Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Comedian Who Ran For Mayor

Jon Gnarr, photographed in 2010.
Jon Gnarr, photographed in 2010.

Jon Gnarr is an absurdist Icelandic comedian. Last year, he ran for mayor of Reykjavik. Like most absurdist comedians, he had no political experience.

"I just invented a new political party," he says. "I was not drunk or anything."

Gnarr called his party the "Best Party." Because what could be better than the best party?

He created a 10-point campaign platform — with 13 points.

Four months before the election, his poll numbers were terrible. Only 2 percent of voters supported the Best Party. So Gnarr got himself a nice suit and tie and started actually going around like a politician.

Whenever anyone else made a political promise, Gnarr made a bigger one. Gnarr proposed attracting tourists by leveraging the fame of Iceland's most famous citizen: The pop singer Bjork.

His vision:

We should have this huge statue of Bjork at the harbor like the statue of liberty and instead of a torch she would be having a microphone and she would shout out some information about Reykjavik in three different languages and she would be revolving, you know? And also there would be lights. Her eyes would shoot lights on interesting tourist spots in Reykjavik.

When a candidate proposed building an entire amusement park, Gnarr went small.

"I promised to have a life size Mickey Mouse," he says. "We would be the only Disney World that had a life size Mickey Mouse."

When political events turned boring, Gnarr would walk out.

Meanwhile, his poll numbers steadily improved. He says he did make some earnest comments from time to time.

I said I was born in this place. I'm brought up in this place and all my friends live here and all my family lives here and I love this place, I love this city, and I would really like to do something useful for it, you know?

On May 29, 2010, Jon Gnarr was elected the 21st mayor of Rejkyavik. Then he got scared.

"This thought popped into my mind," he says. "'You can still quit. Run, run. Don't do it. ... What have I gotten all these people into?"

As mayor, Gnarr still makes fun of the system he's now part of. Sometimes wears a gorilla mask around the office. He gave a speech wearing lipstick.

But of course, he also has to do the mayor's job.

Reykjavik had a huge budget deficit. Gnarr raised taxes, re-structured the education system and laid off employees from the electric utility.

The job has given him new sympathy for public officials.

"I have realized that the politicians, or most of them, are not evil, stupid people like I thought they were," he says.

Gnarr has been on the job a year now, and his poll numbers have taken a dive. Half of those who used to support the party no longer do.

On the other hand, Gnarr has done something politicians often struggle with: Rekjavik's budget is finally in balance.

This is the latest in a series on Iceland by Planet Money correspondent David Kestenbaum and Planet Money's Icelandic intern, Baldur Hedinsson. Here's more from their trip to Iceland.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the year Gnarr was elected mayor.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.