Greg Poehler may have a pretty famous last name, but that doesn’t mean he’s not working hard to claim it as his own. Though big sister Amy just wrapped up the run of her own show, the younger Poehler is hard at work on the second season of “Welcome to Sweden,” the sitcom loosely based on his own life as an American expat living in Sweden. The series traffics in a very wry sense of humor, poking fun at the oddness of Swedish culture without being insulting, and more often than not making it clear Poehler’s “Bruce” is the odd one out. We talked to him about the new season and all his big casting moves.
What can we expect coming up in Season 2?
Season 2 I finally know what I’m doing, so that’s a huge plus, right? I think, in general, Season 2s are where shows find their footing and find their rhythm and figure out what they want to be. I think there’s so many things that can go wrong in a Season 1, not necessarily in terms of acting or writing, just in terms of the producing aspect of it. Especially a show like us, we have so many different people stirring the pot both on the American side and the Swedish side.
You did some stand up comedy before this but not any acting. How was the transition?
It’s always something that I thought I could do and it helps that I’m basically playing a version of myself on screen. I don’t feel like I’m acting too much, to be honest. The key is to not act. [laughs] No, my sister gave me some advice before Season 1, as a new actor to make sure you don’t overact. I think people have the tendency to want to overdo it and be big in the moment if they don’t have much experience.
Did you end up asking your sister for a lot of advice?
She’s trusted me to make the show that I wanted to make, which is huge, especially someone that has had no experience. It’s kind of an early stamp of approval. I’ve spent so much time with her around the business, we lived together when she started on “SNL” in New York. I’ve kind of been on the outskirts of it for so long that I kind of feel like I know what the business is and I try not to take it too seriously. I know how ridiculous it is in many respects.
Is she involved much in the creative process or is she mostly hands off in that department?
She’s very involved when it comes to scenes that she’s in. [laughs] She somehow pays a lot of attention whenever a scene involves the two of us and I’m under strict orders to give her all the funny lines, which I do as a dutiful younger brother. No, for the most part, she leaves me to do the show that I want and, plus, it’s in Sweden, so it’s kind of a tough commute for her. She sees all the scripts and makes cuts on the episodes so she’s involved in that.
The show has this low key sense of humor. Is that your sense of humor that you prefer things to have that low key tone or has that been influenced by Sweden at all?
I started with a show that I’d like, a kind of show that I’d like to watch, and I’m not a big fan of the traditional sitcom where there’s “setup, setup, joke.” There’s a rhythm to it that has its place and I realize people really like it, but I can’t watch those. There’s something that is not genuine about them to me. I prefer shows that are a mix of comedy, but have a dose of reality and that are slower-paced. So it was definitely purposely like that in the first season. Interestingly, Sweden reviewed us as an over-the-top show. The Swedish critics think we’re over-the-top, slapstick comedy. It’s wild talking to them. In my back and forths with them, I tell them, “You know, we’re kind of viewed as like a low-key, subtle comedy,” and they cannot believe that America thinks of us that way.
What’s the reaction been like from the average viewer in Sweden?
The public reaction around the world has been pretty consistent. Everyone feels the same way about it and it’s connected with Swedes and Americans and we’re on all throughout Asia and a bunch of countries worldwide. There’s something universal about the fish-out-of-water theme that connects everyone. The Swedish general public, they love it. They can laugh at themselves, I think, much more than Swedish critics.
Are the cultural differences that play in the show inspired by events that have happened in your real life?
Americans, when they’re listening to someone talk, they remain silent. Swedes have these rotation of sounds that they make when you’re talking. And the first time you hear it, you have no idea what’s going on. The first time my wife did it, I thought it was some sort of emergency and it was just her mom telling her to pick up some milk.
You had a lot of cool guest stars on the show last season and some fun people coming this season. How do you decide who will be a good fit on the show?
This year we have Jack Black, Paul Simon, Jason Priestley, Neve Campbell, and then Amy and Aubrey [Plaza] come back, of course. It’s tough on the guest stars. They have to be someone that is famous in both Sweden and the US. And that’s a shorter list than you’d think. It tends to have to be gigantic stars. [laughs] Like Will Ferrell and Jack Black and Gene Simmons, and Paul Simon. I think it was a little easier this year because almost everyone had seen the show so we could at least show them what it was like. Last year was a bit trickier. I think we just convinced everyone that no one outside of Sweden would ever see it.
Do you have any dream guest stars that you’d like to bring over there?
I don’t know, I think we’re almost running out of people that are famous in both places. We’re down to like Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio and maybe Bjorn Borg. Bjorn Borg we’ve been trying to get for two seasons, so that’s the biggest get. If we can manage to corral him, then we’ve climbed the highest Swedish mountain.