“Isn’t that an oxymoron?” my father-in-law said when I told him I was reviewing Icelandic comedian Ari Eldjárn. I told him the assumption that Nordic people are humorless was unfair and my husband agreed with me, citing an incident when he was at a hostel in Budapest and an Icelandic man drunkenly ripped a toilet straight off the bathroom wall.
Eldjárn’s comedic antics on Pardon My Icelandic are nowhere near as Apatow-esque, but instead dwell in the strange and laughable subtleties between Icelanders and their Scandinavian neighbors. While he has clear love for his country—Eldjárn is the grandson of the third President of Iceland, after all—he’s more than happy to point out their hypocrisies between charming, gap-toothed smiles. He touches on subjects American audiences are likely familiar with, such as Thor, and the more foreign, like the politics of the Eurovision Song Contest (and let it be noted Iceland was a shoo-in this year with their groovy, goofy tune “Thing About Things”). Eldjárn’s focus on his homeland is a fitting and necessary introduction to his comedic perspective. And, frankly, it was refreshing to watch a special and realize afterward that there was no mention of Donald Trump or cancel culture, both of which have seemed almost obligatory topics in most mainstream English-language stand-up.
Towards the end of the hour, Eldjárn turns to more universal subjects like raising a family, dealing with embarrassing parents and navigating the workplace, and he remains as engaging as ever. He’s a keen observer of cultural differences, yes, but he’s just as funny when discussing the minutiae of life with a toddler.
Eldjárn also proves himself an excellent physical comedian thanks to his relentless commitment, at one point lying on the ground to imitate a man dying by slowly rolling down a hill. His accent work is yet another arrow in his quiver, as he adeptly jumps into Scottish, Australian and American accents, to name a few. He even manages to impart the differences between a Dane speaking English and an Icelander speaking English, which probably feels effortless for him but could have been lost in translation in a special aimed at international audiences.
Watching his first-ever Netflix special, it’s easy to imagine Eldjárn trotting out an hour of stand up focused Icelandic idiosyncrasies every few years for the rest of his English language career and doing just fine. And to a certain extent they’ll always be present in his work; his background, like so many other comedians, is what makes his view unique and enjoyable. The last part of Pardon My Icelandic and his consistent storytelling throughout prove, though, that his talents are capable of spanning global gaps.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.