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Review: Ari Eldjárn – Pardon My Icelandic

Patricia Maunder

He’s Iceland’s biggest comedy star, but in a country of 340,000 people, that’s not much of a claim.
Review: Ari Eldjárn – Pardon My Icelandic

Image: Ari Eldjárn via MICF.

He’s Iceland’s biggest comedy star, but in a country of 340,000 people, that’s not much of a claim. By the end of Ari Eldjárn’s first stand-up show in English, however, which makes merry with this ‘small nation syndrome’, I’m convinced that claim doesn’t go far enough. He’s got to at least be the funniest comedian from the Nordic countries – which all cop some good-natured ribbing in this laugh-out-loud show.

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Having lived in London, and travelled extensively around Europe, including as an Icelandair flight attendant, Eldjárn delivers an innocent abroad style of routine for the bulk of the show. It’s sincere, but underpinned by a well-travelled man’s sophistication, and complete ease with his material. It may be his first show in English, but his English is impeccable – including with various extraordinarily good accents from around the UK. His OTT Hollywood accent is great too, and a brief shot at Aussie is more than passable. Then there are all the Nordic accents. The audience may not have known they sounded much different before, but by the end we were wiser, and had a good chuckle at their distinctive features.

Even funnier are his observations about national characteristics. They lean toward admiration for the British, between incredulous jokes about drug dealers and passive-aggressive behaviour. For the Nordic countries it’s more like someone’s cheeky reflections about his much bigger, more powerful siblings. Until Eldjárn turns to Iceland’s tiny neighbour, the Faroe Islands, when he demonstrates how Icelanders show the same condescension that Danes, Swedes, Finns and Norwegians direct toward his countrymen – with a big wink at the irony of it all.

His observations about Iceland, the small country that’s so proud of being the biggest and best per capita in this and that, are, like the whole show, clever, original and really funny, delivered with fine-tuned rhythm and an endearing yet assured style. Eldjárn doesn’t waste time with the filler so many stand-ups rely on, like 'this is a true story,' or one-on-one’s with punters to build rapport – he didn’t need to, as we were soon all laughing hard and often. Nor does he pander to the audience, though there is a sweet little bit about Australia’s eagerness to be part of Eurovision.

In the last 10 minutes or so of this one-hour show, Eldjárn pivots to observations about his own life, particularly parenthood. His take on his three-year-old daughter as a Game of Thrones despot, complete with snooty English accent, makes you wish there were another hour up his sleeve. His canny impersonation of an automatic hand dryer, which he then equates to a sullen teen’s attitude, is priceless.

This is comedy gold that’s definitely not lost in translation.

★★★★☆ 

Pardon My Icelandic
Written and performed by Ari Eldjárn
The Greek Centre, Melbourne, until 22 April
Melbourne International Comedy Festival

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Patricia Maunder is a Melbourne writer.

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