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INTERVIEW: 'I needed help to write jokes that would make Norwegians laugh'

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
INTERVIEW: 'I needed help to write jokes that would make Norwegians laugh'
The poster for Cécile Moronis one woman show. Photo: Svein Finneide

For the French-Norwegian stand-up comedian Cécile Moroni cracking a country's sense of humour is the final stage of integration. She told The Local how she learned to make Norwegians laugh.


Moroni left her chief executive job last March to work full time as a stand-up comedian, launching her one-woman show, 'Allo Norge!, in cities across Norway this February. But she had dipped her toe in the water a long time before when she did her first gig -- in Norwegian -- at a small bar in Oslo called Skuret in 2014. 

"I'm not gonna lie, it's been a painful journey," she laughs. "Some things you write and you think 'this is going to be hilarious!' But it doesn't work at all." 

And unlike most comics, Moroni was performing in what was her fourth language after French, English and German.  

"I think when you when you're an expat, humour is one of the last layers of a country you can understand or crack. You can have something very funny in your head. But sometimes, at least in the beginning, I needed help to write the jokes in a way that would make the Norwegian audience laugh." 

By the time she got her big break with an appearance on the Latter Live stand-up show on NRK, she had honed down a set that ribbed Norwegians for their weird traditions. 

"Norwegians have a lot of self-irony, much better than French people, by the way. They have a good capacity of laughing about themselves," she explains about her approach Norwegian audiences. "And Norwegians are just happy to hear about themselves. It's such a little country and they're happy when people talk about them. You can tease them a bit or make fun of this or that strange tradition, and they just ask for more, so it's a very nice crowd."

Moroni started off being quite cautious, not wanting to offend her audiences by painting too unflattering a picture of Norway and Norwegians but was soon advised by a Norwegian friend to instead exaggerate her impressions. 

"When I started, I was very careful and people were just smiling. And one of my friends said, 'you should just take it three steps more in that direction and see what's going on', and people started laughing out loud and being [she puts on a gruff Norwegian voice] 'This is hilarious. This is exactly how it is." 


Part of Moroni's act is based around contrasting her Parisian background with the coarse Norwegian language she has picked up in her husband's hometown of Sandefjord. 

"Norwegians like the French accent. 'Ah it's so charming," they say. Charmerande is the word they use in Norwegian. And then when I imitate like Norwegians talking like that [she puts on the same gruff Norwegian voice] and I use a lot of slang words, they're surprised, and that makes people laugh because like, 'oh shit. She's learned that too'." 

Being a foreigner doing stand-up in Norwegian makes her quite unusual, perhaps unique. "Some comedians will come to Norway and comment on the Norwegian aspects of what they've observed, but there's no one I know of who has learned Norwegian as an adult and then does stand-up," she says. "This is an unseen story for them." 


She also does sets in French and English, sometimes for expat audiences in the Nordics, occasionally back home in Paris, and, this coming summer, she's performing the Edinburgh Festival along with other Norwegian stand-up comedians. For that, she largely uses different material, focused more on the expat experience. 

But for Norwegians, she believes, even making fun of the culture can be quite flattering as they are otherwise painfully conscious of the fact that very few other people in the world outside know very much about them. 

"Norwegians have this inferiority complex -- Oh God, don't tell them I told you that. They love to hear about themselves because they've always mixed up with Swedish people. Even my husband, you know. We go to Paris and someone says, 'oh, how is it in Stockholm?' And I can see a tear in his eyes, like 'I'm not Swedish'. They call it the lillebror complex. So for them it's special to have someone from a big city like Paris interesting themselves in Norwegian culture and learning the unwritten rules."


She's careful, though, not to pose as the sophisticated Parisian looking down on provincial Norwegians, and also tries to make jokes about how advanced Norway is, both socially and economically. 

"I do a lot of jokes about how privileged they are," she explains. "I just try to remind them kindly that they don't have any poverty or unemployment and that their political scandals are so unexotic in comparison with what's going on in France, the US, Italy, or even Germany sometimes. They forget that they have it".  

She also jokes about her experiences bringing up three half-Norwegian children, contrasting the upbringing they are having with her own. 

"So my children, will they grow up French or will they grow up Norwegian and how do you cope with that? And what do they learn? They can survive in the woods. That's great. If they grew up in Paris, they they would learn how to strike.

"In my show, I make fun of myself, like, 'look at me trying to raise my children who are already quicker than I am on ice. I'm not good at walking on ice, but my three year old is already super used to it. So I have good things to joke about."

Moroni is performing her show, 'Allo Norge on March 6th, at the Oslo Nye Teaterkjeller’n, on March 7th at Alles Kulturhus in Hønefoss, at the Ole Bull theatre in the Ole Bull theatre in Bergen on March 15th, at the Kurbadhagen bar in Sandefjord on April 12th and at Gjøvik Kino on April 13th. 


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