The VICE Interview: Semst


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the vice interview

The VICE Interview: Semst

We spoke to the Swedish stand-up quartet about psychoses, Mufasa and how terrifying it is to try to be funny on stage.

This is the VICE Interview. Here we ask different famous and/or interesting people the same set of questions in a bid to peek deep into their psyche.

Swedish stand-up comedians Aron Flam, Jonatan Unge, Ahmed Berhan and Branislav "Branne" Pavlovic are infamous for joking about stuff that's not always fit to broadcast on TV. Critics have called the quartet "too gross" and like to refer to them as limitless. Which is also true off-stage, because once you start a conversation with Semst, they take the piss out of each other forever. On the 19th of March, they'll go on their third nationwide tour – Semst – En stand-up show om godhet. I sat down with them in a very small room in the VICE office, where we talked about awkward phases, disappointing your dead parents and a million other things – not all of which I could write down.


VICE: What would your parents prefer you to have chosen as a career?
Jonatan: Dad wanted me to become a tinsmith, mum wanted me to become an accountant.
Aron: Doctor and rabbi – preferably at the same time. My mum still wonders when I'll get a real job. These are the questions we discuss at our family dinners.
Branne: This is very insulting. You know that both my parents are dead and now you want to rub that in my face.
Aron: Branne's parents wanted him to become a taxi driver, but he became a stand-up comedian instead. So they died of shame.
Branne: I'm lucky in that way – they don't have to be disappointed with my life choices. Seriously though, my dad wanted me to become a lawyer because I was so good at talking my way out of trouble. 
Ahmed: Anything they could have been proud of. It's not that they dislike that I'm a comedian, my mother just doesn't like the idea of me hanging out at bars and nightclubs.

Why did you break up with your first boyfriend or girlfriend?
Aron: My first real girlfriend broke up with me because she was married already.
Ahmed: She broke up with me because my communications skills were weak. I hadn't called her for two weeks, so she called me and said it was over.
Jonatan: My first girlfriend broke up with me because she wanted to make out with other people.

What was your worst phase?
Jonatan: When I separated [from the mother to my child]. Those were hard times. And when I used to skate in high school. Those were embarrassing times.
Ahmed: Everything was pretty chill for me for a long time. When I was about 25 or 26, I realised I was depressed. That shattered my self-image as a laid-back, zero-fucks-giving kind of guy.
Branne: In contrast to these losers I've lived a real life. I've had plenty of terrible phases. But the worst was probably when I had my first psychosis.
Aron: The second psychosis, on the other hand…
Branne: I barely remember the first two weeks, but I think it's the closest to insanity I've ever been. I had taken LSD and smoked weed. While coming down from that, I smoked again and ended up in a psychosis. I can't smoke anymore.


How many books have you actually read and finished in the past year? Don't lie. 
Jonatan: We're talking reading now, not listening? 
Branne: Zero.  
Ahmed: Two. But I've watched a shitload of TV series and I'm sure a few of them were based on books. 
Aron: 20-something.

If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you carry on doing what you're doing, change jobs or stop working?
Ahmed: If I won the lottery, I would get a job just so I can say things like "I don't need this bullshit", flip a table over and storm out.
Aron: I'd do what I do now but more of it. 
Jonatan: I'd do what I do now but less of it. I'd barely work. 
Branne: I'd move to Bolivia, Peru or Colombia.

From left: Aron Flam, Ahmed Berhan, Jonatan Unge and Branislav

From left: Aron Flam, Ahmed Berhan, Jonatan Unge and Branne Pavlovic. Photo by Anders Berg

When in your life have you been truly overcome with fear?
Branne: When I got up on stage and did stand-up the first time. It's terrifying to stand on a stage and try to be funny. 
Jonatan: I think that's true for all of us. If you were a wrestler, what song would you come into the ring to?
Ahmed: Jonatan would enter with "My Neck My Back". I'd enter to "Freak on a Leash" by Korn or "Hard in the Paint" by Waka Flocka.
Aron: "Faster, Harder, Scooter" or "I Was Made for Loving You" by Kiss. 
Branne: Anything with Bakija Bakic. It's Serbian.

What film or TV-show makes you cry?
Aron: It's only happened to me once – the end of Forrest Gump. I think it's sad because the moral of the film is that you can have no brain whatsoever and still make it in this world. That made me terribly depressed.
Ahmed: The episode of  The Fresh Prince in Bel-Air when Will Smith's father disses him. That's sadder than when Mufasa died.
Jonatan: The commercial for Lantmännen.
Branne: You're always so pretentious.
Jonatan: In it, you see all these clips of food trends, and it ends with a tractor stopping on a field and a proper Swedish farmer getting out and petting the ground. "Trends come and trends go," he says, "but us farmers, we make sure you get good food on the table." And that made me cry. So beautiful. Also, the first ten minutes of The Last of Us, the video game.

What have you done in your life that you regret most?
Ahmed: I regret starting drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and joining Facebook.
Branne: I had a psychosis just before my dad died. Until that point, he had no idea I was doing drugs. That my dad had to see that just before dying is one of my biggest regrets.
Aron: That's hard to beat.
Jonatan: I can only think of material things, for some reason. One time, I noticed that I could take out money from my HSB [savings] account. So I decided to spend 20,000 SEK – all my savings – on jumpers.
Aron: I regret that I stayed in my first relationship for too long. I didn't get that it wasn't working out.

What's the grossest injury or illness you've ever had?
Branne: I cracked my lip – the entire thing – and it had to be sewn together without anaesthetics. I asked my friend if it looked alright and he just walked away. And the noise when they put it back together, man, it sounded like firecrackers. I cried. It was gross.
Jonatan: I have rheumatism, which means I get liquid in my knees. They use a giant needle to get it out. It's this gross liquid with blood and stuff  and it hurts and looks horrible.
Aron: Ew.
Jonatan: And then you drink it. 
Aron: I was beaten up once and I looked horrible.
Ahmed: When I was young, I had a big problem with warts. It started with one on the side of my little finger. A year later, I had it on all my fingers. My hands looked like the hands of an alligator. So I fist bumped people instead of shaking hands for a few years.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.