PASADENA, Calif. — Everything was hunky-dory in Greg Poehler's life. He was a lawyer, married to a lawyer and a father of three. Then two years ago, he tried something he'd always wanted to do: stand-up comedy.
That was the end of the life he'd known for 12 years. If the name sounds familiar, it should. He's the brother of actress Amy Poehler. After earning a law degree, he fell in love with a Swedish lawyer, married her and moved to Sweden.
"I started doing stand-up comedy in Sweden, and that was kind of the first step," he says.
"That went really, really well. It was something I'd always wanted to do. A few months later I sat in my attic and wrote the script for Welcome to Sweden, which is based on my life. It was something I'd been thinking about for a long time. I wrote it in one day on a snowy Saturday in Stockholm. I said I wanted it to be sold to the U.S. and to Sweden and have a bunch of cameos (in it), and I will play the lead role."
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All that might sound like a pipe dream. But it all came true, and no one is more surprised than he is.
"It's amazing. It's a really bizarre kind of fairy tale," Poehler says.
The shows hits American airwaves Thursday on NBC. It already aired in Sweden and was been an enormous hit. Out of 9 million Swedes, 3 million watched the show.
Poehler plays Bruce, Swedish actress Josephine Bornebusch is his wife, and Sweden native Lena Olin is his mother-in-law. The show also stars Patrick Duffy and Ileana Douglas.
It all began when he met his future wife at work. "The first night we met, she said, 'Would you ever consider moving to Sweden?' And I was like, 'Yeah.' I just wanted to have sex with her. I would've said anything at that point. And she held me to that. We lived together after that for five years in New York, so it was always part of the plan to move to Sweden. I put it off as long as I could."
But when their first son was born, it was time for a reckoning.
"From New York City to Stockholm is such a huge difference in terms of family- friendliness," he says. "That was the main reason behind the move. But it was always part of the plan. People say, 'I would give up everything to be with this person.' What happens when you do? That's really what this show is about."
The series begins the day he left his former life behind. When he transferred to Sweden, he had no job, no friends, no business connections.
"There was something about that move that I think a lot of people can identify with," he says. "There are certain times in your life when you have to re-invent yourself and who you were before doesn't really matter anymore."
But the adjustment wasn't easy. In fact, Welcome to Sweden is about the subtle cultural differences and the way people mishandle them.
"It's still hard for me," he says. "Swedes have an interesting kind of dynamics socially. They seem to have a group of friends from a very young age, and it's kind of hard to break in to that social circle. It's very unlike the U.S. ...
"I think we tried to show that on the show that regardless of the country, the adjustment of the immigrant is oftentimes a lonely one. I think it's impossible to hit the ground running and adapt and assimilate right from the start. It takes a while."
Before he wrote the script in that chilly attic, he says he Googled "how to write a script." He sent it to his sister just to check that the formatting was correct. She fell in love with it and offered to serve as executive producer of the show (and pull in some of her comedy friends for cameos).
Greg Poehler, 39, says he's learned a valuable lesson from the experience. "The moral of my story is it's never too late. ... I'm proof it's never too late."