It's a sticky Texas afternoon, unpleasantly characteristic for the last weekend in June. I'm liberally drinking Lone Star beers on a van trip from Austin to the Guadalupe River Canoe Livery in Spring Branch, watching the color drain out of Frank Hvam's face as he momentarily but truly convinces himself that an ugly regional critter -- possibly alligator-like, or insectoid, or some sinister hybrid of the two that lays eggs -- will soon try to crawl into his warm urethra.
A mild-mannered, 42-year-old comedian from Denmark, Hvam is visiting the Yeeha State for the first time ever to promote his irreverent feature-length comedy "Klown," which he co-wrote and stars in as a nervous beanpole named "Frank," a sort of buffoonish self-caricature. Next to him in the back seat of the van is his producer Louise Vesth, part of the Zentropa team behind "Melancholia" and the upcoming "Nymphomaniac" for Lars von Trier. (The bad-boy auteur himself is an avowed "Klown" fan; he wrote one episode of the TV sitcom that the film is loosely inspired by and named for, which can be freely downloaded here.)
Two rows up sits a blonde, more rugged man named Casper Christensen (43, tattooed, cowboy hat, indistinguishable from the locals except his drawl is Scandinavian), Hvam's onscreen and writing partner-in-crime who also acts a bit like "Casper," Frank's party-animal pal with a cockeyed moral compass. Hvam seems politely fascinated by a conversation two journalists are having about past drug experiences that he's only vicariously having now, while Christensen blows my mind over there being no Danish equivalent for the word "motherfucker."
When they're together, Hvam and Christensen bromantically bicker and make each other laugh, calling their 14-year creative relationship (including 60 episodes of the "Klown" sitcom) the longest marriage either of them have had. "Casper was a great star when I started doing stand-up," recalls Hvam. "He had a sketch comedy show, which he invited me to join. As a young comedian, I said 'Yes, thank you, Mr. Christensen.'" Prior to that collaboration, however, a little bird tells me that Hvam had a bit in his routine that unkindly mocked Christensen, whose career had sidetracked into game show hosting. "When you're young, you're looking at the established guys at the top, and you feel like kicking up," says Hvam.
Christensen takes over: "I started stand-up comedy in Denmark. There was none. I worked so hard. Seven years on the road, no money, trying to make it work and get people to understand this is a new thing. Then along comes this idiot, just when the whole thing is set up. He enters the stage, and starts telling people how stupid I am."
"Wasting his talent," Hvam butts in. "You have 60 good years in you, maybe only 50, and then 'Deal or No Deal'..."
"That's not the show," Christensen argues. "He was making fun of a friend who really tried to work for him. Then I tried to get him kicked out of the agency. It didn't work. I had to do something different, so I hired him instead."
"Klown" hits U.S. theaters on July 27, a limited release compared to the roughly one in five Danes who has seen it in its country of origin as "Klovn: The Movie." In this socially awkward farce, directed by Mikkel Nørgaard with the handheld-camera naturalism of a Dogme drama, Frank discovers he's the last to know his girlfriend is pregnant, and is determined to get back in her good graces and prove his fatherhood potential. Casper has invited him on a canoeing expedition that will peak at a wealthy friend's exclusive one-night-a-year brothel, prompting Frank to unwisely abduct and bring along his tween nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) for what Casper dubs the "Tour de Pussy." Everyone in the van, including journalists from across the country, prefers to randomly yell out in the performers' native tongue: "Tour de Fisse!"
This isn't exactly a press junket, and I'm not saying that to justify the van's pit stop to pick up Four Loko and more beer. Austin-based distributor Drafthouse Films, a natural evolution of the celebrated Alamo Drafthouse theater chain and CEO Tim League's saucy brand of showmanship, is introducing the film to 130 or so ticketed participants as part of their open-air Rolling Roadshow series. Everyone seeing the movie tonight must arrive at the massive inflatable movie screen the same appropriate way: by canoe, in pairs.
Next: "I peek back at Hvam, familiarly soaked, and realize I'm unofficially the co-star of 'Klown 2.'"