Enjoy norsk storytelling from the Upper Midwest

Chad Filley makes you laugh like a Norwegian

Chad Filley

Photos courtesy of Chad Filley
Chad Filley is an author, comedian, and storyteller based in Cambridge, Minn., who really knows how to make a Norwegian-American audience laugh.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

Chad Filley is an author, comedian, and storyteller based in Cambridge, Minn. Described by some as “the best-kept comedy secret in Minnesota,” his reach goes far beyond his home state, as he has entertained audiences throughout North America.

With a unique ability to touch people across all age groups and walks of life, since 2010, he has performed at corporate functions, prisons, comedy clubs, school groups, festivals, banquets, and churches. He has even appeared on stage in Las Vegas and at the legendary Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. The sky seems to be the limit for Chad, the man with the contagious smile, who simply is able to make people laugh.

As his website, chadfilley.com, explains, most of Chad’s material comes from everyday life, which makes it so easy for his audiences to relate to him. He tells stories of “survival in the trenches of parenthood, matrimony, teaching high school, coaching, and firefighting.” He combines his own real-life experiences with “a humorous spin, helping him turn everyday events into comical stories.”

Most notably for readers of this newspaper, Chad is a Scandinavian storyteller, who is making his mark throughout the Norwegian-American community.

He was first inspired to explore the humor of his Norwegian roots when he got a grant one-time to work with storyteller Kevin Kling of international acclaim. As part of the collaboration, Kling took Chad to the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn.

“I saw Jewish storytellers, I saw Spanish storytellers, I saw Irish storytellers, all kinds of storytellers, but there was no Scandinavian storytellers,” Chad recalled. He knew there was a space to be filled.

Years of research went into the new project, which became The Norsk Storyteller (norskstoryteller.com). Blending historical and family tales, Chad tells “hysterical and historical” stories of Scandinavian immigrants and their descendants in the Upper Midwest, including a story about his grandmother, Lily Filley.

These days, Chad is a frequent guest at Scandinavian events and festivals throughout the region and beyond. “No event is too big or too small” for the norsk storyteller. You may run into him at your local Sons of Norway lodge of at the Norsk Høstfest in Minot, N.D., where he was a big hit last fall.

With program titles including “The Immigrants’ Long Journey from Scandinavia to Minnesota,” and “Humorous Stories of Immigrants and their Descendants,” this popular Norwegian-American comic is ready to bring the house down wherever he goes.

This June, the Norwegian storyteller will travel to Norway for the first time to deepen his cross-cultural experience, and, above all, find new material. In Oslo, he will begin his research with Siv Ringdal at the Folk Museum, and then it will be on to Ottestad, to the Norwegian Emigrant Museum, where he will perform storytelling for Friends of the Museum and the local Sons of Norway. He will also meet with the museum’s director, Terje Mikael Hasle Joranger, to gather information and stories of emigrants.

The next stop on Chad’s Norwegian tour is Bergen for more research at the Leprosy Museum and the Maritime Museum.

Finally, Chad will head north to Tromsø, where he will spend a week with Stina Fagertun. He plans to go hiking in the forest to “learn” Norwegian methods of storytelling, participate in an Arctic Circle storytelling circle, travel to meet the reindeer-herding Sámi and possibly some Kven people. He will also meet with an expert on the witchcraft trials in Norway and visit areas where the old Sámi boarding schools were located.

With Norwegian grandparents on both sides of his family tree, the storyteller most likely has many long-lost cousins in Norway, who he would like to meet, but this initial trip will be solely focused on research.

While Chad has received numerous research grants in the past, he will be self-funding his Norway trip out of an intense passion for what he does and the desire to learn more. He will be doing a fundraising show with fellow storyteller Kling in Lakeville, Minn., on April 6—an event not to be missed for those of you nearby.

And now, before he takes off to the old country, Chad has an Easter gift for the readers of The Norwegian American, the story of “The New Pastor.”

Enjoy for now—with more to come once Chad was returned home from Norway!

The New Pastor

By Chad Filley

It was an exciting time for our little village in Norway. We were getting a new pastor, not just any pastor, but this one was single.

Many of the young women in the area were excited because this was their chance to escape being a farmer’s wife or their opportunity to escape being a fisherman’s wife. If they could catch the eye of the new pastor and eventually marry him, this was their chance to live a life of luxury.

Not only was this a huge deal for the single ladies, but it was also a big deal for their mothers, whose status would be significantly elevated if their daughter married a pastor. All the mothers decided to help their daughters make new bunads and bonnets to impress the new pastor on his first Sunday in church. Excitement grew in the days leading up to the holy man’s arrival.

Some people wondered why many girls were even bothering because the odds-on favorite to win the pastor’s heart was the beautiful Elsa. She had flowing blonde hair the color of buttermilk. The young maiden often sang at church and had the voice of an angel. Ole Oleson had even said she’d make a great mother because she had a nice pair of child-bearing hips. Most were certain Elsa would catch his eye, but it didn’t stop everyone from trying. After all, this was their chance to live a life of luxury.

Maybe he liked redheads. If so, there was Lily. Her fair skin and auburn hair made her a true beauty, but if she had one downfall, it would be that she had a temper. She once got so mad at her father that she huffed at him in public. It was scandalous.

If he preferred brunettes, then he might choose Lorraine. Not only was she beautiful, but she was the best cook in the region. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then Lorraine had a chance. She was even known to cook with exotic spices like salt and pepper.

The pastor’s first Sunday finally arrived, and everyone showed up for church. It was like Christmas and Easter combined. People who hadn’t seen the church’s insides in years turned out. There was a bit of a scandal because somebody sat in Ole Oleson’s seat, but the ushers removed them before it got ugly. There was an energy in the room as everyone eagerly anticipated their first glimpse of the reverend. The room was electric.

All of the single hopefuls were sitting up straight, not too straight because they are Norwegian, but straight, nonetheless. They all were wearing their new bunads and bonnets except Elsa. She was letting her blonde hair flow freely. All of the other girls thought she was a tart.

When the bishop approached the front of the church, he thanked everyone for making it out. “I’m so glad to see everyone attending Pastor Hansen’s first Sunday. I know you are going to love him and you’ll continue attending. So, without anything further, I’d like to introduce you to Pastor Hansen.”

As the sacristy door opened, a tall, dark, handsome man walked out, and the young ladies’ hearts began to go pitter-patter, pitter-patter. Then he spoke, his deep voice making him sound like a Norwegian Charlton Heston.

“I would like to thank everyone for coming out today. I have a feeling this will be the beginning of a great relationship. I am so excited to accept my first call here. But before I go any further, I need to introduce you to someone. I want to introduce you to my new bride, Helga.”

This revelation zapped the energy out of the church like a balloon popping. The sacristy door opened, and in walked Helga. She was even more beautiful than Elsa. Everyone instantly hated her, not only because of her striking appearance but because she snatched everyone’s chance at the life of luxury that comes along with being a pastor’s wife.

Nobody heard another word Pastor Hansen said for the rest of the service.

As if it weren’t enough for everyone to not like Helga because she married the beloved bachelor pastor, she was also a bit unsophisticated. She came from up on the hills where she didn’t understand the concept of time and rarely showed up somewhere on time. She is often late for church. If the service started at 11:00 a.m., she might stroll in around 11:10 a.m.

One Sunday, not too long into her husband’s tenure, she arrived at church just as her husband had asked the congregation to rise for silent prayer and reflection. She entered the room as everyone rose to their feet.

“Oh, please,” she waved her hands downward. “Please, sit down. I can remember when I wasn’t any better than the rest of you.”

It was a long first year for Pastor Hansen and his beautiful bride.

You can listen to the story of “The New Pastor” and enjoy other tales by Chad Filley at norskstoryteller.com/media. Chad is also available to perform at your next special event. Email him at chadfilley@yahoo.com.

This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.