Every Friday night, in prime time, both Norwegian state television (NRK) and its Swedish counterpart, SVT, air a talk show called Skavlan, which is taped in Stockholm and hosted by a Norwegian fellow named Fredrik Skavlan. Part Letterman or Leno (without the monologue), part Charlie Rose or Larry King (although the closest equivalent I can think of at the moment is – if you're old enough to remember it – the old David Susskind show), it has a certain degree of cultural and political impact in both countries. There are usually several guests per show – movie stars, pop stars, politicians, writers, and so on. They come on one at a time. Skavlan interviews them individually, but as they accumulate onstage he attempts to spark interaction among them. The conversations proceed in a mixture of Swedish and Norwegian, although quite often one of the guests is British or American, in which case everybody switches into English, some more comfortably than others.

Last Friday, the opening guest was Labor Party politician Jens Stoltenberg, who two days earlier had completed his eight-year term as prime minister of Norway, handing over the government to a non-socialist Conservative and Progress party coalition. Skavlan chatted with him for a quarter hour or so, after which they were joined by the three young stars of some Swedish teen flick, whom Skavlan interviewed, then forced into an awkward exchange with Stoltenberg. (Had Jens ever been bitten by the acting bug? Are you kids interested in politics?) Painful though it was, the worst was yet to come. For the next guest, it turned out, was a Kurdish-Swedish "political comic" named Özz Nûjen, who, Skavlan told us, "has taken the title of prime minister," his pet joke apparently being that he's the guy who should be in charge of Sweden.

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