Jón Gnarr

Portrait Jón Gnarr
© Hartwig Klappert

Jón Gnarr (born Jón Gunnar Kristinsson) is an Icelandic comedian, musician and writer. He was born in 1967 in Reykjavík to a policeman and a laborer. He left school at 14 without any qualifications – even though it was not a conventional institution with grades and classes – and was subsequently sent to a boarding school for juvenile delinquents in remote Vesturland (West Iceland). After initially earning a living with various odd jobs, such as working at a home for the mentally and physically disabled, he wrote his first novel »Miðnætursólborgin« (1989; tr. The city of the midnight sun) when he was 19.

»Indjáninn. Skálduð ævisaga« (2006; tr. Indians. A fictional biography), the first volume of his semi-fictional memoir, describes his difficult childhood, his troubles with the educational system, conflicts with his overwhelmed parents, and his fondness for punk and anarchism. In highly emotional prose, he criticizes an educational system that is incapable of addressing children’s needs at an individual level and that is only geared towards drilling information into them. He also takes the early classification of human beings to task: »Imagination is just as important as mathematics. Neanderthals were strong and good at calculating. But they died out because they lacked imagination.« In 2012 he continued his autobiographical project with »Sjóræninginn. Skálduð ævisaga« (tr. Pirates). His most recent work »Útlaginn« (2015; tr. Outlaw) revisits his difficult adolescence: at the home for juvenile delinquents he is subjected to despotism and violence, manages to escape into the world of punk music, and tries to reclaim his life with courage and force of will. In the early 1990s Gnarr embarked on a career as a comedian. He wrote a weekly sitcom for the public service radio about an Icelandic auto mechanic whose love for VW leads him to open the »Hotel Volkswagen«. He later worked for a commercial radio station where he conducted fictitious interviews, and also appeared in several television and radio productions. Moreover, Jón Gnarr plays the bass in the punk band »Nefrennsli« (tr. Runny Nose). After the collapse of the country’s bank system, Gnarr and some friends from the arts and music scene founded the new political party »Besti flokkurinn« (tr. Best Party), which promised to bring polar bears to the zoo, a free towel service in all public swimming pools, and to engage in transparent – as opposed to covert – corruption.

In 2010, Gnarr’s party won the election with 34,7 percent, gaining a number of seats on Reykjavík city council as a result. He was the mayor of Reykjavík until 2014, and the same year published »Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World« about his term in office. In 2014, Austrian television broadcast Günter Schilhan’s documentary on Jón Gnarr. He lives in Reykjavík.