Review – Ari Eldjarn, Eagle Fire Iron

A crash course in Icelandic culture raises a few laughs

Icelandic comedian Ari Eldjarn

National stereotypes are one of the biggest staples in standup, whether the comic is playing to them or subverting them. So what does a comedian do when their nationality is so little-known, that their average audience knows sod all about it? 
 
Ari Eldjárn could steer clear of the subject altogether, of course. But his homeland is so rich with comic material (to English ears), that he essentially gives us an affectionate show and tell about it, assuming that we know nothing about it except for vikings and the supermarket of the same name. As a punter, it’s as if we’re on a military crash course before we enter Icelandic territory. 
 
Eldjárn is a thoroughly affable host as he informs us about how things are done back home, which mainly involves being extremely informal and relaxed about everything. Comedy gigs are booked there while they’re actually happening, the president takes the budget airline, and their homegrown rappers can’t seem to raise their blood about any subject. Throw in his observations about how literal the language is, and you get the impression of a country that doesn’t like to overcomplicate things. For an outsider to describe the same things in the same way would sound patronising and parochial, but Eldjárn uses his licence to poke fun.
 
I actually came out feel pretty well boned up on Icelandic culture, thanks to Eldjárn’s intro lecture. As a comic there are no shocks or surprises, he’s cut from some pretty standard mainstream cloth – but he is good at it. There are some very funny stories about how excited Icelandic politicians got about a tunnel that was going free after years of charging drivers a toll. And his routine about being in the Iceland president’s entourage (such as it is) on a visit to the King of Sweden has some real laugh-out-loud moments. 
 
He has good material on language, too, not just the inelegance of Icelandic tongue, but also his knowledge of German – I enjoyed his piece on the man who dubs Clint Eastwood’s voice in German films, who was mourned at national level when he died. His material on parenthood is less convincing – a bit on a fancy dress party that went wrong hinges on a minor mistranslation that doesn’t really carry the story, or perhaps the whole thing could be told in a different order to better effect. 
 
In the end he does come round to the subject of Nordic stereotypes (in the blockbuster film Thor), which doesn’t mean much to English audiences, especially his observation about how Norwegians speak. But it’s not to the detriment of the story and his evident frustration about how Hollywood has watered down Iceland’s beloved Norse mythology. 
 
There’s nothing spectacular here to get the pulse racing, but Eldjárn’s second show is highly enjoyable, funny and informative to boot. 
3.5 stars
 

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