Finnish stand-up comedian Ismo Leikola moved to the US two years ago, and has been booked solid ever since. Crowned the "Funniest Person in the World" in 2014 at a comedy club in Los Angeles, his calendar is now full of English-speaking gigs in the US, Canada, Australia and England.
This January, Leikola did a five-minute routine on Conan O'Brien's cable TV talk show which focused on his troubles learning the proper use of the word "ass" in the US. His general conclusion was that the many permutations of the word made it one of the more difficult terms to truly understand. The clip of his Conan appearance has garnered nearly 1.5 million views on YouTube and around 60 million views on Facebook.
Ismo's Conan set goes viral
Team Coco also posted the clip on its website, where it has been viewed millions of times, possibly making it the most popular video ever released by O'Brien's cable show.
Any vacancies in the comedian's calendar were soon filled in after his Conan appearance.
"I have definitely have had a dream for years that I could tour English-speaking countries," the comedian says.
He says the viral video has also meant that some people on the streets of L.A. even recognize him when he is out and about.
"You could say that after Conan, I've been recognised on the streets surprisingly often. People might see me in the line at a shop and say 'Hey, you were on Conan". That never happened before," he says.
Leikola: Finnish accent complicates pizza orders in L.A.
Even before his popular TV appearance, he was making history as a Finnish stand-up comedian. In 2014 Leikola won the first-ever Laugh Factory contest with an English-language routine, which named him the Funniest Person in the World. The title encouraged the Finnish-born comedian to move to L.A. and try his luck.
Leikola says that his humour has always focused on language oddities; in Finnish one of his most popular routines involves exploring the many uses of the expression 'no niin' in his native language. He says his move to the US has helped him to observe similar usage quirks in the English language.
He says he started writing material in English about ten years ago. The fact that he is not a native speaker has turned out to work in his advantage; his accent and the fact that he is a foreigner has given him a uniqueness that sets him apart on the stage.
"I would like to speak English better. My accent hasn't been a problem, but I often wonder if I shouldn't have been an exchange student when I was younger. My gigs seem to go well, but it would be nice to get the right toppings on my pizza for a change," he says.
Returning to Finland this summer
Leikola hasn't forgotten Finland. Before he sets off on his international tour, he plans to return to his homeland this summer for a tour, the dates of which will be released in the next few days.
"I'll come back to Finland shortly before the tour to enjoy some days off first. I enjoy the tours, and I was lucky enough to have a bit of a holiday at the start of the year, so I am raring to go," he says.