Live Review: Ari Eldjarn, Soho Theatre, W1

Either Ari Eldjarn has got something very special or he bussed every Icelandic person living in London into the Soho Theatre last night. The first night of this short run was met with the kind of ecstatic response usually reserved for pop stars and the Pope.

There was definitely a partisan element in the crowd. The slick, smart, former Icelandair flight attendant only had to do a deadpan Norwegian accent to get some of the front row convulsing in hysterics. By the time he started to take the piss out of the fact that Finnish people were barely Scandanavians at all I thought I might have to call an ambulance. People were laughing so hard they could barely breathe.

But there is much more to Eldjarn than in-jokes about Swedes. He is a top quality observational comedian (perfect English of course) mixing a lot of universal material peppered with some neat fish-out-of-water wit. On moving to Camden Town when he was 24 he heard the cry of "skunk, weed, ganja" so often he thought it was a greeting. He soon had to get to grips with our crazy English drinking rules such as buying rounds: "Why? Is it someone's birthday?"

He is at his best when he finds ways to weave together his Icelandic background and British behaviour. He is very funny pointing out how we loved Scandi-noir dramas yet he can't take the recent one set in Iceland seriously - he recognises too many of the actors and knows that different locations are too far away to be in the same scene*. And, inevitably, he gets considerable mileage out of Iceland's victory over England in Euro 2016 recalling with some relief the British hooligans who seemed more angry with the English team than Icelandic fans after the humiliation.

Towards the end of his set the material did get a little bit more generic as he talked about being embarrassed watching sex scenes on TV with his parents in the room when he was growing up and about how now being a father himself was like being employed by a tiny king. But even if the subjects were not new, Eldjarn's breezy delivery brought a freshness to them. He also has a nice self-deprecating story about being mugged.**

If there was a fault it was that this almost felt too slick. There was minimal interaction with the audience. It felt as if he knew he had a script that worked and he was going to stick to it. I enjoy my comedy a little looser, but then again, if the punchlines come this regularly it seems churlish to complain. The show is called Pardon My Icelandic. There is nothing to apologise for.  

Until October 7. Tickets here.

*This isn't a uniquely Icelandic phenomenon. As a Londoner I've always laughed during the film Brannigan where at one point John Wayne is in a car chase in Battersea, the next he is on the other side of the city driving over Tower Bridge as it opens...

**Eldjarn disconcerts the muggers by asking them the time as he is being hurled to the ground. This is strangely reminiscent of surrealist jazz musician George Melly's story of scaring away muggers by reciting Dadaist poetry.

 

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