Okay we all know it's funny although we don't always know why. The Swedish Chef is one of America's most beloved muppets, even though it remains a total mystery to the average Swede.
I was recently surprised to find out that the Swedish Chef is based on a real guy.
Here is the story:
Lars "Kuprik" Bäckman is the real-world chef who, rumor has it, served as the inspiration for the popular Swedish Chef character in The Muppets. (This story is however denied by Jerry Juhl, writer on The Muppet Show.) He lives in Leksand, Sweden.
Bäckman was brought up in the Swedish town of Rättvik, where as a child he helped out in his parents' hotel. His interest for food led him to attend restaurant training, after which he worked in numerous restaurants around Sweden.
When he was 21 years old, he left for the United States to help his friend start a restaurant called "Viking Horn" and known informally as "the horny Viking". It was situated in the outskirts of Beverly Hills. After the "Viking Horn" he became head chef of a Holiday Inn hotel and later, head chef at 20th Century Fox.
Bäckman was asked to do a commercial for Swedish food in a show that was later to be turned into Good Morning America. It was to be a live show, where he cooked and explained his cooking to a program host who was supposed to ask questions and guide the process along. However, the host never showed up and Bäckman had to attempt the taping on his own. In his words:
- "I was so nervous. I was shaking and didn't know what to do. And all the time I was mumbling strange words. At first the audience was surprised of the idiot that, sweating like a pig, stood before them. But after a while they started to laugh."
It is said that Bäckman was contacted by Jim Henson, who wondered if he could buy the rights for the recorded performance. The chef was paid USD 80 for the material. Henson transformed the characteristics of Bäckman into one of his puppets and the Swedish chef came into being. This is, as said, denied by Muppet Show writer Jerry Juhl.
Currently, Bäckman is travelling around Sweden while cooking, telling jokes and singing in shopping malls, at company parties and similar arrangements. He is also recording TV-commercials for Siljan Food, and working on his own logotype. Bäckman also does promotions with IKEA in the United Kingdom.