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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The ‘funniest person in the world’ will make his Spokane debut at the Bing

Finnish comic Ismo Leikola will take the Bing Crosby Theater stage on Saturday.  (Courtesy of Rafael Cardenas)

Some entertainers are less than thrilled about conducting interviews. However, Finnish comic Ismo Leikola makes the best of it.

“Can you believe I came up with some jokes while we’ve been speaking,” Leikola said, while calling from his Los Angeles home. “How great is that? I now have a joke about bragging.”

Creating jokes while in conversation is expected from the humorist who won “The Funniest Person in the World” contest in 2014, which was organized by the Laugh Factory comedy club.

It’s ironic that Leikola won the funniest person contest since boasting is uncommon in Finland.

“Bragging is practically illegal in Finland,” Leikola said. “Fins put themselves down. We brag about as often as we smile.

“It’s so different there than it is in America, where you have shirts that say, ‘Best Dad’ and signs that say, ‘Best hot dogs.’ If we had a slogan in Finland for hot dogs, it would be something like, ‘It’s not the wurst.’”

Leikola, 44, effectively compares the differences between Finland and America, particularly when it comes to language. Give Leikola, who is on his “Watch Your Language” tour, credit for being funny in a second language.

Gad Elmaleh, the French comic, challenged himself by coming to America for a tour.

“My head really hurt after 60 minutes, telling jokes in English,” Elmaleh said during an interview. “It’s not easy to do what I do in another language.”

Leikola, who will perform Saturday at the Bing Crosby Theater, laughed when asked if some of his humor gets lost in translation.

“Yes it does,” Leikola said. “There are certain jokes I say in Finland that I can’t say here, and it’s the same regarding jokes I tell here that I won’t say back in Finland.”

The regard Leikola has for language is reminiscent of George Carlin. Leikola riffs on words and their meanings. Leikola also compares the cultures of Finland and America.

“Small talk is nonexistent in Finland,” Leikola said. “Americans talk way more than Fins. In Finland, no one talks to strangers. When people say something there, they mean it.

“I had to get used to the difference here in Los Angeles. When someone says they want to hang out, it means nothing.”

Finland has a big drinking culture.

“In America, people will come to a party and drink and then drive away,” Leikola said. “Fins don’t like if anyone drinks and drives, because most people in Finland get super hammered. Drinking heavily is so accepted that you can throw up on your boss at a party and not get fired.”

It’s very different being a Finnish celebrity than a famous personality in America.

“You can be a celebrity and be broke in Finland,” Leikola said. “If you’re an American celebrity, you can always sell something. Fins don’t look up to celebrities. They look at the famous in Finland as just somebody that just got lucky.”

Leikola cracks up when mentioning the American dream, which is the antithesis of life in Finland.

“What amuses me is that everyone in America thinks they can be rich,” Leikola said. “That’s why poor people in this country never want taxes to be high, because they think that when they eventually get rich, they’ll be really upset that the taxes are so bad.

“Nobody in Finland believes they will be rich or successful.”

Even so, Finland recently named the world’s happiest country for the sixth-straight year, according to the U.N.’s World Happiness Report.

“It’s true that Finland has been named the happiest country once more, but I don’t think happy is the correct title,” Leikola said. “I think Finland is the home of the people who are the most content in the world. It’s pretty safe there and there’s security.

“If you screw up in America, you end up on the street. If you screw up in Finland, nothing happens. But if you try really hard and are successful in Finland, nothing happens. There are so many differences between Finland and America.”

However, one similarity between Helsinki and Spokane this weekend is the weather, which will be bone-chilling for those who trek to the Bing to catch Leikola.

“I’ll be ready for the cold since I was just back in Finland and it was negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit,” Leikola said. “Spokane sounds like it will be as cold as a Finnish city. I’ll feel right at home.”