Up until a year and a half ago, Jon Gnarr, 43, was one of the top TV comedians in Reykjavik, Iceland. He had this absurd sense of humor. He once said they needed more tourists to bolster the economy. He suggested they build a Disneyland out by the airport, but one that “would have all the cartoon characters actual size. It would be the only Disneyworld in the World with a Mickey Mouse the actual size.”
He also said the city council should build a big statue in the harbor, sort of like the Statue of Liberty in New York. But different.
“It should be of our most famous citizen,” he said. “Bjork.” Bjork is a cutting-edge rock star. “She’d be holding up a microphone instead of a torch. Music would play. And she’d slowly turn. At night, lasers would come out of her eyes and shine on each of Reykjavik’s many tourist attractions one after the other. And a tape player would explain what each one was in three languages.”
Gnarr became famous for a role he invented for a TV sitcom, a bald, miserable, very mean Swedish businessman named Georg Bjarnfredarson, who was somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. [expand]
There was an upcoming election for mayor in the summer of 2010. The country was in great turmoil. Corruption was rampant; there was negligence and cronyism. And the banks, nearly all of which were branches of English or Dutch banks, had collapsed. Icelanders fiercely debated whether the taxpayers should have to bail them out.
“Why should I repay money I never spent?” Gnarr asked. In the end, the country voted NOT to bail out the banks. They all, each and every one of them, went under. Little locally owned banks sprang up. But times were hard.
Reykjavik is a city of about 225,000 people. Gnarr, out of costume, was often in the glossy magazines, seen hanging around with anarchists, people with spiky purple hair, motorcycle gangs and anorexic looking women with fishnet stockings and nose rings.
But then—and nobody knows quite why he decided to do this—he declared himself as a candidate for Mayor. He and his friends formed a political party.
“I just invented it,” he said. “I was not drunk or anything. It’s called The Best Party. If it weren’t we wouldn’t call it that. We’d call it the Worst Party or the Bad Party. And we would never work with a party like that. You don’t have to be afraid of the Best Party.”
Early polls gave Gnarr 2% of the vote. It seemed this was a clown gesture, a protest. He campaigned around the city in jeans, dirty sweatshirts and a three-day growth of beard. His opponents wore suits and ties.
If one of them made a pie-in-the sky campaign promise, Gnarr would respond by making a ridiculously unimaginable campaign promise. Once one of his opponents said he had five points to make. He made them. Gnarr said he had 10 points to make, and then made 14. He appeared at one campaign stop wearing lipstick. He appeared at another in a gorilla suit.
But then Gnarr started making serious proposals. He said that if elected he would offer free admission to the city’s thermal swimming pools to everyone under 18. He said that he’d give towels at the swimming pools away for free rather than rent them for two krona, which was the current charge.
“I want our swimming pools to obtain spa status. According to the European Union, it becomes a spa if we give away the towels. We’re going to give away the towels.”
Suddenly the polls showed Jon Gnarr at 24% of the vote. Gnarr shaved, took off his jeans and sweater and put on a suit and tie for the last half of the campaign.
“I was born here. I love this city. All my friends and all my family live here. I would really like to do something useful for it, don’t you know?”
The vote for Mayor took place on May 29, 2010. The winner was Jon Gnarr. He immediately appointedall his punk friends to the various ministerial posts. And he told them he intended for them to do this job for him.
On the morning he arrived for his first day at work, these were the thoughts he said that were running through his head as he entered City Hall.
You can still quit. Run, run. Don’t do it. What have I gotten all these people into?
This week marks the completion of the first year of what Gnarr expects will be a full four-year term. He made good on his pledge for the free towels. He didn’t build a statue in the Harbor. But the shambles in which he found the City’s finances have melted away. He laid off employees from the city’s electric company. He re-structured the education system. He raised taxes. This coming year Reykjavik will have its first balanced budget in four years.
On the other hand, according to the latest polls, about half of his supporters are gone. If the election were held tomorrow, they’d throw him out.
“That’s the sign of success,” Gnarr says. [/expand]