An Interview with Ismo Leikola

Jeeves Verma chats to Finnish comedian, Ismo about the English and Finnish languages ahead of his new show!

Friends, this is Jeeves Verma with Blitz, and I’m chatting to without a doubt the funniest Finnish person in the world – Ismo Leikola!

Hello, hello! Thanks for having me.

Did I pronounce your name correctly?

Yeh pretty much. I don’t even know how to pronounce my own name when I’m outside of Finland. The Finnish pronunciation sounds different than the English one. I think every pronunciation is fine except if its [Eyes]-moh, then it’s weird. As long as it’s [Iz]-moh, then its good.

So in Finnish, what is the correct way to say it?

Well, in Finnish it will be like [Iz]-mo. [Iz]-mo Lei-colla. You can’t say that in an English sentence – the Finnish language is related to almost no other language – its kind of a weird thing. It’s really like a unique language. It’s very Hungarian and Estonian but it’s really different from those, also.

That’s fantastic. So there’s very little about your personal side on the internet. There are tonnes of videos about your stand-up and of all of your hilarious observations about the English language, so I’d like to get to know you a little better, for example when did you start your stand up career?

About… exactly 18 years ago. So it was 2002 in Finland and with the Finnish language – our strange language. I started with that. And with English, way later.

And what were you doing before you started stand up?

I was studying. I was a student but I wasn’t a really good one, I think. Like, I was interested in lots of stuff but I have to admit that I kind of went to university to pass time before I knew what I really wanted to do. I was studying Physics and Chemistry and Mathematics and stuff like that.

I think we have very similar stories, Ismo.

Okay! I think that’s great!

I studied Medicine at uni and then decided comedy was a way better… more interesting career path. 

Yeh, yeh. I think university might be best spent in a way that is like… what it’s not meant to [chuckles] like I’ll say it’s a time of inspiration but not necessarily paper.

Haha, yeh that’s right. So you were a Physic student at university and then did you try an open-mic night and decide that you really liked it?

Yeh. I studied 4 years, or like 3 years or something… I think I started studying in 1999, then in 2001 this one guy in my local house started a monthly comedy night – a stand up night – it was kind of, almost unheard of. There was some things going on in some other cities, but I didn’t even know there was stand up comedy in Finland. I guess that’s how in many countries it kind of happens like, in the same way – but not like every country, almost – I don’t know about North Korea – but almost every country, is how the stand up scene starts [chuckles]. And like most countries didn’t have stand up scene before like, the 90’s or before the 2000’s, maybe; I think maybe it was YouTube and all that stuff that kind of spread it around. I saw stand up just a little bit – I saw Seinfeld do 30 seconds of stand up at the end of each episode – but nobody in Finland, we all saw that, but nobody realised that we could actually do that also – like, we have a brick wall and a microphone also, here. We can do that. But nobody realised until 10 years later.

Yeh right, so does Finland have a big comedy scene, at the moment?

Yeh, yeh. Now it’s really big and there’s lots of comedians who are famous there and lots of comedians on TV and doing stuff and touring. I live in America now but when I go to Finland I tour the biggest venues I can find so its great, yeh! Comedy is doing really well in Finland, I think, now.

That’s fantastic. That’s really good to hear! I looked up a little information on Finland because I just realised I have no idea about Finland at all and I found out that Finland has the same population as Sydney.

Oh yeh! Yeh, that’s a funny coincidence – its about 5 or 5.5 million.

Yeh! They’re very similar in size which I thought was interesting. I mean, you have a show coming to Sydney – you’re only actually here for one night?

Yeh. I’m first in Melbourne and then in Sydney and then I think I’m going to Perth and Brisbane and Nez Zealand also. So yeh, I’m going to spend some time in Down Under but yeh, I think its only one night in Sydney.

That’s amazing. So, your show’s called Watch Your Language. I’m guessing it’s a show full of more observations about the English language?

Yeah, yeah. You guessed right! Of course, there are lots of other things, also but I think it’s fair to say that language is my main thing. Like most of my bits – I do bits about other stuff but normally they have a language component – I always like to play with language even though it’s a story or some other observation. Words and language: it's really important and interesting to me. I used to always play with the Finnish language a lot, and now I’m playing with the English language.

I think that’s fascinating - especially, I think, for us - you pick up on stuff that is second nature to us so we don’t really think about these things so that’s what I really like about your comedy – its very astute and very observational which is wonderful.

Thanks. And now I have to do something about “second nature”. That’s a weird way to say… Second Nature… its like there’s nature, then what’s second nature? Like virtual reality or something? I know there’s only one nature.

Yeh and we haven’t even ventured into third nature yet, so…

Yeh, yeh! Third and forth nature.

So, what I was going to ask you was are there any aspects of the Australian language, in particular you find interesting – because this isn’t your first time in Australia, is it?

I’ve been a couple of times, yeah. I’ve been to Sydney before, and I’ve been to Melbourne before…

For the Comedy Festival, yeh.

Yeh, Just For Laughs, Sydney. I was in that festival … I hope I have been [chuckles].

So yeh, about the Australian language – because I think we all know that we have a strange way of speaking – is there anything in particular that stands out to you about that?

Yeh definitely, I’ve noticed that in Australia people shorten everything, kind of, in a weird way. Like hot chocolate is ‘chokey’ or something. Is it ‘chokey’?

It’s ‘choccy’. Like a chocolate biscuit is a ‘choccy bicky’.

Ok! Choccy! Cos ‘chokey’ sounds like a verb you are doing to a person. So yeh its definitely those things that have been… what’s the saying in English? In Finland we say “sting in my ear” or something that like, grabs my attention.

Language is such an interesting topic to talk about and I think this is why a lot of people love you in Australia, so we’re really looking forward to your show! Can I ask you, and correct me if I’m wrong but you and you wife move to L.A.?

Yes, yes! About 4 years ago. 

Ah, right, so do you still do shows in Finnish?

I do. I go to Finland once or twice a year to do a tour for like a month, or something. And I have done shows in Finnish in L.A. I did a couple of Finnish language shows there, like I had to practice my set.

So when you do your shows in English do you translate your Finnish jokes into English or are they completely different?

It’s mostly different. Mostly different, but some things are similar. Like language-based things, of course, are the hardest ones to translate and I have lots of those, though most of them are language specific, then I have lots of other stuff that can be translated. Also, you might lose or gain punchlines so you have to tweak things around, and some things even though they should translate in theory, don’t translate in practice. So yeh, playing around with two languages I confuse my self sometimes like, “why is this not working??”. In the same way, people understand all the words and the things buts it’s still not as funny – like some things are way funnier in English and some things are way funnier in Finnish and it’s hard to know why, sometimes.

Yeh. Is there a bit in Finnish that you just wish you could translate into English but it’s just… what’s your favourite joke in Finnish that you can’t translate?

Oh, [chuckles] I can’t tell though, cos it wouldn’t make sense! Yeh, there’s plenty of those that I wish I could translate but Finnish a funny language. I think it’s a really special language or comedy – it has phrases and expressions that are like… I think, just the amount of curse words. In Finland we have way more curse/bad words – some are worse than others and there’s way more to choose from and it’s a different tone if your chose another curse word. In English there’s not that many to choose from.

Yeh, I think curse words are a great insight into a language.

Oh yeh! Also, some expressions and idioms – there are some things that are like [in Finnish] like “a flock of sparrows” and what that means is “diarrhoea with chunks in it”

[Laughs] Like “it came out like a flock of sparrows”?

Yeh, yeh. The kind that destroys the whole toilet.

Even though that’s not an English idiom, I can understand exactly what you mean by that.

Oh I’m glad because I think that’s like kind of like a beautiful poetic…

Yeh, its so poetic! It is!

Yeh our language is full of those that is kind of like beautiful and ugly at the same time. Yeh, its nice. 


So Ismo, you wrote and starred in two seasons of your own show?

Yeh I did a show in Finland in Finnish. And yeh, of course we had lots of other writers, too. I played myself and we did a single-camera show.

Oh right! So it was appropriately called “ISMO” and this might sounds like a dumb question but… what was it about?

Yeh well.. yeh ok, it could be about anything but basically it was just about me – I kind of played myself – I was a comic and doing shows and getting in trouble and basically about the life of a comic but most of the episodes were not about the comedy but about the relationships and whatever other stuff… and I had a wife – and the actor was picked by my real wife [chuckles].

So I’m guessing its in Finnish – is it viewable anywhere on the internet? Like, can I go on YouTube and find it?

No… well you might find clips of something. But it was filmed in Finland for the Finnish audience even though we filmed some of it in America. There are some scenes in English – of course we were filming in America and interacting with American people so we talking in English in those scenes but it’s mostly all in Finnish. So I’m going to have to make a new show at some point!

Yeh, definitely make a new show and please put English subtitles in it!

Actually speaking of subtitles, some of my Finnish YouTube clips will have subtitles but it still doesn’t really help – it’s kind of hard to translate.

Yeh, fair enough. So, you’re coming for the Melbourne Comedy Festival then you’ll do the one show in Sydney. What are you most excited about for your own show?

Well, I’m excited in general to come to Australia because I’ve always enjoyed being there. But I have tonnes of new stuff so I’m looking forward to how people will receive it and yeh! I dunno, I always think my new stuff is better than my old stuff so I’m always happy to do the new stuff to a new audience.

Well, we’re totally excited to have you here and we can’t wait to see you. So for our listeners, if you’re in Melbourne it will be at Max Watt’s Theatre from April 9 – 19 you can get tickets from, and if you’re in Sydney, its one night only – April 21 st – get tickets from Ismo, it has been such a pleasure talking to you, exploring the English language and the Finnish language – can’t wait to meet you in Melbourne!

Yeh, definitely! Lets hook up and do something.


Book at Festival Box Office 9245 3788


Book at Festival Box Office 9020 6966

or Ticketek 132 849

An Interview with Vera Blue

Vera Blue opens up about her childhood, creative process and career highlights.

Read More

Review: Petals for Armor I

Katie takes us through Hayley Williams' new solo debut album.

Read More

The Story of OneFour

Thaveesha examines the controversies behind Australia's foremost up and coming rap group, OneFour.

Read More

Read More