I always felt that comedy offers a great shortcut to understanding a country. Eddie Murphy define Americanness for me, just like Monty Python helps me decode all things British.

The same goes for my own native culture, which I could never make sense of without the likes of Eva Rydberg, Ulla Skoog & Suzanne Reuter, Nils Poppe, Robban Broberg, Gösta Ekman, Hasse & Tage, Galenskaparna, Grotesco, Killinggänget, the great Robert Gustafsson and the even greater Björn Gustavsson; all of whom helped spin the weave that shaped me as a Swede.

(Victor Borge deserves an honorary mention as well, despite being a Dane. Astonishingly, he managed to merge a great standup act with with snippets of virtuoso piano playing, inventing a unique one-man genre that I likely would have missed if it wasn’t for my lovely piano playing grandma who was a great fan of him, and lived close enough to Denmark in order to tune her TV to their broadcasts).

As great as it is to get a hearty laugh though, it was always the weird stuff that really caught my attention.

Exhibit 1: Laying awake at night listening to the hypnotic poetry of Kjell Alinge’s Radio Eldorado is likely the nearest experience I’ve had to a psychedelic trip without medical intervention. Exhibit 2: Watching Svante Grundberg & Björn Wallde in Nattsudd, a show that broke every convention of the otherwise drab Swedish broadcasting corporation, felt more X-rated than anything else in my cultural universe, even though they were just two rambling drunk guys talking over each other, seemingly on just about any random topic.

There was one particular voice which was weirder than the rest of them. That voice belonged to Stefan Sauk.

To give a bit of context: when I grew up, it happened with some frequency that the broadcasting of either or both of the two available tv channels got interrupted for some unknown technical reason. This was common enough that there was a canned intermission which was designed to fill the gap. The intermission was called “Tillfälligt avbrott”, and by its very nature it was the kind of content that you weren’t supposed to pay attention to.

This title—Tillfälligt avbrott—was adopted by Stefan Sauk, a fledgling actor who was a fresh face at this point, but who would later go on to become a very established figure in Swedish public life.

His sketches didn’t look like much: one man in white shirt and tie, standing in an empty office room, talking into the camera. Very low budget, very off-the-cuff.

As soon as you started listening to what this tidily attired man said however, as well as how he said it, it was like opening up a portal. (Incidentally, Twin Peaks aired at about the same time and induced a very similar feeling).

The Tillfälligt avbrott sketches stood out to such an extreme extent that when I think back on them now, they’ve come to epitomize the Swedish psychosphere of the early nineties. They were so much a part of their time, that it seems fitting I can now find almost no trace of them online (except for one snippet on Facebook, and one other very shaky video on youtube, where someone has simply filmed the tv-screen with a handheld camera.)

I thought of this the other day when I read a story about how Stefan Sauk is now riding the AI wave.

It turns out he’s become a sought-after narrator of audio books. To the point that streaming services offer its listeners the option of having books read by a synthetic version of his voice. Sauk himself says in the article that the AI is “scarily similar to the original“.

The value equation makes perfect sense, listeners get what they want and both Stefan Sauk and the streaming service make more money.

Except of course: lending your voices to narrating audio books has been a very common side-gig that put food on the table for countless unestablished actors struggling to make ends meet.

When doomers warn that AI will steal our jobs, it’s only natural that we picture remote and futuristic scenarios. It makes us feel better. The real threat however, is much more mundane and it’s happening right now, right before our noses, or as it were: in our ears.

It’s a bizarre twist of fate that the voice of a man who used to be so utterly unique, is now about to become ubiquitous. I find myself thinking of invasive species, which flourish in new environments at the expense of the original diversity.

It also makes me think we should be careful what we wish for. The idea of getting to choose precisely whom we hear is obviously tempting, but the way this technology is heading it won’t be long before it’ll be up to me to also decide the gender, hair color and political point of view of my own personalised news anchor.

Where will the rouge voices come from once we’ve arrived at this meticulously tailored mediascape? Who’s going to put smiles on our faces, simply by being genuinely unpredictable?