Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Ari Eldjárn is a superb comedian. He is likeable and original. Pardon My Icelandic looks at how he sees the rest of Europe.
Iceland is a not-so-small country (per capita…) With a small population, 2/3 of whom live in Reykjavík, everybody knows everybody. Sort of. I have been there over two dozen times myself and I can certainly vouch that a lot of people I know over there know other people I know over there without knowing each other through me. I shouldn’t really have been surprised, then, when after the show I was chatting to Ari and he told me what his family does. I have seen two of his brothers – and even his dad! – on stage many times performing in bands and I previously had no idea.
This is a lunchtime show, as is unfortunately made evident to me by the man sitting next to me who has definitely eaten garlic recently. I expected a comedian, virtually unknown in England, to be playing to a few men and a dog. This isn’t Free Fringe and it’s not even 1pm, but the place is full. I am pleased as I’ve worn one of my Icelandic T-shirts in a childish attempt at bragging rights and solidarity. I’m not the only one, either. A shame, then, that Ari is choosing Franz Ferdinand for his play-in music when his nation continues to provide some of the most inventive songs in the world. So many options he could have taken, even some of Iceland’s awful pop music from generations past. It would have set the mood.
Ari is superb. There’s no two ways about it. His English is phenomenally good and he speaks with only a partial accent. This makes him very appealing. He’s one of us, but he’s from somewhere else. He understands us, but he knows ‘other’. He is astute, endearing, and he really understands UK humour. It helps that Icelandic humour tends to be dry – a facet we share. He presents himself like an innocent abroad, but it’s really an act. He’s lively, bright and very keen. He’s also confident. He knows his material very well and has made a real effort to make it all original and – necessary football notwithstanding – he has.
There is none of this lazy, outdated talking to the audience. He doesn’t waste time. His observations centre around things we can all appreciate and understand, but from an Icelandic perspective. I was expecting some ‘in’ jokes but, if he does that at home, he’s left them behind for the British consumer. Only occasionally does he stray into referring to Icelandic towns (beautiful ones, I might add) that many would not have heard of, perhaps assuming him to be making up nonsense words to fool them. He loves talking about how people (not just Icelandic, but predominantly Nordic) are perceived by other nations. He likes wagging fingers at the Danes and the Finns and particularly the Faroese, but nothing is offensive. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have the knives out for anybody. Far from making his humour bland, it makes him likeable. There is enough spark to keep him edgy. His Scottish accent is impeccable and is as unexpected as his observations as to how polite Scottish tourists are.
Football cannot be avoided. Like in many countries, Icelanders love the game and Iceland’s showing in 2016 has given Ari a deep well to draw from. He doesn’t berate the England team or the English – in fact, he is very respectful even towards the hooligans who were, he informs us, the first to admit they played badly. There is no gloating or arrogance. I am no fan of football, but you don’t need to be to appreciate the mood of a country that was still embarrassed about its recession eight years before suddenly finding themselves unlikely international heroes.
There are other hilarious routines including the embarrassment of watching sex scenes on TV with his parents with their cringeworthy ‘right on’ reactions and the idea of his three-year-old daughter being a Game Of Thrones despot, but I have to say – and this is a mark of the man as an entertainer – he does the best impersonation of a hairdryer in the world.