Norwegian comic Daniel Simonsen talks breaking into American comedy, overcoming shyness ahead of Hilarities show – news-herald.com
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“I always ask them to mention I’m Norwegian up top or else people doubt I’m a real person — nobody speaks English this way,” comedian Daniel Simonsen quips in his trademark accent.
“I don’t even know why I sound like this myself. I just started to talk, and this is how it came out. Immediately I was like, ‘Oh, no.’”
These opening lines disarm “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” crowd during Simonsen’s first appearance on the show back in 2019.
Over the next five minutes, he details his self-doubt and overall shyness as a person, a couple of themes that pop up often in his material. It’s a formula that seems to kill wherever he performs.
Simonsen brings his loveable brand of honest anxiety and observational humor to Hilarities 4th Street Theatre in Cleveland Sept. 15.
Although he’s newer to being an “on-the-road” comic in America, Simonsen originally worked in comedy and television in the United Kingdom, touring theaters and even winning the U.K.’s comedy competition show “So You Think You’re Funny.”
The Norway native quickly made a name for himself in the New York comedy scene after moving to the U.S. only six or seven years ago, thanks to his nonchalant delivery, skilled timing and simple observations.
Moving to America, he says in a recent phone interview, was a lot like “starting from scratch.”
“It was definitely a big decision. It was like going back to being really poor. That was really challenging for like three years,” he says.
Along with hitting the road recently, he also performs regularly at the Comedy Cellar in Manhattan — a comedy club home to the city’s top performers. His standup frequently appears on Comedy Central’s “This Week at the Comedy Cellar.”
He says breaking ground at New York City’s famed Comedy Cellar was a major turning point for his career in the U.S.
“I think when I got into the Cellar in New York, that kind of changed a lot. And that’s also how I got on “Late Night,” he says, referring to his late-night show debut on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” in 2018.
Although uprooting meant a major reset, he says it was worth it.
“I just somehow felt so strongly when I came to New York that this was where I needed to be. I always had wanted to — deep down, my dream — was always to try America eventually. I just decided to do it.”
Experiencing the city, in general, was also personally energizing to the comedian.
“I really like just New York so much as a city. It was like the best city I felt that I had ever been in. That was also a big factor in (moving). But it was the same in London — the first three years, I was very poor there.”
Powering through the poor years in comedy is an uneasy task for any performer, but doing it twice, and with a heaping side of shyness, it’s an even taller order.
And while some comics develop a stage persona that’s partly based in truth, partly fictionalized for the stage, Simonsen says his stage presence is pretty close to the real thing.
“There is a lot of truth to it,” he says.
“I think it’s like a heightened version of yourself. It’s like whoever you are, I think, becomes amplified on a stage,” he adds. “I get pretty nervous, so that becomes a part of it then. Your nerves maybe become not a persona but adds to it, you know?”
When asked how he managed nerves early on, Simonsen explains, “You basically just force yourself to do something that you’re scared of. It’s (nerves) not as bad as it used to be when I started out; it was extreme.”
Remembering his early days in the business, he recalls being so nervous before one particular show, that he kept a bucket with him backstage in case he got sick.
“Now it’s not that extreme, but I get nervous regularly. It’s kind of an extreme thing — standup — I think.”
You can argue that telling your crowd you’re nervous — like he’s done — is a bold, vulnerable move that allows the audience to be vulnerable too.
But Simonsen isn’t so sure of that.
“I never really thought about it in that way. But I think it’s obvious anyways. So, I’m not sharing anything that they cannot sense,” he laughs.
If you ask the humble funnyman which aspects of his work he thinks audiences love the most, he’ll refuse to pat himself on the back.
“Actually, I have no idea. I don’t know, to be honest. It’s hard for me because I can’t really see myself from the outside. I think you always see yourself differently, you know, than you see someone else. It’s quite hard to judge yourself, I think.”
Then there are also cultural differences to consider.
Reflecting on how European humor compares to American humor, he says, “I think, personally, Americans are the best at standup. I’m not sure why, but I guess it originated here. I guess maybe sometimes in Europe, the humor is slightly more subtle. It’s a bit more in your face, maybe, in America. The punch lines are maybe a lot harder.”
Simonsen started taking his act on the road before the pandemic hit, but of course, had to press pause as lockdowns sprouted up across the country.
Now he’s back at it, recently wrapping up shows at Go Bananas Comedy Club in Cincinnati — Cleveland is his next stop.
“I actually really like America,” he says about being on the road.
“Wherever I go here, I feel good. I’ve yet to be anywhere where I didn’t like it. It’s just kind of a magical place to me.”
When: Sept. 15.
Where: Hilarities 4th Street Theatre, 2035 E. Fourth St., Cleveland.
Tickets: $40 to $120 (with tickets sold for groups of two, four and six).
Info: pickwickandfrolic.com or 216-241-7425.
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