Chess champ made debut as comedian

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Magnus Carlsen, Norway’s undisputed chess champion, is taking a bit of a break this spring. While his chess rivals fight for the right to play against him in the next Chess World Championships, Carlsen was relaxing with completely other things in Oslo last week, like going on stage as a stand-up comedian.

Magnus Carlsen is suddenly caught up in conflict over a world championship rematch in Sochi, that's loaded with political overtones. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Magnus Carlsen is usually a serious chess player, but last Thursday, he turned up at a hot new culture and entertainment venue in Oslo and stood in for an ill stand-up comedian. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

The setting was the brand-new Sentralen in downtown Oslo, which opened inside the vastly remodelled site of a former bank and now serves as a hot new cultural venue in the Norwegian capital. It’s quickly become a haven for concerts, exhibits and other forms of entertainment, it boasts a wildly popular new gourmet restaurant opened by a former Michelin star winner that’s won rave reviews, and it even rents office space to various cultural pursuits. It’s all funded mostly by a large charitable foundation tied to Norway’s biggest bank, DNB.

Among events on last week’s line-up was a stand-up show that was supposed to feature Norwegian comedian Bård Tufte Johansen, but he got sick at the last minute. His audience was shown a short video of Johansen, explaining that he’d fallen ill and couldn’t appear after all.

“But it doesn’t matter so much who actually tells the jokes, as long as the jokes are good,” Johansen claimed in the video. And then Magnus Carlsen took the stage, to the surprise and delight of the audience. The 25-year-old chess genius, usually very serious, was the last person anyone expected to start telling Johansen’s jokes.

‘Impulsive and spontaneous’
“It was a very impulsive and sponaneous thing,” Carlsen’s manager Espen Agdestein told newspaper Aftenposten with a laugh. Agdestein said he’d been contacted by Humornieu, which arranged the stand-up show, and he mentioned the idea to Carlsen, who happened to be home in Oslo from his frequent international travels. “The idea was so crazy that it was actually the kind of thing Magnus could think about doing,” Agdestein said.

Sure enough, Carlsen was interested and ended up gamely delivering Johansen’s one-liners from his well-received show called Mann (44), which roughly can be translated to “Man at age 44,” and it was all a big success, even though Carlsen himself is much younger.

“It was incredibly brave for Magnus to do this,” Bjørn Bragi Asgeirsson of Humornieu told Aftenposten. “He got the script a half-hour before he went on stage, but he was very calm.” He claimed Carlsen “was the best stand-in” for Johansen’s stand-up that the real comedian could have had: “He was also the best name we could have hoped for, and the audience was thrilled.”

Heading for New York in November
Carlsen will attempt to defend his world championship title in New York City in November. In the meantime, he’s spending needed time away from the chess board. “It’s incredibly important for him to relax and get away from chess at times,” Agdestein said. “He was busy at the end of last year and beginning of this year, but now he has some free time before we start preparing for Norway Chess in early April.”

He added that it’s a conscious decision for Carlsen not to be thinking too much about the World Championships this fall just yet. “There’s no point using too much energy on it now, so we’re trying to keep the tension down,” Agdestein said, clearly with things like a comedy routine.

Carlsen is nonetheless following the candidates’ tournament going on in Moscow, which will decide who will be his opponent in New York. Sergej Karjakin of Ukraine and Levon Aronian of Armenia were the top contenders as of last weekend.

“He (Carlsen) is of course following it all, both because he’s a chess fan and because he’s interested in knowing who he’ll meet at the World Championships,” Agdestein said. “As soon as he knows who he’ll meet, his brain will start working.” He claimed Carslen would like an American opponent, since the championships will take place in the US, but he reportedly has no one “dream opponent” in mind, American or otherwise.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund