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.