‘Gnarr!’: Life with Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr


REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Mayor Jon Gnarr Kristinsson – better known as comedian Jon Gnarr – relaxes in a rocking chair in a comfy sitting chamber, just off the conference room that’s part of his suite of offices in Reykjavik City Hall.

It’s a cold morning – windy, snowy (“Our snowiest winter ever – and they blame it on me,” Gnarr laughs), temperature in the 20s – and, since it’s only 9 a.m., it’s pitch dark. The sun won’t come up for another hour or more, never achieving more than an early twilight brightness in its four hours of daylight.

Gnarr is explaining that Olafur Grimson, the president of Iceland, announced recently that he would not to run for reelection this year.

“He’s going to quit,” Gnarr muses. “So the media did polls about who people want to replace him. And my name has been in the top four.”

He smiles a devilish – but slightly weary – smile. This is heady stuff for a radio and TV comic who ran for mayor of Reykjavik in 2010 as a joke – a piece of comedic performance art, if you will, about what he referred to as “the power of silly thinking” – and wound up winning. Now, a year and a half into his term, his name is being bandied about to run the country.

No, he says, he has no interest in being the president of Iceland; after all, he never really meant to be mayor of Iceland. But he’s going to take advantage of the moment, as any good performer would: by staging a press conference to discuss his thoughts about the presidency “where I’ll give a long, complicated speech,” he says, the wink audible in his voice.

“It’s fun,” he says. “And it only gets funnier with time.”

Now Gaukur Ulfarsson’s documentary about Gnarr’s mayoral campaign, appropriately titled “Gnarr,” reaches American shores, when it becomes available Feb. 7 through video-on-demand via Focus World, an offshoot of Focus Features. The film, which played the European film festival circuit last year (as well as New York’s Tribeca Film Festival), quickly thumbnails Gnarr’s motivation in running for office – a reaction to and chance to make sport of the staid power-brokers who caused Iceland’s financial collapse in 2008.

Gnarr, known for his comedy on TV, radio and film, created his own party, the Best Party, and announced his candidacy. The party was part punk, part surrealist – but the longer the campaign went on, the better Gnarr began to look, his subversive sense of humor poking fun at just how boring his opponents were; at one point in the film, he gets up and walks out of a candidates’ forum because he finds it so tedious.

But, sitting in city hall occupying the mayor’s chair, Gnarr rarely has the option to just get up and leave: “And sometimes these meetings can be horrible, up to six hours long,” he says. “I don’t like being in a big meeting of confused and angry people. It’s very tiring.”

How does he cope? “I play Fruit Ninja on my iPod,” he jokes.

Almost as soon as he took office, Gnarr came under attack from the still-smarting (and recently ousted) powers-that-be: that he was just a dreamy artist with no realistic sense of how to make things work in Reykjavik. The fact that he was inheriting a city still struggling to right itself financially – and was forced to make tough choices about free kindergarten, among other things – didn’t make it easier.

But Gnarr has tried to keep his sense of humor. Beside being the grand marshal of Reykjavik’s annual gay pride parade (in drag, no less), he recently wrote in a New Year’s message in the Reykjavik Grapevine, a weekly English-language alternative paper, that he had several resolutions for 2012.

“What I most look forward to in the coming year is acquiring an Obi Wan Kenobi costume and wearing it around and practicing Jedi-tricks,” he wrote. “I also hope I will be permitted to marry people.”

This interview continues on my website.

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