Hvad sker der, når man inviterer en af USA's bedste journalister til Danmark for at skrive et portræt af en af landets bedste komikere? To mænd, der aldrig har mødt hinanden før. To mænd med hver sin historie. Tom Chiarella fra månedsmagasinet Esquire rejste til København og tilbragte en uge sammen med en scenesulten Anders Matthesen og fik svaret på, om dansk humor kan oversættes til amerikansk.

På forespørgsel fra mange læsere bringer vi her den originale tekst, vi modtog fra Tom Chiarella. Teksten er en førsteudgave og kun redigeret meget let. Den blev efterfølgende oversat til dansk og redigeret færdig. Den danske tekst kan læses i Euroman nr. 222.

A black 65 Lincoln, the growling guts of American badassery, parked here on the knobby cobblestone of a slightly fey side street of Frederiksberg, where Anders Matthesen lives with his wife and kids. The doors are the best part. ”Suicide doors!” I declare. I can hardly get over the sight of them. But no one seems to get it. Not Anders, not his beautiful manager, partner, girlfriend, Cemille, not Spencer, their six month old son.

“It’s a classic getaway car!” I say. “That’s an American monster.”  

It is just that too, as anachronistic and out of place as a Florida alligator on the streets, on this December morning. Chippy with frost, this is Copenhagen, in December. The wind pushes down your neck like gutter water; it’s blood-wet all day and bone cold at night.  It hasn’t phased me yet. I grew up in a northern city, and I'd compare the skies of Copenhagen, that rolling winter ceiling hued the tint of raw ore to my home town in the American northeastern rustbelt: Rochester, NY, but in Copenhagen, the sun abandons the day at dawn. It’s tough here.

"Look at the doors," I tell them. Suicide doors because of the way they open, handle pulled from the middle, doors hinged to the front and the back. You couldn’t jump out if you needed to, not without getting clipped by the door. It’s being suicide. See? They don’t seem to get it. 

THIS IS THE START OF THINGS. I’ve only just now met Anders Matthesen. It’s about to be all-Danish, all the time, so my vague knowledge of this car may be the sole piece of expertise I am granted. I speak too quickly; gobbling up that first moment with the Matthesen, subject of this profile, a man I’m told is inarguably famous in Denmark. I’ve never heard of him.  Surely, he is no discovery to Danish readers. He has written animated movies, frontlined a beloved stage production in Denmark, recorded five DVD’s of his touring work, and several television specials, including a beloved series Jul På Vesterbro, in which he plays 14 different characters. His last tour featured 215 venues in Denmark alone. This very week, tickets went on sale for his next tour, ANDERS, nine months from now. He’s only just now beginning to write it. Ticket sales? Brisk.

Small, round eyed, unshaven in something like four directions, Matthesen, 36, is wiry, without paunch, prone to the to the rocking stance of a hiphop artist (a role to which he once aspired, poorly some would say). Matthesen is capable of looking both gentle and vicious in the same moment. He really might make a good gangster. He regards the car, ponders my word choice, and looks at me, for the first time since I arrived 30 minutes earlier. He is wary. He’s lived a fairly public life. He must be unsure what I am here to learn.

"People kill themselves with these?" he says. A fair question. It is our first meeting, our first collision of the literal and the figurative.   

No, no, I assure him, that name is ironic.  

At that, very one stares at me blankly, even the baby. Especially the baby. Irony plays in this country, or so I was told, but no one’s buying it here on the wet street. I’m getting killed with the blank eyes, a look I see often in Denmark. Danes, each and all: unimpressed, but kindly so. This look might be the signal of a cold understanding, or it might mean “you’re late for your plane to the States.”

THEN ANDERS CLAPS HIS HANDS. He wants this show on the road. "Well, let’s ride three across the back. I’ll hold the baby." Although I insist it should be me, he is the star after all. Matthesen takes the middle seat, politely.  No hint of complaint. 

Against the outside right door, a lanky editor from Euroman, here this morning to make introductions. Several months before, this same editor interviewed me for a book he’s writing on American Magazine journalism,a  particular wing of the writing craft which, in some circles anyway, is credited as a kind of literary form of investigation and storytelling. I took him to a breakfast spot I like in Chicago, Johnny’s Snack Shop on Halstead, a joint populated at all hours by cops. There, hungover, having goosed myself with a 20 mg adderoll, mere days after having been fired from my first job in television, a talk show hosted by a once famous comedienne, I proceeded to yammer uncontrollably about the craft of writing, shoveling underdone eggs into my gaping maw, mopping the plate with the toast, asking the waitress for more and more coke zero to get me through. 

For awhile, I pretended to be a believer in the new journalism. My life had been made sharper by eating steak at a bistro with a braless Charlize Theron, by going to Longchamps, the horse track in Paris with Clive Owen and his tiny entourage, or by riding the rollercoaster at Coney Island with Ryan Gosling. This made for some decent articles. I had a few of those behind me. But I could claim no stars as friends, though they love to tempt journalists with the possibility. I knew, but did not say, that I don’t have many real friends at all.   

After an hour, maybe two, I was bereft feeling I’d done this man from Euroman no service: I was posing as a guy who deserved to be in the company of great magazine writers, great writers, like Susan Orlean (of the New Yorker) and Gay Talese (of, well, everywhere). No one cared about words written in service to someone else’s fame.

The talk show hadn’t even hit the air, and they’d let me go. No one read my fiction. Ever. And celebrity profiles, no matter how well written, lasted about 8 days in the public consciousness. There was way too much forgetting in the world, if you asked me. Nothing I do lasts, I told the man from Euroman. I never thought it would be this way. The man from Euroman was so placid and somehow untouched. That was the Danish glance: the figuring eyes, the knit brow, the near constant puzzling of intent and practice.  He had to be thinking: a wasted trip.

“It must be hard to interview someone you don’t know,” I said to him at one juncture. He felt he knew me through my work. I shook my head.

“Imagine writing a profile where you know nothing about the subject, where you had to learn the person, the impact of his celebrity, as you went along. Minor celebrity. Major celebrity. Doesn’t matter. Say you didn’t even know whether you liked his work, his performances. Truly blind. That would be kind of the ultimate assignment.” 

The man from Euroman started thinking.  

FOUR MONTHS LATER, I’m on that ultimate assignment, sitting behind a suicide door, left of Matthesen. Me, the hulking, diabetic American writer, chin deep in debt, profiling a man he doesn’t know. I’m jammed into the backseat of the Lincoln enough that my hips must be tilted, my legs semi crossed, this to leave Anders Matthesen enough room to flatten his own thighs for the baby to lie upon. The baby, Spencer, stares at the two strangers on either side of his father long enough to want his mom. He doesn't cry. He protests: a tiny yelp, soft, polite somehow; it might even be a word so far as I know. I do not speak Danish. Who can blame him? Spencer knows how to communicate and soon his mother,  lithe, strong, blonde, beautiful, tangled in some negotiation with the movie guy, who’s driving, lifts the boy gently, and blending comfort with deal-making, lays him in his car seat. 

Anders purses his lips, and tilts his head. It is a look one sees a lot from him: he’s open to what comes next, prepared. I’d never met Anders Matthesen before that morning, never laid eyes upon him, never heard his name until the night before. I couldn’t pronounce his first name, Annus, until I heard him say it himself. I’d never seen him perform. And Matthesen speaks English as if he were punching a bag of wonder, as amazed by how much he misses as he is pleased by what he nails. He likes to be prepared, prefers control, in his work and in the work of his public persona. Surprises worry him. I don’t know that much now.  It will take me a week. We’ll walk the city, drive, approach the Tivoli, film a sketch for the internet in his father’s apartment, he even invites me to his son’s naming ceremony.

He wants to begin. So he’ll ask the first question.

"Where are you from in the States?  New York?"


He mulls this. He’s heard the word Indian inside it the state name, and I can tell he's picturing wild lands, native Americans, an unsettled place. 

"It’s the middle of nowhere" I say, a common American expression for the sprawling Midwest, “but it’s just a town.”

"That’s all right," he says. "I've been there too."

"To Indiana?" I ask. I have lived in Indiana for 22 years. I have one brother who’s never visited me there. No one goes to Indiana.

"To that nowhere of the middle," he says, forging a brilliant transposition, an accidental poetry. Funny, I think. The Nowhere of Middle. The guy is funny.   

IN COPENHAGEN, there are nine confirmed cab drivers who think Anders Matthesen is very funny, or better than that. They compare him to American comedians like Robin Williams, but this may be a matter of their age, or simply what slips across the Atlantic in terms of movies and television. It is kind, but unfair to Robin Williams. There are also three cab drivers who suggest his best work is behind him. They don’t know who to compare him to, and take a stab with Billy Crystal, who now cherrypicks family movies and lives on outdated bits from the 90’s. This comparison is unfair too - to Anders Matthessen. In my hotel, 6 out of 10 clerks “adore” Anders, two like him very much, two not so much, and two others refuse to say until they see what he does next, to test whether he’s still relevant. Relevance matters more in comedy than it does even in commercial film, that much is true in Denmark and the States. Standup comedy, more than sketch comedy, is driven along personal channels of behavior, reaction, consequence.  It states the unsaid, the unrealized, and makes small truths about the internet, the telephone, about children into telling realizations. Most everyone is willing to agree that Anders has been highly relevant at different junctures in his career, that he shaped attitudes towards work, manhood, relationships with his standup. They remember. Many people love just one character, from his intensely complicated stable. Or his award winning stage work in Simon Spies as the iconic Danish travel czar of the 60’s. Some cite the prostitute-addicted sailor Stewart or his drug addled son, as their favorite. Everyone seems to have Matthesen trapped in the amber of their favorite version of him.

One tall, rag swabbing bartender in Vesterbro, talked to me about the sailor one night. “Anders was doing something totally unique. It was sad, and funny. Very much like characters who walked these streets at one time. A little dark. I thought to myself: Anders is such a performer. Then I didn’t want the laughs so much. I want him to be somebody other than the stand up.”

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ON THE FIRST DAY, we're at Zentropa studio, with the Lincoln parked. The exact nature of the meeting is not explained to me. In the states, a journalist would never be allowed into a development meeting of any kind, unless it was highly scripted, so I’m reluctant to ask. I was left to muscle though the context of almost two hours of Danish, which sounds like rich but hollow, scratched from the palette. I stop listening.

I understand things better by looking, past the principals of the negotiation. The wall I faced was a kind of scrap book of the grotesqueries: Costumes, bones, amputated sex dolls, and the occasional photographs of Lars Von Trier and Peter Aalbæk Jensen, aping for the camera, swimming, winning races. I’ll admit I vaguely want to meet Lars Von Trier. Somehow he his work carries over to the US, though I admire him more than his movies. He’s always seemed to me a guy with mean secrets.

Thus we sat in the movie studio, me quiet, the Euroman editor quieter, with four people arguing in fairly intense Danish. I started watching the baby. In doing so, I found I could assemble the various dynamics of the conversation. Anders spoke at the very start. Enthusiasm, followed by concerns, closing with a restatement of his interest in portraying a real, hard criminal.   

AS HIS FATHER SPOKE, Spencer, the baby, stared straight at me. I started writing notes. “This one,” I wrote, “is for real.” These were Spencer’s words jammed into my head without the keening meter of Danish. The baby meant the words of his father. I did not know. Something different, I wrote. Something really new. No one would believe this in the United States, and maybe no one reading this believes it here, I really don’t care, but the kid put his lips out as Cemille finished a sentence, as if he might whistle, then he said “nou” which I heard as “now.” I wrote that down too. Me: Language stripped and nightblind, intuiting the ebb and flow of this meeting the infant as my guide.

When Cemille started talking, really talking, the baby’s eyes flit along her jaw line. No deal, he told me. Spencer closed his eyes, turned his head. “Not ready,” I wrote. “Not ready.” Sometimes I looked at Spencer as he held his hand out to me, then turned it over, as if he were dropping something. These invisible exchanges went on. Often Anders handed him to Cemille, then took him back without asking. I asked him, perhaps three times over the week, this very question: Do you really like holding the baby that much? I’m used to movie stars putting in their time with children in front of the reporter, or keeping them far away. So it’s show, or a tell, the way they deal with the children, and altogether better when I don’t see them at all.

I spoke right to him, as everyone stood, meeting at its end. “We have similar language skills,” I said to Spencer.  Cemille laughed. This seemed to make the man who drove us there unhappy, the movie being his baby, his idea. He assumed I was speaking to him. He’d spent the meeting, angling for a role in the process. He wanted to be a producer, but that part was still up in the air. “I speak English,” he said to me. “I can speak it to you.”

HAD WE PASSED one another on the street, Anders Matthesen might have looked at my hat, and I might have noticed the crowds gathering behind him, or the fact that he wears excellent trainers, but then we’d forget each other as adults so often must. But here’s the thing I do know from 12 years of celebrity profiling: Celebrities battle being forgotten.  This is the death struggle of fame. Hence: the magazine profile, the tabloid headline, the new project, the visit to the talk show, the book, the play, the new show, the new show after that, each an aspect of cultivating memory.

Matthesen, who came in second at his first stand up contest at the age of 20, after his hip hop cuts tanked, has fought that battle in a half dozen ways. “You get older. It’s a lot of work to make a living, doing just stand up, especially in Denmark where comedy is fairly new and young talent is always climbing. I have to commit to my stand up acts, work hard on conceiving them, then do them every night in a different city until I have been everywhere there is to go,” he says, later in the week as he drives me around Copenhagen, in large indecipherable loops. “It’s tempting to give in. To stay in one place. Maybe they’ll let you host a game show, which is easy money. Or they will invite you to take a part in a show that already exists, just not in Denmark. Something brought over from America. You imitate.” 

He works slowly through this idea. Matthesen is highly conscious that his words often come back to haunt him.

“I don’t want to do something that’s already been done. Formulas, imitation. Just no good.” He puts his hand flat on his chest then. He looks at me, purposefully radiating sincerity. “Not for me, you understand. I’m talking about my work.” 

He drives on. At some point we circle a great courtyard, the queen’s palace, Amalienborg, “When work becomes just an imitation,” he says. “Then people will forget you, write you off.” Then Matthesen points to a poster, plastered on the side of a truck, two men in suits, giddy with laughter.  It’s a TV show. “This is a comedy in Denmark, a show which is taken directly from the American show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. It ran for eight years here. Very big success.”

“So, same premise?” I ask.  “Same attitude? The rich comedian in the second phase of his career?”

Anders stares at the poster, not seeming to have heard me. “And the star of that show, Casper Christensen, people like to make rivals out of us. The tabloids call it a comedy war.”

I had in fact seen Matthesen’s picture two days prior, top left position on a tabloid. The woman who ran breakfast at my hotel translated it, or tried to until her frustration rose up. “It’s silliness,” she said. “No one of these men is very funny. Anders Matthesen should be a stage actor. He should be a serious.”

We wait for the light to change, Anders stays focused on the poster. He smiles and tilts his head. “The thing is, that really was a very good show. I have to say. I mean he really made it work. And a lot of years too, and that’s not easy. That’s not easy at all.”   

At this point, as I describe the scene months later, I would call his tone wistful, tinged with a thread of regret. Matthesen seems to will himself to vacate jealousy. This may be the Buddhist in him, though it may be a means of protecting his own ego. He considers his work to be writing, thinking, performing, and he doesn’t see his rivals, real or conjured, belaboring that combination. Still, there is money in this tv-business. How could he not regret missing out on a payday?

But each time, Matthesen has gotten into or near an ongoing television deal, he’s met with executives who demand compromise, rewrites, plot changes based on budgets. He gets chased off his own ideas, and led to those of others. Matthesen acknowledges that compromise is not his strength; which may explain why he so often works alone.

“It makes me feel deadly, deadly, is that the word?, to lose control of a good idea I had. I like to see these ideas to their final stages. I think the happiest I ever was the period we made Jul på Vesterbro. It was a small crew, and we shot it in six weeks. Everybody had to work at their best. It was like a crisis or something. I was bouncing between characters, writing every night, working all day. It felt very hard, working every day, dragging along, and then we’d make a big leap. Things would become clearer and I could take more chances. No one would tell us to back up, or clarify. DR2 was simply glad to get it. And what I made there? That was me. That was mine.”

I MET WITH ANDERS every other day for a little more than a week. Still, everyday, I wanted to see Spencer. Same language skills. One night, I dreamt that the baby was a tiny wolf, speaking to me in Danish, telling me not to walk along the edge of a dam. I understood every word. The water was cold, and he didn’t know how to make a fire.

One afternoon, at Anders’ house, I was holding Spencer in my lap, and I thought I heard him say “Listen.” He said it in English of course, so write that off if you will. I don’t care what you think. The kid was running the show.

I have my truths. The child changes everything. Anders has his. “I used to tell jokes about not wanting to ever have kids,” he says, he chops the air when he says this. “People took it very seriously, as though I’d given my word.  But then Spencer came, and they were a bit angry or something, when all of the sudden here is Anders, with the baby everywhere I go. They are suggesting it’s phony. You know, that was years ago. What did I know about having children, or not having children? They want me to stand by my word, like I am some kind of a priest.”

He plans on admission, on confrontation, with himself in the new show. “There are deeper truths than what you thought 8 years ago. You can discover things.”

"WHAT SHALL WE DO?" Anders said the next morning. Each day he gets a little more comfortable with the pretense, the conceit of me learning who he might be. On this day, he's promised me a driving tour around the city. He hisses now, and sort of clucks, like an old man who has something to prove. "We could go see the little mermaid!" he snarled, and I could see him as one of his characters for a millisecond, crusty and cynical.

We drive. I want to see where he was born that was in Albertslund, and it’s too far. “It’s a tough area. It has that reputation. But if you took the train out there in the morning, you wouldn’t have any trouble. There are hills out there, a small man made mountain. I don’t know what it’s made from. And the house I lived in, and the apartment I moved to when I was 18, they’re still standing. That’s where I first started playing music.”

He drives the way celebrities do everywhere, as if being recognized, as if someone capturing their visage had everything to do with losing possession of their fate. It’s a four wheel drive. Though he’d rather I didn’t feature his creature comforts, he does not forbid me. We’ve spent 3 days together at this point; he’s starting to understand the access question. “I was fairly public about my beliefs,” he says. “My relationship to Buddhism. And when people see car, they’ll start in. Ok, here’s Anders the Buddhist with the four wheel drive. There’s one comedian in particular who goes after me.  It’s really endless. I sell key chains at my concerts, because not every kid can afford a tee-shirt and they all want something. So I chose these key chains because they’re cheap. Then the next week, he’s calling me the Buddhist with his own line of key chains.”

I’m having a hard time believing that making fun of Buddhists still plays for yucks in Denmark. I thought everyone said Danish comedy was funny. “Who is this clown?” I ask, offering to break his thumbs.

Anders laughs. By the third day we can make each other laugh. He tells me his name. But I forget it as quickly as I hear it. It seems the least I can do.

WE DRIVE SOME MORE. He narrates our passage through the city, narrowing his eyes, nodding, saying things like: “This is very nice department store. Very pricey.”

This is his city. Where does he play? What’s his venue? At this question, Anders sighs. “There was a club I had some part in. We’ll pass it soon. I performed there, but mostly I did it for the young guys, the young comedians. I closed it. Too many problems.”

He drives by the club, which looks like glass doors cover in blue paper to me.   

I'm after Anders Matthesen. For almost twenty years now, a mainstay in Danish standup comedy. Not after, as in a chase. Not after, even as in discovery. He is no secret in Danish culture, nor is he making himself much of a secret with me. I'm after him as in a few steps behind, as in escorting him. Sometimes, he is after sandwiches. Open faced Danish sandwiches at a classy little joint where he knows the owner. Sometimes he works, taking over his father’s apartment, to film a character monologue for Christmas on facebook. I carry lighting, tape plastic light screens, move furniture. His father and step mother serve a large Danish lunch in my honor. Anders checks to see that I know every item at the table, the various herrings, the sausage made from reindeer, the pates, both rare and everyday. Other times, he’s just willing to let me keep my distance, simply watch, or check in with Spencer. Slowly, slowly, he allows me in.  Finally, on the last day, I ask to sit with him and run a digital recorder. Nothing, save my presence at the naming ceremony, has been off the record, yet it feels important to lock down his final words before I return to the states. It’s not that I will forget him. That’s not the issue at all. My bags are loaded with DVD’s of his work. I’ve arranged for a streaming feed of his animated film Terkel in Trouble when I get back. It is quite simply due diligence. There are things to be said.  

I start out by asking if I can hold Spencer, who kindly sits on my knee and reaches for his father.

“You really like holding him,” he says.

Cemille sits with us, working on her laptop. She looks up to check.

“You know that I feel Spencer is a little lama,” I say. “I like imagining that he speaks to me.”

Anders laughs. “He’s a good baby,” he says. He touches the boy’s cheek with his index finger. Spencer thanks me, silently. Thanks his father by kicking the air.

I ask him how the Facebook sketch went over, since it was posted on the internet two nights before. Anders looks pained, or if not pained exactly, troubled. “It got some views,” he said. “Pretty good so far.” Cemille says the exact number of hits. Anders nods.

“What’s bothering you?”

“Oh, I liked it. So I put it up about twelve minutes of footage. In the comments, there were some kids saying it was way too long. Kind of nasty.”

“Facebook comments?” I ask. Spencer looks at me sharply then. Even Cemille looks up from her work on the laptop. Tell him, Spencer says to me.

“It’s a free site I know, and I am trying to give people something worth watching.   I want my fans to get some value. So I put up the whole thing. And that then becomes the problem. They say I drag it out. They were really very nasty about it.”

“Why do you worry about Facebook comments?  Those are just boneheads trying to get a rise out of you.”

Matthesen shrugs. “I don’t like disappointing people.”

“Just don’t read them,” I say. And Cemille nods, looks back down at her work.  The baby set his eyes on me. He’s listening. “You can’t read every comment. There are websites in the states devoted to how much they hate me, and my writing, or my magazine. I don’t look at them. When I do, I feel paralyzed.”

“You sound like everybody around here,” Matthessen says. “I get that advice a lot.”

Spencer whispers “witness!” like a Pentecostal preacher, speaking straight into the silent ear I’ve learned to use in Denmark. “Listen to it,” I say. “You’ll be driven crazy by people who don’t want anything for you except a little pain.”

Matthesen thinks then, staying silent for a good three count. “In stand up, I can see every face, and recognize whether people are enjoying themselves. Even one person.   If I look out there and I see that one face, I go directly to them and play off their reaction.  I’ll give them their money back, or offer to buy them dinner.”

“In standup, I can see everyone. They’re visible to me. And I convince myself I understand them. I work for them. Work,” he repeats. “I want everyone to be happy, to feel they got their money’s worth.  I try to make sure of it.  I was telling them this in a reply….”

I have to stop him. The guy is in some measure of turmoil. “You can’t reply to internet comments,” I say. “You can’t be in these conversations with people you don’t know. They have no stake in anything. Don’t pay attention.”

“That’s what I hear from my friends,” he says. “They tell me I have to let it go. Forget it.  Don’t pay attention. Move on.”

“Right,” I say. Spencer speaks to me then, though I don’t have a notebook. Matthesen looks around the room, at his wife and baby. At the Christmas presents neatly wrapped in newspaper, at the tray of cookies they’ve put out for me, the shoes of their other children. “That’s hard for me because I spent my whole life paying attention to detail, trying never to forget, not going anywhere until I got things right.”

Pleasing everyone is a fool’s errand, I tell him.

“It just leaves you in the middle.”

He doesn’t catch the word. 

“The middle,” I repeat.

He says it then, the American idiom. “The middle of nowhere.” It’s clear. He’s reminding himself that he wants nothing to do with that place.

AFTER I RETURNED FROM COPENHAGEN, I went back to my job, profiling celebrities for Esquire Magazine. In January, I played golf with Jon Hamm, star of the American TV show Mad Men. I sat with Bruce Willis in a hotel suite and ate tiny pears. Those stories are long since finished. But every time I started to write this story, my profile of Anders Matthesen, something conspired to stop me. My sons went away to college. Health troubles. My cousin died. My town was visited by tornadoes. Just versions of life moving forward, normal stuff. I worked to remember Spencer’s directions in my dream: I tried not to fall off the dam.

Just four days ago, I was in Los Angeles at the W Hotel in Hollywood, interviewing a woman who plays the lead in the American version of “The Crime,” the hit Danish show that has over here been renamed “The Killing.” Marielle Enos. It was unrelated to my visit to Denmark. These interlocking circles of fate and storytelling circle life in the States as well.

It was early afternoon in the courtyard, but even so they’d lit their fire pits, and started in with the tiresome club music. Within hours, the place would be a writhing snake pit of tourists from the east coast, sloshing cocktails until the fires are extinguished. In LA, there is no cold. It’s the heat that never gives up on you. We lounged. Had she ever been to Denmark? She had not. Had she watched the original version of the crime? Yes, with subtitles. At this Mareille Enos, shrugged. “Danish is such a hard language,” she said. “It makes me feel lost to hear it.” She tried.

“Ever heard of Anders Matthesen?” I asked.

She shook her head. “Who’s that?”

I told her. The car. The movie meeting. The city tour. The funny sandwiches. Watching his movies on a tiny DVD player in my Copenhagen hotel, watching him film a skit in his father’s apartment, eating his father’s food, attending Spencer’s naming party. I remembered it as if it were written on a scroll, though I hadn’t taken one note.

He’s a comedian, I told her. Long career. Very successful in Denmark. I showed her a picture on my phone. “He’s cute,” she allowed. “Is he funny?”

I told her I couldn't say. I never heard one joke. We made each other laugh, and while we understood one another, the truth is, I don’t speak Danish.

Tom Chiarella, 51, is a journalist and author and lives in Grenncastle, Indiana. He is writer at large and fiction editor at Esquire Magazine. He has previously contributed to Euroman with "Things I wish I knew when I was 20" in Euroman no. 219, april 2012. (Illustration: Carsten Oliver Bieräugel).