Icetralia is a stand up comedy show that features Australian gay comedian Jono Duffy and Icelandic comedian and cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson. They have worked together for a few months now, most often performing at Cafe Rosenberg in Reykjavík and this weekend they‘re taking the show to Copenhagen where neither of them has performed before – well execpt in a bedroom.
Jono is late, he is on the set of a new music video of the Icelandic diva Hera Björk and can‘t get away. Me and Hugleikur have a beer at Café Rosenberg, where their show Icetralia is showing tonight, and start chatting while we wait.
Hugleikur says that when he first saw Jono perform he realized instantly that this was a professional comedian and when Jono suggested, a few months back, that they put up a show together he jumped at the chance and they have been performing together ever since. Each has his own routine, they don‘t perform together, so it‘s actually two shows in one night.
As Jono performs in English, obviously, Hugleikur does too, and he says it is quite a challenge to perform in a foreign language. “I perform in broken English with a strong Icelandic accent, it‘s a kind of Björk language, and I think it gives my old stuff new perspective. Many of the jokes I tell in this show are old and I don‘t perform them in my Icelandic shows anymore, but the audience that doesn’t speak Icelandic doesn’t know them. And when I tell them in English it‘s like there is this whole new character performing and the jokes sound fresh anew, which is great fun.”
„I‘m more obscene and dark in my cartoons than on stage… it‘s harder to pull of jokes about domestic violence, rape and child abuse when you are standing on stage. Jokes about bodily fluids, poop, semen and piss, are easier to pull off …“
Most of Hugleikur‘s cartoons come with English texts so why hasn‘t he performed in English before? “I have performed in English before, when I went to Finland with my stand up routine, but I have not performed in any other non Icelandic speaking country so there has never been any need.”
After a short pause Hugleikur corrects himself and says that every Monday night there is an open mike night at Gaukurinn, which he often participates in and there all the performances are in English. But being as famous as he is, does he need to be performing at an open mike? “The boring thing about being a comedian is that you can‘t practice alone in a garage, you have to try out the jokes in front of an audience to see if they work. If the crowd is responsive the jokes get a life and often they develop into new ones while you are performing on stage.”
Hugleikur is known for taking his jokes to extremes, particularly in his cartoons, and many find his humor offensive. Does he go as far into obscenity on stage as he does in his books?
“In my opinion I‘m more obscene and dark in my cartoons than on stage, my subjects in the cartoons are often very dark, but it‘s harder to pull of jokes about domestic violence, rape and child abuse when you are standing on stage. Jokes about bodily fluids, poop, semen and piss, are easier to pull off on stage. The darker side of my stand up performance is often more political and touches on things that are happening in society. Stand up is a direct response to the audience each time and if the crowd is not laughing after 30 seconds of my performance I start to get worried and try to change the game. When you‘re drawing you are not able to hear the response so you allow yourself to go further.”
Offensive jokes have been in the spotlight lately, especially after the Charlie Hebdo massacre last year, and I ask Hugleikur where the line is drawn. Can jokes go too far? “In the Charlie Hebdo case it was not that the jokes went too far, they just offended the moral code of mad people,” Hugleikur says. “Of course there is a fair bit of subjects that you don‘t make jokes about without thinking, but I think I have covered them all in my books. I use the jokes as a way to deal with all the horrible things that go on in the world and if people get offended I think that is a good thing. People get offended for the right reasons; in their world you don‘t joke about these things. Which is the right way to look at it. The thing about political correctness is that it is correct, but it‘s the role of the comedian to dance on that line and sometimes step over it to see the reaction and keep the discussion about right and wrong and freedom of speech alive.”
As Hugleikur is speaking Jono comes running into the Café, literally, and asks what we are talking about. Being told that the subject is political correctness, he nods his head and says: “Oh, and Sweden? We got a tweet today asking if we would bring the show there, but they would probably hang us for being so politically incorrect, so we might not do that.”
„I do openly talk about my sex life on stage which is probably why I‘m not having a lot of it.“
It‘s a short distance between Denmark and Sweden, geographically, and asked if they don‘t fear the same reaction in Copenhagen this weekend they shake their heads in unison. “No, I think Danish humor is very similar to Icelandic humor, so I‘m not worried,” Hugleikur says. “I‘ve never performed there, actually, but I think it will be fun.”
I ask Jono if he has ever performed in Denmark and his response is very typical of his humor. “Not on stage, but in a bedroom, yes,” he deadpans. “That was an interesting experience. He was more of a performer than I was.”
Speaking of political correctness I ask if being gay gives Jono the right to make jokes about gays that would offend if Hugleikur told them.“Definitely,” Jono says. “I have said some pretty colorful things in the past about being gay.”
“It‘s like that with every minority,“ Hugleikur adds. “If you‘ are a comedian of that minority you have that licence. I‘m allowed to joke about men in their thirties with glasses and beard, the losers, cause I‘m one of them.”
“Yeah,” Jono agrees. “That‘s how we break down barriers, show people it‘s OK to laugh at all kinds of stuff. I make fun of Icelanders in my routine, but it‘s kind of making fun of your family; they‘re retards, but they are my retards.”
Jono has said in an interview that the reason he moved to Iceland was that he wanted to fuck Páll Óskar, the Icelandic pop star, has that dream come true? “Yeah I said that. I mean who would not want to fuck him? He‘s the queen of Iceland. I joke about that in my performance, yeah, and I‘ve actually told that joke with Páll Óskar in the audience and he loved it.”
But did he take you up on it? “Woah, let‘s leave some mystery here. Who knows,” Jono says and blinks. “But I do openly talk about my sex life on stage which is probably why I‘m not having a lot of it.”
Speaking of that, Hugleikur interrupts and puts in a question of his own. “You think that is a factor in getting laid,” he says. “I mean I talk a lot about penises and balls and poop and everything, does that maybe make me slightly less attractive to the women in the audience?”
“It might be a factor, yes,” Jono answers. “A lot of people have the perception that if you are a stand up comedian people will want to have sex with you because you‘re funny, but I don‘t find that is the case. I think many people are afraid to end up as one of my jokes if they have sex with me.”
„If it were not for the fact that you prefer sex with women, you‘re pretty much a gay man.“
Jono has made sketches on Youtube about the life of gay guys in Iceland where he makes fun of the small community where everyone has already slept with everyone and there are lots of complications. Has he already gone through the whole community of gays in Iceland himself? “Well, there are some members of the gay community that would probably have you believe that, but it‘s not a fact. Being the only openly gay comedian on the Icelandic scene I‘ve become quite known and I see people watching me when I‘m out clubbing. It makes me uncomfortable and I become very cautious.
The sad truth about my sex life is that I make out with people but I never take them home. I just could not be bothered. Part of the reason I moved here was that I didn‘t want to be at that stage in life where my every feeling was dictated by someone else. I just wanted to be in a place where I could focus on my career and learn how to love myself.”
Asked if they are altering the show for their Danish performance this weekend, they both agree that their humor is universal and they have no worries on that account. “I have one Danish joke,” Hugleikur says. “They will get that, but otherwise I think this show would work anywhere.”
“Except in Sweden,“ Jono pipes in and they both have a massive laugh.
“It would work in Sweden,” Hugleikur says. “You just would have to drop the midget jokes.”
In the Danish press the show has been introduced as „a homo stand up“ where does that leave Hugleikur? “He‘s kind of gay,” Jono says. “If it were not for the fact that you prefer sex with women, you‘re pretty much a gay man. You‘re pretty poofy.”
Photos: Courtesy of Hugleikur Dagsson and Jonathan Duffy.