After hosting the Drag-Súgur drag show last weekend, Australian comedian Jonathan Duffy – Jono – is the talk of the town. He has only lived in Reykjavík for a few months, but has already made his presence felt. He does stand-ups every week and last Saturday a music video he made for pop idol Páll Óskar was launched. Jono is blatantly honest and prone to shaking things up, which is good news for fans of comedy who can start waiting for his next project to come into the daylight: An online series on what it is like to be gay in Iceland.
We meet on one of those days no-one wants to get out of bed. It is dark outside and as you run through the dirty streets your feet get wet and it rains in your face, no matter which way you turn. We’ve decided to do extra early morning coffee downtown Reykjavík and I curse the decision. When I show up, Jono is standing outside the empty café. Doors are shut and the lights are out. Oops! Is it closed? I ask him with an I’m sorry to my voice, as it was my pick of a place. He does not seem to care and a warm smile emerges from his bearded face. As we make our way to the next open café I glance at him and can’t help thinking to myself that he looks quite Icelandic. His freshness and liveliness gives him away, though. He probably still has some vitamin D on stock, leftovers from his native place Australia, which he left some months ago to seek adventures. That might also explain his productivity during our darkest months. But what on earth is he doing here? Well, it all started with him breaking up with his long-time partner.
“I bought a one way ticket to Amsterdam and then travelled around. I did Germany, Sweden, Denmark – which was boring, I call it Dead-mark – Norway, and then ended up here, as far away from Australia as possible.”
The camaraderie of the Icelandic stand-up scene
In Australia Jono had his own one man’s comedy shows. Doing comedy was his way of dealing with the fact that he’d never get the role of leading man in Australia, due to being gay. “Some people say that they believe that being gay is a choice. Well, I was a kid who clearly had no say in the decision-making process. I just got out of the closet and knew that I never needed to go back there again. See’ya! But casting agents in Australia are lazy. They don’t care if you can play a character. They just want you to be that person.”
“I came to Iceland to do what every gay man comes to Iceland to do. To fuck Páll Óskar.”
Once in Iceland it didn’t take Jono long to find a spot for his need for making people laugh. He has been taking part in the regular nights of stand-up comedy at different bars and goes on stage every week. “The scene in Iceland is young, it has only been going on for a few years and only recently have they started doing comedy in English. Now there is one every Monday and it fills up every time. It’s an exciting time to be part of it, as it is growing very fast. What I really like about it is that there is a real camaraderie here I never experienced before. It is beautiful. Wether it is at Bar Eleven, The Student’s bar, Húrra or Gaukurinn. Everyone is there to put on a show. It has never felt competitive and it has never felt like a pissing contest. Normally, comedy is a boy’s club. It’s a white straight male club. In many of the big cities, when you go see a comedy night, you’ll have eight straight white guys, one woman and a gay man. I remember when I was starting doing stand-ups in Melbourne I used to get answers like: Oh, we have a gay on that night. Can you come back next week?”
Ready to settle in the small dark city with lots of chlamydia
Jono was surprised to see that in Europe many people don’t realise how far behind Australia is in terms of queer rights. “It has surprised me how many people don’t realise that there is no marriage equality in Australia and that there is a lot of homophobia. Many people here are surprised when they hear what it actually is like, living in Australia. It’s not the utopia people think it is.”
However, the same could be said about his new life. “I guess it’s the same when you move here to Iceland. People have this romantic idea, that Icelanders believe in elves and trolls, and that living here will fix your life. Then, when you take away the volcanoes and the landscape, Reykjavík is a small, dark city with lots of chlamydia.”
Despite having lost his image of a fairytale land, Jono is serious about settling in Iceland and already has a mouthful of Icelandic phrases he uses when he goes about doing his daily business, avoiding to get stuck with using English. “I’ve spent way too much time and money on learning Icelandic. It would be stupid to leave now. One of my jokes goes like that: My mom sometimes asks me what it is it like, studying Icelandic. I answer that its like the difference between knowing the pen, the pen that is blue, the pen that lies on the table and the pen that is being shuffled up your ass. All while trying to find the corner in a round room. We don’t have the four cases in English. It doesn’t make any sense, declining nouns.”
The same goes for Icelandic as for other difficult tasks he has had to face. He makes fun of them. For instance he regularly posts videos on YouTube where he presents the Icelandic word of the day. “I absolutely adore the Icelandic Language Protection Act. The fact that you won’t take on foreign words makes the language so literal and fascinating, it makes you sound like future robot people. I do enjoy making stand-ups using Icelandic. That also means that my comedy now is intelligent, which it never was before. I’m a good comedian but I tell my jokes to people who don’t like to read. Some have their smart things – I tell my dick jokes.”
It’s ok to talk about this stuff!
Although Jono doesn’t take himself seriously and describes his stand-ups as unintelligent, he actually sees his gigs as a form of education, not the least for clueless straight people, who know little about what being a gay man is really about.
“I like to see it as a fun way of educating. When I first started having opportunities to play in front of big audiences there weren’t usually any gay people. I had to find a way to make them connect to it. What I started doing was changing the way I tell jokes. They became less of a “You know what it’s like when this happens” and more like “Let me tell you something gay people have never told you before”. I think that’s been my ticket in. I somehow get away with making jokes that people would normally be offended or disgusted by. People, for example, would not expect to hear a joke about rim jobs when their at a comedy show.”
“What’s a rim job?” I innocently ask, making him laugh so hard he spills his coffee, then giving me an honest, straight forward answer which makes my cheeks turn red. I need a way out and dive into the next question: You do like to make people blush, don’t you?
“Well, I don’t intentionally try to make people blush. But I’ve noticed that it happens. A lot! I think this is also about being comfortable with who you are. When I’m on stage it’s my chance to tell people: It’s ok to talk about this stuff! It’s the only way to break down boundaries. So, you know, I get dirty. I sing songs about anal sex and talk about butt virginity or what it is like to go to a gay gym in the southern hemisphere, where nobody works out and everyone is just looking for dick.”
“I get dirty. I sing songs about anal sex and talk about butt virginity…”
If I can make you laugh, then you’ll see me as a person rather than a concept
Jono says he learned the essence of how to be funny when he moved to a tiny town in the middle of Australia. “My ex partner had gotten a scholarship and in return he had to go live in a place where no-one wants to live. This is an area known for being homophobic and we were moving there as an openly gay couple. People were obviously uncomfortable meeting us, because they didn’t know what to make of us. I approached them with the attitude: If I can make you laugh, then you’ll see me as a person rather than a concept.”
He ended up enjoying living there. “I ended up learning a lot about communities which I think has helped me a lot here in Iceland. I think people are often too concerned with how they are experiencing things and how things might not work for them, when really it’s just about showing that you want to be a part of a community. When you move somewhere you can’t expect people to make it nice for you. You kind of have to do that yourself. That’s why I’m trying to learn Icelandic, learning about the culture, meeting as many people as possible and saying yes to opportunities.”
Miserable Icelandic gay men
While enjoying life in Iceland Jono says he was surprised to find out that many gay men here aren’t as happy as he believed they would be. “I had read so many stories about how Icelanders are the happiest people in the world. But I’ve met so many miserable gays here! From what I’ve seen, Icelandic gay men don’t tend to date Icelandic men, since they all know each other. So they tend to get stuck in a cycle of dating tourists or people who aren’t going to be here for long. When you do that you don’t develop any long-term relationships. Which is fine if you don’t want to, but if you do want to you get miserable.”
Jono is a good looking man and without doubt gets his share of attention. However, he claims that he hasn’t been dating a lot since he arrived here. He says that some men he’s dated fear that he’ll talk about them on stage. “To which normally I answer: Well I wasn’t before but I will now.”
He finds social apps, like Grindr and Tinder, tricky to use in Iceland. “It doesn’t take very long to run out of people. So you kind of have to pace yourself and only jump in like once a week. Here, you really have got to think about whether you’re going to swipe left or right, because you may never get another person again.”
Another thing he has realised, since he started dating again after many years, is that most people are sexual racists. “People have a very clear type and that’s all they’ll date. They’ll even write it. Not into Asians. No fats. No fems. Whereas I think: There are so many people out there! If you even have wassabi-flavoured ice cream, why would you only pick vanilla?”
He, himself, says that he’s not currently looking for a serious relationship. “No, I’m going through my strong independent black woman phase. I don’t need a man!”
Páll Óskar in the role of #futureexhusband
“I came to Iceland to do what every gay man comes to Iceland to do. To fuck Páll Óskar.”
That’s how one of Jono’s ongoing jokes goes. For some time he has been photoshopping himself on photographs with the singer, publishing them using the hashtag #futureexusband. Some weeks after Jono came to Iceland Páll Óskar himself came to his stand-ups at Húrra. Jono knew he was coming and was quite stressed to have his idol in the audience, especially since he planned on talking about him as usually. He was relieved to receive a message from the singer afterwards: “I loved every filthy second of it!”
They have since worked together, Jono being one of the makers of Páll Óskar’s latest video (see below), which he shot, edited and did the after effects in cooperation with his good friend, artist Ólöf Erla. “The man has an amazing sense of humour. He is honestly one of the nicest people I have ever met. What I love about him is that he’s at the top of the game and he doesn’t have to be nice. He could be an absolute dick if he wanted to be. It’s important to know that when someone is nice all the time it can be a conscious choice.” Ever since they started working together, people have been coming up to Jono, asking the same question: So?! Is it happening? “I can tell you this: We have a strictly professional relationship!”
The darkness and cold Reykjavík has to offer during winter does not seem to be driving Jono away. He plans on celebrating the holidays in Reykjavík with good friends. He also turns 30 right before christmas, which will be celebrated in a way not many would feel comfortable with. “Actually a few comedians (including Hugleikur Dagsson and Bylgja Babýlons) here have suggested that I allow myself to be roasted. So on December 6th I will sit on a stage and they make fun of me. At the end I get to make fun of them as well.”
Among the things Jono is currently working at is a one man’s comedy cabaret show and an on-line series on what it is like to be gay in Iceland. He plans of making the series available on-line and sees them as based on short episodes with interviews and glimpses of gay life in Iceland. Based on his stand-ups, where he for example compares Kiki bar to The Hunger Games, a place where people meet and fight to death and the last two standing get to have sex, it should be a safe bet to say that they’ll be funny and controversial at the same time. Fans of comedy have most definitely not seen or heard the last of Jono.