Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

The philosophy behind Ismo Leikola, the official 'funniest comedian in the world'

The funniest comedian in the world, officially that is, hails from Finland, speaks English as a second language and goes by the unlikely name of Ismo. You've probably never heard of him.

"It is kind of a ridiculous title," Ismo Leikola says, laughing. "If you announce a band or a musician as 'the best band in the world' it would sound silly. Comedy isn't even a competition sport, it's more of an art form. But it's great on the CV."

Leikola secured this prestigious, albeit ridiculous, title by winning a global competition staged by Laugh Factory, an American comedy club chain, three years ago.

He describes his victory as "a long shot" but the reality is he'd already been doing stand-up for 10 years. First in his native Finland and then translating his jokes to English to perform in the UK and at the famous Edinburgh Fringe festival.

But, he says, his win finally opened up America for him. So much so that last year he and his wife moved there. As befits the oddly skewed logic of his comedy, he found an unexpected benefit.

"We are so used to saying anything publicly. In a full restaurant we can talk about the most gross things and know that nobody understands. I can shout from the other end of a restaurant, 'wait, I'm just gonna take one more shit!' or something in Finnish. It's funny to live in a country where you can basically talk in secret all the time."

It's Leikola's third visit to New Zealand. He toured last year and came as a tourist a couple of years before that.

"I was there with my wife and we went to see lots of stuff. Both islands. All over the place. We went to Queenstown ... Rotorua ... "

His pronunciation, I say, is superb.

"I heard that the Finnish pronunciation and the Maori pronunciation are exactly the same. If I were to say 'Rotorua' in Finland it would sound exactly the same," he says, masterfully enunciating those tricky rolling vowels. "It's so funny because we are exactly on the opposite side of the planet."

His show is called Observing the Obvious so how obvious are we talking here?

"What I'm going for is finding the hidden obvious, something that's been hidden in plain sight," he says. "Instead of finding the most bizarre things in the world, I find the most obvious and talk about them in a way that's very uncommon.'

He notices weird quirks of humanity every day and finds his material via a philosophical process.

Finnish comedian Ismo Leikola
Finnish comedian Ismo Leikola

"I really enjoy questioning things in a non-comedic way. Questioning them because they interest me. Asking questions like, 'why is this like this?' or 'how did this happen?'" he says. "I think way more deeper into things than you would imagine hearing the material.

"Sometimes it's just something funny or silly. Sometimes I stumble into jokes while trying to figure out the meaning of life. It's kind of happens by accident."

With all that thinking has the funniest man in the world cracked the meaning of life?

"Maybe ..." he says, laughing. "It might be that there is no such thing. That's the most obvious answer. That all the meanings are made up."

He lets that sit in the air a moment before saying, "But I'm not sure about that yet."

LOWDOWN:
Who: Ismo Leikola
What: Officially the "world's funniest comedian"
When: Saturday at the Q Theatre, extra shows on May 8 and 9.

- NZ Herald

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