Jon Gnarr: Icelandic pol laughing all the way to city hall
Jon Gnarr, the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland, isn’t your usual politician. In a documentary about his election, see how the comedian won voters over with ‘The Best Party.’
In the U.S., Comedy Central fans often suggest that Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” should run for political office. In Reykjavik, Stewart’s Icelandic counterpart, Jon Gnarr, succeeded at this — he was elected mayor of the country’s capital. Gnarr started his run on his The Best Party ticket as a joke, but enthusiasm grew for the charismatic man, whose campaign promises included free towels at all public pools and more polar bears at the zoo.
Gnarr’s election bid was documented in Gaukur Ulfarsson’s hilarious film “Gnarr,” which is screening at the Tribeca Film Festival this week. We phoned Gnarr to follow up with him about a few of his campaign promises.
What have you done to bring fun into running the city of Reykjavik?
I watch a lot of “South Park.” I read Jack Handey a lot. I reach out for inspirational comedy.
Have you changed anything in the running of the city to bring more lightness to it?
I think so. I’m trying to make the whole thing more laid back and more normal. I’m trying to take away barriers between people, barriers that have no reason to be there.
Are you making good on the campaign promise to bring Disney World to Reykjavik?
It’s not going that well. (Laughs) I think we have a better chance with Jurassic Park.
Wouldn’t the raptors be problematic?
We would train them. People can domesticate wild animals like lions and tigers. Why not raptors? Just to help kids learn more about prehistoric animals.
You also said in your campaign that you wouldn’t work with anyone who hadn’t seen HBO’s hit show, “The Wire.” Has that been difficult to follow through on?
I’ve had some serious compromises on that, but I would definitely not work with people who have seen “The Wire” and didn’t like it. I wouldn’t know what to say. Where can we go from there? I don’t know.
You mention in the film that you stripped in the biggest gay club in New York city. Since this is a New York paper, I have to ask where that happened.
Lucky Chang’s. My friend, he used to work there on Friday nights and he always wanted to invite me and my wife to come and see him when he was performing. One time, we were in New York and we decided to go. He wanted to make it special for me, so I was it. I was part of the art and I didn’t know it. I was just picked out from where I was eating my Chinese meal. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was something that completely changed me forever.
Iceland is of course in a lot of financial turmoil, which must be stressful for the people of Reykjavik. Do you think you might’ve been elected as a means of lightening the political landscape?
Yes, also this winter has been very hard on everyone, mostly because of fear and negativity and anger. People are angry and we have had domestic issues to deal with. But also Icelanders are very seasonal. Because the winters are so dark and there’s so little light, people get really depressed and grumpy — especially in late winter. The first day of summer, it just completely changes people. Positivity is going up in Reykjavik and people are realizing more and more that it’s not the end of the world. We’re getting out of this.
Are you going to run for re-election?
I haven’t decided yet. We like to say that we’re doing time in politics. For me, it’s too early to decide but if people want me to continue, I will do it. I think that my promise or my demand if I stay longer is to get a higher salary. If I run again, I will run on that condition, ‘one promise, and that’s clear, a higher salary for me!’
What other profession might you pursue if you don’t run for re-election?
I want to set up my own cult. I would like to come up with “The Best Religion.” There would be no hell in it, only heaven.
Would you be the messiah figure?
No. I just found out about the church of Dude-ism, of course in America, where people believe in The Dude from “The Big Lebowski.” He is their messiah. It was very inspiring, so maybe I can come up with a new religion or a cult or something. “The Best Cult” Also I have other ideas on different political parties, like The Cool Party. That could be a very successful political party that would only vote for cool things and be against uncool things. There would be a committee that would decide what was cool and what was uncool. And everybody would be waiting for the committee to announce the Cool Manifesto for each year.
Heidi Patalano is at Tribeca bringing you stories all throughout the festival. For updates follow her on Twitter at @HeidiatMetro.