When you spend time with Icelanders, you will sooner or later experience that they have a very special sense of humor: dark, dry and often crude. Seriously, they make fun of everything and everyone. Just my kind of people.
When it comes to humor on TV, it is inevitable that you will come across Iceland’s most popular comedy
shows: Fóstbræður (‘Blood Brothers’), Næturvaktin (‘The Night Shift’), Dagvaktin (‘The Day Shift’) and Fangavaktin (‘The Prison Shift’).
You could even go so far as to call these Icelandic classics as they are a must-see. Most people here love them.
Fóstbræður is a comedy sketch show premiered in late 1997. It ran for five seasons until 2001. The program was written by the comedians themselves. The cast consisted of Sigurjón Kjartansson, Jón Gnarr (the current mayor of Reykjavík), Helga Braga Jónsdóttir, Þorsteinn Guðmundsson, Benedikt Erlingsson, Gunnar Jónsson and Hilmir Snær Guðnason.
Many catchphrases used by some of the characters in sketches have become popular slogans used in everyday life. Although only available in Icelandic, some of these sketches are also understandable without knowing the language, so go and check out some of the hilarious clips from Fóstbræður. My favorite is Baðvörður (‘Pool attendant’), where we find ourselves in the men’s changing room at a typical Icelandic swimming pool facing an over enthusiastic and insensitive pool attendant, who takes his job a little too seriously.
A very popular character from this program is ignoramus Indriði, lucky for you the clip is available with English subtitles.
Næturvaktin, Dagvaktin and Fangavaktin is actually a trilogy. It made its debut in 2007 with Næturvaktin. The series revolves around the lives of three men working at a gas station on Reykjavík’s main street. The shift manager is an eccentric character called Georg Bjarnfreðarson (played by Jón Gnarr) who is a devoted communist and fond admirer of Swedish culture with a certain lust for power. Ólafur Ragnar (Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon) is a longtime employee and a rather simple and well-meaning guy who wants to make it in the music business. Daníel (Jörundur Ragnarsson) is a university dropout who just starts working at the gas station when the series begins. He is rather shy and introverted and suffers from depression.
The series follows the various happenings at the gas station, which turn out to be extremely funny as Georg, who is a bit of a nut job, orders Ólafur and Daníel to do weird and sometimes dangerous jobs. Georg usually denies any wrongdoing by throwing his famous catchphrase around “it was just a misunderstanding.”
In Dagvaktin we meet Daníel, Ólafur Ragnar and Georg again, but this time they work the dayshift at a hotel in the sparsely populated and West Fjords.
The final series shows the three men in the infamous Icelandic prison Litla-Hraun. They have been imprisoned due to some events in the previous series which I do not want to reveal here to avoid spoilers.
A film titled Bjarnfreðarson concluded the trilogy in 2009. It had great success in Iceland, beating film giant Avatar at the Icelandic box office on its opening weekend. It was watched by over 20 percent of the Icelandic population, a record for an Icelandic film at the time, and was nominated for 11 Edda Awards.
Another really, really funny Icelander is humorist and artist Hugleikur Dagsson. He is most famous for his very, very dark comics that have since been translated in many other languages. Just two weeks ago, I attended his latest stand-up event in Reykjavík and I laughed tears.
If you like a little bit brutal and satirical humor and are of legal age you should have a look at Hugleikur’s body of work.
And every New Year’s Eve each and every Icelander is glued to their TVs because they simply must watch the Áramótaskaup (‘The New Year's Comedy’). Watching the Skaupið has been an annual tradition since 1966 and is a vital part of Icelandic New Year’s celebration. It is basically a re-cap of the passing year from a satirical standpoint and pokes fun at politicians, artists, prominent business people and others. Here is a little taste of the Áramótaskaup (in Icelandic).
Of course there are many, many more funny shows and comedians here in Iceland.
And remember, “He who laughs last laughs longest.”
Katharina Hauptmann – firstname.lastname@example.org