From Iceland — Stand-up Comedy At Airwaves: Jóhann Thinks You Can Do Five Minutes

Stand-up Comedy At Airwaves: Jóhann Thinks You Can Do Five Minutes

Published November 5, 2015

Stand-up Comedy At Airwaves: Jóhann Thinks You Can Do Five Minutes
York Underwood

For the first time at Iceland Airwaves, there will be English-language, stand-up comedy every night, at the venue Gaukurinn. There will be two comedians every night at 18:30.

The Icelandic comedy scene has been growing steadily for a year, but it was in Icelandic. This new surge of English-language comedy is ambitious–following in the Icelandic music tradition of making music for a global audience by switching to english.

Hopefully, this desire to be a part of the global community of comedy won’t water-down the Icelandic uniqueness, a fate that has happened to most, if not all musicians, ever. Musicians, by their very nature, are vapid, narcissistic and entitled, hiding behind their antique sousaphone or whatever goofy hat they think gives them character. A musician has to make you feel something. This doesn’t have to be joy or sadness: it can figuratively be anything. It’s the shotgun approach to artistic expression. Blow something, strum something, bang something, make mouth noises and see what people think. Comedians have one goal. The pure and simple ecstasy of laughter, about eight to ten times a minute.

If this last paragraph has given you the willpower to throw out your dreams of joining an accordion-only, Fleetwood Mac cover band and start practicing your best masturbating pantomime in the mirror, you’ll want to read this. I sat down at Hressó with Jóhann Alfreð Kristinsson, the host of Mið Ísland, the Icelandic stand up comedy supergroup, to get some advice for all you masochists that want to do stand-up comedy in Iceland.

Who can do stand-up comedy? I mean, what type of person?

“First off, it’s really interesting to see this scene booming. There are a lot of new comedians. I went to the Reykjavík comedy open-mic and it was really good. I saw nine new comedians I had never seen before and they were local! I was proud of the local comedians here. The quality is really high. Now there’s going to be stand-up everyday during Airwaves. It’s really great to see. There is something happening here in Reykjavík, comedy-wise. There was nothing like this when I started doing it in 2009.

So to your question, I’ve always felt there are two types of people in this world: people who have humour and people who don’t. I don’t think it’s a fifty-fifty split. The majority of the population of earth is human, in some form. Unfortunately, there are some people are don’t: bleak, humourless, constantly offended, joke-police.

Other than them, I think humour is written in our D.N.A. We were programmed to deal with loss of loved ones, famine, forces of nature by joking and laughing. Because of this shared human condition, I think everyone has five minutes.”


“Everyone can go on stage for five minutes and make people laugh. Maybe they won’t nail it the first time, but if they do it a few times, they can go on-stage and get the audience to laugh.”

When did you realize you wanted to give stand-up a try?

“It didn’t come out of nowhere. I had been interested in sketch comedy, watched comedy, and, simply, just being funny, talking funny, joking with friends at parties.”

How does someone find material?

“Well, you start with what’s around you. You see this a lot in new comedians. They usual talk about something that has happened to them in life…you know, how your bodily functions work or whatever. However, when you get more confidence, you can try stranger, more distant topics. For me, sometimes it just comes by–or I just work at it. It’s inspiration or hard work. I ask my friends on Facebook, ‘what’s funny?’ I want to be able to take any topic and make something funny with it. You should be able to find the funny in any topic.

What hinders most people is doing the work. We’ve all heard about someone’s funny friend who should be a comedian. There’s this famous doctor in Landspítalinn who’s supposed to be the funniest person in Iceland–he’s never performed. It’s not that who couldn’t do it. He just hasn’t. On stage, you’re not being naturally funny–I mean it helps–it’s something that you have to master. You have to train.”

Is hosting different than doing a spot?

“Hosting is what you make of it. You can be a sloppy host, a lazy host. You can do five minutes, bring on a comedian, come back on, tell two jokes, bring the next on…but that’s boring. Good hosting can be the rock the holds the show together. It sets the flow of the show. You need to be all out and aggressive. Also, you have to engage with the audience. You will do this more than the other comedians. You do this to keep them interested and involved, but also to control the show.

Comedy is very volatile. You need to control the audience. It makes stand-up comedy unique. You can be a musician. You can be in the theatre. Obviously, you’ll feel if the audience isn’t good, but you can still go through the motions. If people don’t laugh, stand-up doesn’t work. That’s the scary part.

There was an old sketch-comedy and improv group that would travel the country, and when a show went bad the leader of the group would say: ‘they were laughing on the inside.’

Stand-up doesn’t have that.”

You can see stand-up every night during Iceland Airwaves–18:30 in Gaukurinn and Thursday night at 21:30 in Bar 11.



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