notably the main concept of the semi-retired comedian encountering humorous situations. The show is also held in pseudo-realistic style, even the score is similar. In spite of this, in its closing credits the show is claimed to be an original idea by Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam.”
CASPER: Who wrote that?
VINCE: I don’t know.
FRANK: A Danish blog, I’m sure. We’ve been inspired by Curb, that’s for sure. It’s a great series, and we love Larry David. He’s just a great comedian, but as you can see in the movie our tone is a little different.
CASPER: I think that people like to be the ones who can say, “Hey, there’s something similar to it in America,” just to show that they’ve seen a show that nobody else has seen before. We had a fight with that Curb ghost at some point.
FRANK: We were very honest about our inspirations. We’ve seen The Office.
CASPER: We said right out: The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm….
FRANK: You learn some stuff about…
FRANK: Yeah, the technique of doing things.
CASPER: Or the dialogue is improvised.
VINCE: The format seems similar to Curb, but I feel like the tone of the comedy seems more like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
CASPER: I love being compared to Curb, because I think it’s good. It’s done professionally, and he’s funny as hell, but we do something different.
FRANK: We work with bigger emotions. We work with a natural story. Larry David is like…
CASPER: Smaller body.
FRANK: Yeah, small body. He’s like a structure man. You think he was a mathematic.
CASPER: Yeah, I think so.
FRANK: He’s constructing things a lot, where we like it to be more fluidly or organic, or like real life.
VINCE: Do you mind The Hangover comparisons?
FRANK: No, that’s great too.
CASPER: I saw The Hangover over here. I had not heard about it. I just went into a movie theater and sat down. Never seen a trailer. Everything was just new to me when I came in. I was laughing so hard. It was a fun movie the first time. We never heard about it. It was so much fun. When we were writing it we didn’t talk much about The Hangover, but of course, the pictures at the end kind of had the same shock effect, right?
FRANK: And you can see Sideways in that movie, too.
CASPER: Sideways, yeah. I mean Vacation with Chevy Chase. You know that old movie, National Lampoon? Many things fall into it.
VINCE: Can you talk about casting the kid in the movie?
CASPER: We had an open audition. We knew exactly what we wanted. We wanted that kid like the kid from Bad Santa. Be innocent and chubby. That’s what we wanted, and you can’t write that in an open audition, so everybody showed up.
VINCE: You can’t write innocent, chubby?
CASPER: You cannot write chubby.
CASPER: It’s discriminating.
FRANK: All white or asian.
CASPER: Or nothing.
VINCE: (to the publicist) We can write that here, can’t we?
VINCE: In the US, if you wanted a chubby kid you could say you wanted a chubby kid, right?
FRANK: So you are more progressive than those things. We laughed a lot about it ourselves. It’s completely stupid.
CASPER: It worked for the movie. But 800 kids showed up.
CASPER: But he was good.
VINCE: Was he an actor?
CASPER: Never acted before in his life. His father didn’t even know that he involved himself.
VINCE: Oh, wow.
FRANK: He had this completely innocent face like a silent movie player, Just look at him.
CASPER: I tried to be friends with him in the beginning because he was so pure, and that’s what really worked for the movie. I found I could be friends with him in the beginning, behind the scenes or between takes, but he had to be a little bit scared of me the whole time. In the end we started to become friends. He’s a great kid. Never complained.
FRANK: Nope, and he’s doing great now. He did a movie afterwards. He’s a star now back home.
VINCE: Are you guys done with the show?
VINCE: What’s the next…
CASPER: We’re putting out a DVD on our live stand-up comedy tour. That’s the next thing, and then we decided on writing a new movie starting in January. We haven’t decided yet if it’ll be Klown or something different.
VINCE: What’s the overlap on different Scandinavian countries as far as comedy goes? Do you share a scene at all? No?
CASPER: We were the first team to travel.
FRANK: Yeah, to my knowledge.
CASPER: I think it’s like 20 years since something traveled comedy-wise. That’s strange because Sweden’s got good comedians.
VINCE: I just saw some internet clips of this Swedish group that was really funny.
VINCE: Yeah, exactly.
CASPER: It’s funny as hell.
VINCE: I only saw the thing that they did that was like an American drama but in gibberish.
VINCE: That was amazing. I want to see a whole movie of that.
CASPER: They did a spoof on Danish drama too that is hilarious. But it doesn’t travel that well.
VINCE: Is there other Danish comedy shows or people that you think would translate? But you just think that is good in general.
FRANK: We have some drama that travels good.
CASPER: Drama travels. The Danish National Television Station is pretty good. They spend a lot of money developing drama but not on comedy side.
VINCE: If you’re doing stuff that’s publicly funded is it harder to get them to do comedy than it is to do drama?
FRANK: We’ve always been told that comedy can’t travel, but we think it’s a matter of quality to be honest.
CASPER: It’s harder to get financed by the television stations to do comedy. The money they spend on drama for some reason don’t compare.
VINCE: It seems like the Danish comedy and other things I’ve seen from that part of the world that the people have a greater appreciation for darker comedy. More of a darker comedy sensibility. Have you found that at all?
FRANK: I think you’re right. The whole European comedy tradition is a little bit darker if you look at the French comedies.
CASPER: At the same time, the most popular comedies in Denmark are still American comedies like Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, that’s still what gets people to the movie theater. The biggest sitcom ever, Friends. Even though we might have a different, seems like darker, but… I think it’s the same. Most people don’t care, they just want to laugh. Someone’s falling down.
FRANK: Ordinary people, that’s for sure. But maybe the cultural establishment a little bit into the crying clown. That’s the sane comedy.
CASPER: That’s the same over here. It seems like the hipper crowd is not really into the Adam Sandler scene, right?
CASPER: So, I think it’s the same.
VINCE: Who are your favorite American comedians?
CASPER: There’s a lot of good ones.
FRANK: When it comes to stand-up comedians, it’s Louis C.K. and Chris Rock.
CASPER: I was a big fan of Bill Hicks.
FRANK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s good.
CASPER: There’s probably going to be a lot of really talented, and really good ones that we would know about if we lived here, but what we get is the main stream mostly. We got to find other means by ourselves.
VINCE: You guys seem like you’re allowed to make fun of children and the handicapped. There’s certain things that it seems like you are more allowed to do than we are.
CASPER: We don’t make fun of children or handicapped. We make fun of people around the children and handicapped.
CASPER: I think that’s the difference.
FRANK: It’s an important part.
CASPER: Like we were talking before, there’s no censorship. It’s up to us. If we do a show making fun of handicapped people, I’ll guarantee nobody’s going to watch.
VINCE: But even having them in a bit, here, people think you’re making fun of them.
FRANK: That’s the hard work thing. We have to show people, convince people that we are not making fun of a guy with Down Syndrome, we’re making fun of people in his surrounding. We’re making fun of people’s reactions to that guy with Down Syndrome and not the guy himself. That’s an important part.
CASPER: That’s really what interests us the most. How do we do that? How can we make fun of this? How can we make people laugh about this topic without them feeling bad at the same time?
FRANK: Of course, it’s always a balance. It’s difficult, because there’ll always be people laughing at the guy with Down Syndrome.
CASPER: That happens in real life too.
VINCE: My girlfriend, she only had one question. I asked her what I should ask you guys, and she wanted to know how you say “c*nt licker” in Danish?
FRANK: C*nt licker?
CASPER: “Fissas licker.”
FRANK: But the word is not as common as “c*cksucker.”
VINCE: Well yeah, same here.
CASPER: Jeez, what kind of girlfriend do you have?
VINCE: She’s sick.
CASPER: Good for you!
FRANK: It’s weird, because there’s a lot more c*nts licking than c*ck sucking in the world.
CASPER: I’m not going to get into that. (to Frank) Wait, you think there’s more c*cksucking than c*ntlicking?
FRANK: I think there is more c*ntlicking than c*cksucking.
CASPER: I think there’s more c*cksucking.
VINCE: I think that it’s more that for guys it’s more of an insult to be called a c*cksucker than a c*ntlicker.
FRANK: Yeah, c*ntlicker, that’s probably a compliment.
CASPER: I think there has been more sucked c*ck than there has been licked pussy.
FRANK: That’s interesting, because I think that in the start of the relationship, there might be some more c*cksucking, but in the end of the relationship, you can’t get her down there.
CASPER: That’s true, but I think on the first date, and there’s going to be a lot more first dates than there are sex after 20 years of marriage. So, I mean, the blowjob has gotta be bigger.
FRANK: It’s an interesting investigation.