The first night of the fringe is one of excitement and anticipation for the performers as well as the audience. Although Tallinn Fringe has over 90 acts, this night sets the festival’s tone: for the acts, for the venues and for the audience. At 10pm on Thursday, it was a relatively small crowd at Kalamaja’s theatre-bar Heldeke!, bunched together as if seeking strength in numbers. Kaisa Pylkkanen strode onto the stage and then paused and glanced around. The audience stared back.
A weaker comedian might have stumbled or stuttered here but Kaisa is no amateur. She’s been performing for over a decade and was chosen by her peers as Comedian of the Year in 2020. She’s also a well-regarded screenwriter in her native Finland. “How was your pandemic,” she asks us with a wry smile, and the spell of silence is broken.
Her show, Douze Points, is a rapid-fire exploration of the world today and how much improved it might be if global politics followed the rules of Eurovision. She’s a self-proclaimed feminist but explains that this doesn’t mean that she hates men; she’s just jealous of them. From there, we are herded on a break-neck trip through singledom, the penis as the heart of all knowledge and a Mexican wedding that had the audience collapsing with laughter.
Kaisa’s style is personal and direct: she pulls no punches. Neither does she rely on the misfortune of others, other than perhaps the three-times married Stieg. She laughs at her own interactions while allowing the frustration to come through that every woman has experienced: the idea that we need a man’s help, regardless of the challenge and regardless of the man. Despite her focus on feminism, she had both the women and the men in the audience guffawing loudly as she described her longing for the confidence of the average man.
Her experience as a screenwriter shines through not just in her ability to tell stories but in her casting of the characters she shares with us and even when she assigns roles for the audience to play.
At the same time, Kaisa is not afraid to take on heavy subjects, including the invasion of Ukraine and her efforts to help a group of refugees in Helsinki. She repeatedly became serious before inviting us to laugh at the irony of it all, for example, how Finnish red tape made Ukrainians feel at home. “Russia can’t win this war,” she tells us. “They just can’t.” For many reasons, of course, but she ends on the subject close to her heart: What would Eurovision be without a Ukrainian entry? The knack for combining sweeping issues with trivial points keeps the audience on her side as Kaisa repeatedly brings us back to her central premise: the wonders of Eurovision and what we, as a broken and battered world, could learn from it.
Kaisa’s personal stories and infectious smile makes us feel like we’re among friends and indeed, the commentary shouted towards the stage is never heckling but involved and supportive.
And yet, there’s something in her movements that feels a little like a caged tiger: under control but only just. Kaisa Pylkkanen doesn’t just want us to laugh, she wants us to think.