Olle i Skratthult (roughly translated, “Olle from Laughtersville”), whose real name was Hjalmar Peterson, was America’s leading exponent of bondkomik, a uniquely Swedish variety of rustic comedy.
Born in Munkfors, Värmland, Feb. 7, 1886, he emigrated to America in 1906 and soon established himself as an entertainer. From about 1917 to 1933 Olle traveled the length and breadth of the U.S. with his Swedish-language “vaudeville” company of up to thirty singers, musicians, actors and dancers. Swedish-American vaudeville was not like its English-language counterpart. It was colorful, nostalgic and wholesome fun for all ages. It consisted of Swedish folk plays with olios, folk dancing, singing, recitations—and public old-time dancing at the end of the program.
Many of the most popular Scandinavian songs in America were introduced by the Olle i Skratthult Company: “Nikolina”, “Barndomshemmet”, and “Hälsa Dem Därhemma” are all on the first festival album.
Olle’s gentle comedy and captivating stage appearance were still fondly remembered by thousands of Scandinavian-Americans in the 1970s. He died in Minneapolis in 1960.