Interview with Australian Comedian Jonathan Duffy in Iceland
Jonathan Duffy sat down with Best Comedy Tickets. Seated at Gaukurinn in Reykjavik is one of a handful of venues that now hosts comedy shows. We discuss the comedy scene in Iceland, we spoke about writing material, favorite comedy clubs, best advice, handle hecklers and more.
What do you wish someone had told you about show business before you entered it?
A couple of things. I wish I was told how lonely it can be. I’ve succeeded while in a relationship and when not in one and at the moment I actually think for now I’m better when I’m alone.It is hard to keep a relationship when you work so much and put almost every aspect of your life out there. Also being a gay comic I can honestly say it has never gotten me laid. Guys just find it too intimidating. I also wish someone had told me that being a good comedian is only a small part of it. You actually spend more time getting people to let you have a spot or getting people to come see your show than you actually do onstage.
Where do you get your material?
I’m a story teller so most of my material comes from me screwing up in life or not really understanding the way things work.
You’re Australian comedian living in Reykjavik, Iceland. Why did you move out there?
Because I wanted to know what it’s like to live in a country where not everything is trying to kill you. No, it’s because I wanted to have ownership over the minority comedy market. I’m the only Australian comedian and the only gay comedian in the whole country. It’s a win win. No it’s because I had a bad break up. It’s a boring story (there’s a ted talk about it – look it up).
Tells us about the Icelandic comedy scene?
It’s probably the nicest and most supportive scene I’ve ever been in. It’s small so there’s not really the competitiveness and pissing contests that you see in a lot of the comedy scenes. It’s really new. I arrived in August 2015 and had no idea there was English speaking stand up here. I found out about this group called Golden Gang Comedy. It’s started by a guy named Gísli Jóhan. He wanted to start comedy in English here in Reykjavík. He found a bar willing to host the night (Gaukurinn) and then just made it happen. Since then it’s been continuing to grow. English speaking stand up in Iceland has sort of exploded in the last 2 years. There’s also thousands of tourists here all the time so having something for them to do in English when the Northern Lights aren’t out has worked in our favor. Golden Gang was even mentioned recently in the New York Times. I really think Iceland could become a great comedy destination for other comedians too. It’s right between Europe and America and people here love to laugh and drink.
This has nothing to do with comedy but most of our audience is from NYC. If they were go to go Iceland what are must things to do there?
The main tourist attractions are in the golden circle (Geisyr, Gullfoss, The world’s oldest parliament). If you can drive, I recommend hiring a car and driving the south coast, it’s really pretty. I find that every time I have gone out of Reykjavik and into the nature of Iceland, I always return feeling recharged. It’s not just something buzz feed tells you – it’s real.
How long have you been out there?
Almost 2 years now
How often do you write material and how do you find inspiration?
I like to come up with one main hour every year and work on that. For a while, I stopped writing altogether and would just improvise and do crowd work. I try to write at least once a week. I take notes on my phone whenever I think about something or say something to a friend that makes them laugh, then I sit down and expand on it. Most of my stuff is about actual experiences I’ve had. I think that’s what I’m good at so I stick to it. If I’m not feeling inspired I try to get out of the house. Often eating at Ikea fixes it. I have no idea why but eating horse meatballs in a cafe surrounded by couples who will most likely have an argument later that day while assembling furniture makes me feel nice.
What happens if they don’t laugh?
Move on – go to your next joke, don’t comment on it. If they haven’t laughed in at least a minute or so after that, just get off. Say thanks and leave. Never blame the audience either. Sure they might be dicks but it’s your job to deal with it. I’ve seen a lot of comedians over the years tell a bad joke and then come backstage and say the audience are shit. If you really want to get better, when they don’t laugh try to work out why.
How often do you perform comedy per week?
It all depends on what’s going on in town. I have been doing comedy a while now so I don’t do as much open mic as I used to. There’s only one open mic in English so I like to let newcomers get more experience. Depending on the time of year it can be anywhere from 2 to 5 times a week. Christmas time here is really busy. I once had gigs for 14 days in a row.
How did you know you wanted to be a comedian or did it just happen?
I never wanted to be one. I was an actor and wanted to be a leading man. As part of my acting training, I studied french clown and really liked it. I liked getting laughter and decided to explore it. That was 13 years ago.
Who would you say are your influences are in the comedy world?
I’m very proud to say that almost all of my influences and the comedians I respect the most are women. Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho are great story tellers. I like how they’re able to make you feel like you have been out with them and you’re now back at their house for an afterparty and they’re just telling you stories while you sip. I’ve been told I have a very similar style. I love Maria Bamford. Her ability to mix humour with darkness is exactly what I try to do in my solo shows.
What is one of your more embarrassing memories from childhood?
I wet myself on stage in a shopping mall while singing in a choir. It was because I was such a shy kid I was afraid to ask the teacher if I could go to the toilet. To this day, I pee several times before going on stage, even if I don’t need to.
What are the most important rules you live by?
Understand that every day is a gift. When things are bad, don’t try to focus on a goal that’s far away, just get through the next ten seconds. Always try to be kind to people even if they are dicks and never stand by and be quiet when you can see that someone is being horrible to another human being.
What was your favorite book as a kid, and what does that say about you?
I loved books by Roald Dahl. My favorite was the twits because the assholes got what was coming to them. I guess that says I’m awesome
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Never believe that people just get discovered. There’s no such thing as an overnight success, even if someone appears to have popped up out of nowhere, they have probably been working on whatever they could to get noticed for years.
Given your feelings about the state of our culture, how do you avoid despair?
That’s a good question. I’ve been through a lot of tough shit in my life so I always remind myself that I’ve been through worse.
What three things you would you take with you to a deserted island?
other people. I would die if I had to be alone forever.
Do you have any quotes that you live your life by or think of often?”
Never let the sun set on undrained pus.
You’re only as good as your last gig.
How to handle hecklers from the stage?
I find it helps to establish what kind of heckler they are. Sometimes there’s the ‘helpful heckler’ who thinks they’re participating and that it helps the show, normally letting them have that connection to having been part of your set is enough. Douchebag hecklers, in my opinion, are normally people who want to be doing what you are doing but never had the balls to. I can’t say I have a specific trick but I never keep going with it. I just make fun of them and then get back to the audience. If you keep going, the only people who will enjoy your set are the people who love watching hecklers be taken down. I find that’s a minority and the rest of people are actually uncomfortable and just want you to get back to the show. I think ignoring the heckler all together makes it worse.
“What advice would you give your younger self?”
Stop trying to be what you think other people want you to be. Be who you want to be first and then you’ll only be surrounded by the people who love you.
What was it like performing on that show?
My recent show in Iceland? It was great. Exhausting and great. It’s the longest show I have ever done with two halves and 8 live songs. I loved every second and was really proud to take the audience on the emotional rollercoaster Australiana was.
What would be your dream comedy lineup?
I would be happy if I got to open for Maria Bamford, Kathy Griffin or Margaret Cho. I would love to one day be a part of a comedy line-up of only gay comics, mainly because I am the only one in Iceland and never get to meet any.
What most important lesson you learned in comedy?
Every comedian is different and will connect with the audience in a different way. Stop comparing yourself to others. If you didn’t like your set and think another comedian was better than you, don’t beat yourself up it’s not worth it. If you ever feel jealous or threatened by a comedian who is similar than you, let go of that, it serves nobody. Instead of getting territorial, get better.
Advice to your younger self just starting in comedy career?
Stop waiting to be discovered and stop being afraid that people won’t like you. Just make the stuff you want to make and have fun with it.
How long do you spend developing new material?
Not as long as I would like. Most of my new stuff comes to me on the stage. My problem is that if I don’t record it I forget it. I’m working on that at the moment.
What’s your drink of choice?
Wine. It’s my biggest vice.
Greatest cartoon of all time?
The Simpsons. I grew up watching it so no matter where I am it always makes me feel like I’m at home.
Let’s say you could live the life of any animal in the wilderness for one day: What would it be?
Probably a bear. I mean in the gay world I already am one but I think it would be nice to wander around eating and having everything afraid of you.
So the stereotype of comedians being horribly depressed and neurotic is true?
I would say that most of us are a bit damaged in some way. I’ve never met a comedian who hasn’t had to deal with some kind of awful pain. I think the comedy often is a side effect of getting through that pain. I try to use every painful thing that happens to me as a way to experiment with the old ‘how can I make this funny?’ question.
Do you ever get tired of being a comedian?
only at dinner parties or on dating apps. ‘oh you’re a comedian – tell me a joke.’ When someone tells me they’re a hairdresser I don’t command them to cut my hair right now. The other time I get uncomfortable is after a show. In real life, I’m actually more of an introvert so conversations with strangers are not the most fun thing for me, but I’m always very thankful that a stranger has taken the time to tell me they liked my stuff.
So at the end of your day, what’s your ultimate goal?
I just want to be comfortable. I love being able to pay my rent with my art but it would also be nice to pay a mortgage with it too. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m at a point where some of the work I have done is starting to pay off so that’s nice. Ultimately I would love to just tour. I love being on the road and meeting new audiences. Being very single it would suit my life perfectly right now.
What would you say troubles you the most about the world today?
There is so much information available at our fingertips yet we are so misinformed about so much. We’re so uneducated. Formulas on the internet even present us with the news that only we are interested in. It troubles me that we as a species are so uninterested in the problems of others because it does not immediately effects us.
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