Early life and debut
Vegard (1979-) and Bård (1982-) Urheim Ylvisåker were born in Bergen to parents from the Sogn district of western Norway, the younger two of three brothers. Their early childhood years were spent in Angola and Mozambique, where their father was an engineer during the civil wars there. After a few years in Africa, the family moved back to Bergen, where the brothers received a musical upbringing and were trained in classical instruments. Vegard played the double bass and Bård the violin. However, both quit during their youth – Vegard instead focusing on guitar, song and comedy, and Bård on song, comedy and acrobatics such as Aerial Silk.
While attending videregående skole (equiv. to high school) at Fana gymnas they were heavily involved in school theatre and variety shows as well as the school choir. During a performance they were spotted by impresario Peter Brandt, who orchestrated their debut as professional variety artists at Ole Bull Teater in Bergen in 2000. Their debut show was called "Ylvis – en kabaret" ("Ylvis – a Cabaret").
2000-2005: Early career and national breakthrough
"Ylvis – en kabaret" received rave reviews and proved very popular. In 2001, after 51 shows at Ole Bull Teater, they took the show to the road and embarked on a tour of Norway. Later that year they made their TV debut as a comedy fixture in Rune Larsen's show "Absolutt Norsk" ("Absolute Norwegian") on Norway's biggest TV station, NRK. They also held two concerts in Grieghallen with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. The concerts, titled "Ylvis Goes Philharmonic" combined musical comedy versions and serious versions of known songs and classical pieces.
In 2002 they finally took their show to Norway's most prominent variety theatre, Chat Noir in Oslo. The show was sold out for four consecutive months. They also had a new bout of TV appearances on NRK, as a fixture in veteran comedian "Trond-Viggo Torgersen"'s show "TVT". They also returned to Grieghallen with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in "Ylvis Goes Philharmonic – episode II".
In 2003 they premiered their new musical show, "Ylvis – en konsert" ("Ylvis – a Concert") at Ole Bull Teater backed by a 14-piece band. It sold out immediately and they had to extend the season another month before taking the show to the road for another successful tour. One of the songs in the show, a version of Ole Ivars' "I kjempeform" ("In Great Shape") proved to be particularly popular with the audience, and was recorded and released with their first music video. It became a YouTube hit in Norway, and was most notably sung by olympic rowing champion Olaf Tufte upon his victory in the 2004 Olympics. Ylvis also contributed vocals to two songs on swedish a cappella group The Real Group's Christmas album "Julen er her" ("Christmas is here").
2006-2009: Breakthrough and success as national TV hosts
In 2006 the brothers signed a management contract with live production company Stageway. They also debuted as hosts on national broadcasting, with the radio show "O-fag" ("O studies," named after a subject previously taught in Norwegian primary schools, a combination of science and social studies) on NRK Radio.
In January 2007 they again took to the stage at Ole Bull Teater with a new variety show, "Ylvis III". This show was even more successful than their previous shows and they toured on and off for almost three years, the last show being played in Odda in western Norway in December 2009. The show was also recorded and published on DVD. Also in 2007 they debuted as hosts on national television with the show "Norges herligste" ("Norway's Most Wonderful"), a version of the Swedish show "100 höjdare" ("100 Highs"). This was also hugely popular, and was published on DVD as well as broadcast on Swedish TV.
2008 saw their return to radio with a second series of the show "O-fag", and also a new TV show, "Ylvis møter veggen" ("Ylvis meets the wall") on TVNorge, a game show concept inspired by the "Brain Wall", a feature in the Japanese game show "Tonneruzu no Minasan no Okage deshita" on Fuji TV.
The success of "Ylvis møter veggen" was followed up by another game show, "Hvem kan slå Ylvis" ("Who can beat Ylvis") in 2009, based on the German show "Schlag den Raab" ("Beat Raab"). Members of the public were invited to try to beat the brothers at various tasks, tempted by a reward of up to one million Norwegian kroner.
2009-2013: Talkshow success and international breakthrough
In 2010, owing to the success of "Norges herligste", they hosted "Nordens herligste", a pan-nordic version of the show. 2011 saw their successful return to the variety stage with the show "Ylvis 4", as usual premiered at Ole Bull Teater, and as usual sold out before opening. That year the brothers also launched their own comedy talkshow "I kveld med Ylvis" ("Tonight with Ylvis") on TVNorge, with sidekick Calle Hellevang-Larsen from comedy trio Raske Menn. The show was an instant success.
Upon being requested for a second season, the brothers created their own production company – Concorde TV – in order to retain rights and creative control. The second, equally successful series was broadcast in 2012, with David Batra replacing Hellevang-Larsen as the sidekick (because Hellevang-Larsen was busy with a Raske Menn show). In the autumn/fall of 2013, Hellevang-Larsen was back for the third series of "I kveld med Ylvis". The first episode had more viewers than any other program broadcast on Norwegian national TV the same night, even though it was ridden with technical difficulties.
A number of comedy and parody music videos, either originally featured on "I kveld med Ylvis" or part of the promotion of the show have been released onto YouTube and other streaming media. Two – "The Fox" and "Stonehenge" – have also been released as singles. "The Fox", which was released on 3 September 2013 as a part of the promotion for the up-coming third series of "I kveld med Ylvis", went viral on YouTube and received 40 million views in its first two weeks on YouTube and as of October 8th, 2013, has over 100 million views – thus making Ylvis internationally recognized.
Both the brothers and TVNorge have commented that they are being flooded with offers for interviews, concerts, and major label record contracts from around the world since the release of "The Fox", and that they are quite surprised by all the fuss. Their first performance abroad was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in the USA, where they appeared on September 20. They also made a surprise appearance at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas the next day. On October 9, Jimmy Fallon brought them to his late night show to perform live.