Comedic Closure: Áramótaskaupið’s Enduring Success

Comedic Closure: Áramótaskaupið’s Enduring Success

Published January 10, 2022

Comedic Closure: Áramótaskaupið’s Enduring Success
Josie Gaitens
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There is arguably nobody in Iceland more relieved that it’s 2022 than director Reynir Lyngdal. It’s early in the new year, and debate around ‘Áramótaskaupið’ (sometimes translated to English as ‘The New Year’s Lampoon’) will probably rumble on for another week or so, especially since, as Reynir says, “this year’s was a little less… cosy than last year.” But bruised egos will heal, some new scandal will arise, and both Iceland and Reynir will eventually get to move on.

A national treasure

For the uninitiated, which basically means anyone who doesn’t live in Iceland, Áramótaskaupið, or simply ‘Skaupið’, will mean very little. It’s an annual satirical sketch show, broadcast every New Year’s Eve since 1966, that pokes fun at the 12 months prior and the main political, cultural and newsworthy figures that have featured in them. The big opening and closing musical numbers and cameos from famous Icelanders are eagerly expected.

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But Skaupið is far more than the sum of these parts. It’s a national institution, and it has the figures to prove it. The show has some of the highest ratings in the world, the record being set in 2002 when an unbelievable 95% of the population tuned in. For the hour that Áramótaskaupið is shown on TV, Reykjavik, which for the entirety of the new years eve is under a constant barrage of firework explosions, goes quiet, like WWII’s famed Christmas ceasefire. Whole families curl up to watch together—people of different generations and cultural reference points who would never otherwise laugh over the same things. Unsurprisingly, the advertisement slots are the most expensive on television; it’s basically Iceland’s superbowl.

“The temperature of the year”

Making Áramótaskaupið is a huge responsibility but Reynir doesn’t have to shoulder it alone. He works with a team of writers who dissect the year and piece together a show. “There’s always a little bias towards this end of the year, because you’re closer to it,” Reynir says of this process. “With events from January and February it’s easier to see what is still relevant and therefore important. But later in the year it all gets very close.”

It’s a well-worn cliche to compare each Skaup to the previous year’s edition, but even Reynir readily admits the difference between the 2020 and 2021 shows. “The main task, when we get in the room together, is to take the temperature of the year. Last year was about togetherness and pulling together. This year…” He breaks off and laughs, a little wearily. “I would call it cabin fever,” he finally says, wryly.

Reynil Lyngdal, director of Áramótaskaupið.

TikTok vs TV

The fascinating thing about Áramótaskaupið, however, is its enduring success in the age of TikTok. Reynir puts this down to the ever-evolving cast of writers, actors and directors involved in producing the show: “I’ve been doing this for three years, and each year we try and bring different people in. You might expect to see an actor playing a particular politician, but perhaps that politician hasn’t done anything noteworthy that year. Or maybe we bring in a different actor altogether, just to make things a little bit different.”

You might wonder if looking over a year’s worth of news is a rather bleak experience, especially considering the content of the past 24 months. When I ask Reynir what he thinks is in store for the next 12 months, he talks about the need to hold the rich and powerful to account, his concerns around climate disaster and the desire for the world to be better for his kids—but his parting words are positive. “But because of the show, having to view everything all together, it feels different,” he says. “Personally, I feel hopeful.”

‘Áramótaskaupið’ is available to stream on RÚV’s website. English subtitles are available.

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