Humour as a cultural compass 

The first English open mic show of “Are you not entertained?” took place in November 2023 in a small kebab restaurant located in Kontula, Helsinki.
Humour can be wielded as a tool to smooth cultural differences and aid foreigners in coping with their migration process.

Hamide Sedaghat, Flor Salazar Martinez, Nea Holopainen

Flor Salazar Martinez

Published 01.02.2024 3:32

Updated 07.02.2024 11:20

“The guy who invented the Finnish language must have been a chicken (kana) in his past life because how else would you explain that several words have ‘kana’ in them? Behind (takana), bedsheet (lakana), a carrot (porkkana), fat (pulskana). Truly fascinating.” 

One of Farbod “Fabe” Mehrabkhani’s most viral Instagram videos has garnered approximately 770,000 views since its publication in April 2023. 

Mehrabkhani, an Iranian comedian, performs at the Itäkuskus stand-up club in Helsinki. The club, established in 2022, hosts stand-up comedians with immigrant backgrounds. Mehrabkhani is one of its regular performers. Additionally, he publishes humorous videos on social media and speaks at events about immigration and cultural differences.  

“Through our performances in Itäkuskus, the Finnish audience gains insight into the lives of immigrants,” Mehrabkhani says. 

For himself, humour has played a significant role in life.  

“Many people say that my humour has enabled them to see the world from fresh and diverse perspectives.” 

Social research through humour 

“Humour plays a important role in social bonding,” says Erfan Fatehi, a Ph.D. researcher in social sciences at Helsinki University. 

“It facilitates people connecting with the community.” 

Fatehi is researching the connection between migration and humour. According to him, humour has been ignored as a cultural element in the integration process.   

“When an individual grasps the internal comedy codes of certain peoples, the cultural assimilation process has been successful.” 

Fatehi also notes that humour is a way to air out negative feelings. Sociologists are interested for example in humor’s function in terms of cultural reflection, social cohesion and group identity. 

“Humour is a safe way to criticize. When the situation is going to be more aggressive, humour finds its role as a solution.” 

Navigating through tough topics with comedy 

Mebest Rasid, better known as Mebe, came to Finland 21 years ago. He considers Finnish his first language. 

Mebest “Mebe” Rasid, a Kurdish stand-up comedian who owns the Itäkuskus stand-up club, perceives Finnish society as open to comedy.  

“Finnish people are notably open to criticising themselves, the culture, and even politicians, which is healthy for democracy and free speech.” 

One of Rasid’s most popular jokes on YouTube combines the election promises of the right-wing Finns party with the fact that many pizzerias in Finland are run by immigrants.  

“I came up with a new pizza called ‘the promise of a right-wing party.’ On the menu, it says it has ham, salami, bacon, and onion. When they bring it to you, it only has onions.” 

Rasid asks his followers on Facebook what they wish to hear at his upcoming gigs.  

“I try to find topics that interest the immigrant audience. I think this aspect of comedy was previously missing in Finland.” 

Rasid finds that he can talk about heavy subjects through comedy. 

“My family is so well integrated into Finnish culture that one of my cousins drowned during Midsummer.” 

Every year, the number of drownings during Midsummer makes headlines in Finnish media. 

Connecting crowds through laughter 

One of the social media channels that English-speaking foreigners stumble upon after arriving in Finland is Very Finnish Problems, which operates on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.  

Collectively, these channels have about 1.2 million followers. The popular franchise started in 2016 when Joel Willans from Great Britain decided to permanently move to the country with his family.  

Willans, who understands the acceptance of humorous content on social media, decided to create this project to criticize what he found problematic in his new country of residency. Some of the topics have tackled issues like social distancing and a lack of expression in Finland.  

Willans never anticipated it would become such an instantaneous success.  

“In addition to Finnish natives, who thoroughly enjoy my content, there are approximately 700,000 Finnish Americans or Americans with Finnish ancestors.” 

Humour enhances empathy 

Researcher Erfan Fatehi notes that finding common topics to laugh about helps people from different backgrounds feel empathy towards one another. 

“What jokes can reveal is that immigrants are not that different from the rest of us.” 

Corrected 7.2.2024 at 23.12: Mebest “Mebe” Rasid’s nationality was corrected from Iraqi to Kurdish.

The Dos and Don’ts of Finnish culture with a humorous view