I’m just going to say it and I know that this might result in the stand-up community in Iceland (and maybe one eccentric historian) disowning me—and maybe I deserve that—but here goes: Icelandic stand-up has been a goddamn tragedy throughout the years. But don’t despair, there is one man working hard to get us on the world map. This is, of course, Ari Eldjárn, who just premiered his first Netflix special, ‘Pardon My Icelandic.’
Iceland comedy history in 30 seconds
Stand-up comedy in Iceland has more or less been an odd slapstick situation throughout the years from Ómar Ragnarsson, who just danced while reciting rhymes like he was strung out on amphetamines, to Spaugstofan, who made tacky political jokes that were more like a series of dad jokes than commentary, to the boozy Radíus bræður, who gave us intellectual humour under heavy influence from Monty Python and booze, to finally Fóstbræður, the surreal comedy group lead by our former mayor, Jón Gnarr, that was also under the heavy influence of Monty Python.
Imperialists… am I right?
But Ari Eldjárn is different. His comedy—rather than going for niche Icelandic political jabs or Monty Python-inspired rabble—is more about Scandinavian stereotypes in general. He made headlines as the first Icelandic comedian to get his own Netflix stand-up special, and while cynical readers might say everyone and their Grandmothers gets Netflix stand-up specials nowadays, we want to state that Iceland does have a population of 360,000 people, so one of them getting a special is like 400 Netflix-specials per capita compared to the U.K. Now it seems pretty big right?
So let’s talk about ‘Pardon My Icelandic’. Ari’s warm and friendly comedy translates pretty well to the worldwide screen. His humour, which in this special revolves around Scandinavian quirks, brilliantly nails Iceland’s Scandi neighbours, like the robotic emotionlessness of the Finns and the unbearable tone shift at the end of every sentence in Norwegian.
Most importantly though, he unveils what most of the world has somehow missed, which is that Danish people are an absolutely insufferable bunch of pompous softies that speak the most hideous language in the world. But, you know, imperialists, right?
With his observations, Ari unveils the characteristic funny-but-extremely-petty national soul of Icelanders, which is usually lost in most of the cutesy international media attention the country gets.
We could be imperialists too
But to be critical, Ari’s stand-up is not perfect. In the middle of the one-hour long special, he does seem to lose track for a moment though he does later regain his vigour. The part about how Danish people make up strange jokes about Iceland is perhaps too niche for an international crowd. And nobody in Iceland cares about Himmelbjerget anymore. That mountain is more of a tragedy than a joke.
But overall, Ari’s show reminds us that he is truly the comedy king of Iceland and he sails his first special pretty safely to harbour. A little too safely, actually, and that could be a criticism in itself, but who can blame him for playing it safe on the biggest stage in the world?
He does give one hope that comedy in Iceland does not only have a bright future, but that it could actually conquer the world! Which is also a weird quirk in Icelanders; we are the world’s smallest imperialist-wannabes. You can run with that in your next show, Ari.
Stream ‘Pardon My Icelandic’ on Netflix.
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