Towards a Boundless World: Backa Stand Up Comedy

Towards a Boundless World: Backa Stand-up Comedy*, was a free public stand-up comedy night, where comedians addressed the stories, rumors and impressions, both positive and negative, of the Backa Röd community and the greater subjects of immigration, cultural conflict and assimilation in Sweden. This project was produced to be experienced just like a stand-up night in any comedy club, but in place of a stage it utilized the exterior first-floor balcony of a Backa Röd apartment building, and in place of an auditorium, chairs and tables were installed in the public squares, gardens, and pathways that this balcony looked out onto.

When I first came to Sweden for six weeks, in the summer of 2008, I was stuck by the optimism of the Swedish social welfare system, the goodwill of Sweden’s immigration/asylum policy and the progressive/utopian design of the architecture of its low-income housing, contrasted with the everyday reality of those immigrants, daughters and sons of immigrants, whose daily lives are affected by these policies. In my early conversations with immigrants living in communities like Bergsjon, Angered and later Backa, they told me they were thankful for being able to immigrate, from often oppressive conditions, to Sweden and being given the chance to start a new life. Moreover, they liked much about the atmosphere of Sweden and they believed in and benefited from the social welfare system, but despite the good intentions of the state, they felt placed on the periphery (both geographically and culturally) and found it difficult to integrate into or become part of the greater Swedish society. Backa’s situation on the other hand was even more complicated. In addition to citizen’s difficulties integrating into Swedish society, Backa was shouldering a history of negative and polarized representations in the media. The community was constantly depicted as a dangerous place full of physical violence and car fires.

Comedy and jokes became the great leveler. I found that everyone, no matter what cultural background or political history, understood comedy and jokes. Jokes, in all situations are a form of expression used to transform negative or oppressive subjects into something comprehendible and amenable. They provide a way to bring different people together through simple human expression, laughter. And for me, as a foreigner and an outsider, they provided a way to gain access to other people and other cultures.

My aim with this event was to use stand-up comedy and humor, in this way, to address unsaid, contentious or taboo subjects and issues regarding immigration and integration in Sweden, by bringing them out into the open, making them public and creating a forum to bring adiversity of people together.

The project was supported by a grant from Kultur och Hälsa, Bostads AB Poseidon, Valand School of Fine Arts and a Projektstöd Pronto grant from Göteborgs Stads kulturförvaltning/Kulturstöd.

*A note on the title: In Rabelais and His World Mikhail Bakhtin suggests that the importance of comedy in the Renaissance and the Middle Ages was to create "A boundless world of humorous forms and manifestations" a world opposed to the official and serious. He suggests that the ritual of comedy “celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order…It was hostile to all that was immortalized and completed." This liberatory character is the political aspect of comedy. Though Bakhtin was mainly concerned with the carnival comedy of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, this quality pervades all comedic forms. Through parody, imitation, exaggeration, and the exploration of taboo subjects, comedy disrupts, shifts and opens up boundaries that had previously seemed closed.

Media: Pubic Performance
Location: Blendas Gata 49, 42251 Hisings Backa, Göteborg, Sweden
Year: September 18, 2010, 18:00

With Comedians:
Khalid Geire (born in Somalia, lives in Sweden)
Emma Knyckare (born in Sweden, lives in Sweden)
Kurt Lightner (born in the USA, lives in Sweden).
Hosted by Isak Janssen

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