Australian in Iceland Jonathan Duffy aka Jono is taking both Scandinavia and the world by storm with his comedy. On the back of his work at Eurovision, Jono is now penning a memoir about a life less ordinary. He recently took some time out to talk and make us laugh.
You started acting at eight years old. Were you a funny kid?
I don’t really think I was a particularly funny child. I always wanted to be a leading man but I was too fat and too gay for people to consider me for those roles. When I was 19 I had been studying French clowning, which is all about making people laugh without speaking. I decided I would try an open mic and I sucked. I was so self-involved, all I did was hang around with actors and I knew nothing about the world. A friend who was a comedian told me that she thought I was funny in real life but not on the stage that particular time. She offered to help me write a set under the condition that I watched the news, read the newspaper and hung out with non-actors for a week. This helped me to know what was actually going on in the world and further developed my distrust for people who don’t own a TV. I went back to the same bar a while later and used the set she helped me write. It worked and I haven’t looked back. That was 12 years ago.
Later on, you moved behind the camera as an editor and director. Why the change?
Desperation. When my (now ex) partner and I decided to move to outback Australia I thought it would be a good idea to film what happened to us (you know in case the locals didn’t like a gay couple in their town and killed us). I bought a camera and filmed everything for two years. Then I realised I had no budget and didn’t know anyone who could put the thing together for me. So I got an editing program and hit YouTube. What came later was The Doctor’s Wife, which I won an international film festival award for.
What made you settle in Iceland?
Divorce. I got dumped after almost a decade-long relationship. It was an amazing time, but sadly some things don’t last forever. I was at a good point career-wise in Melbourne but being there at the time was too painful. I was about to turn 30, had a British passport and nothing tying me down and I had always wanted to live somewhere else. I had visited Iceland before and really liked it. I joked for years that if my partner died, I would move to Iceland … Well, he did the next best thing. My plan was to start here and if it didn’t work, go somewhere else. It’s been pretty good so far.
Tell us about how the idea for your show, Hera Björk, The Queen of Effing Everything came about? How did Icelanders respond?
She [Hera] had been wanting to make this show for a while. We met at a party in November last year and she saw me do stand-up. Afterwards, she told me she had been waiting for someone funny to come along and write with her and asked if I would meet her for coffee. Then we started writing. We’ve become very good friends in the process and she is such a hard-working woman, and the only woman I have ever met who will take a joke even further than I am willing to. The show hasn’t been put on yet in Iceland, only in Sweden, but there were a lot of Icelanders in the audience and they really liked it.
This year you worked as the creative director at Eurovision with Greta Salóme for Iceland’s Eurovision entry, ‘Hear Them Calling.’ What can you tell us about that?
It was an amazing and intense experience. Greta has spent a while working with some big names in the industry so she never accepts “we don’t have the budget for that” as an answer. Instead she is more likely to ask: “How can we make that happen?” There were four core creatives involved in the project and we all worked really hard on it. Actually getting to Eurovision is a little like having a baby or getting married. It’s months of waiting and working and then when the day finally happens you realise that it’s in the hands of voters and juries and you can only be proud of what you achieved, which I really am.
You shared many of your experiences in a TED talk and are planning on releasing a memoir next year. What can we expect?
It’s currently called If I Could Just Say One Thing. Over the past year I’ve come to realise that I have gone through a lot of things and lived many lives in a short space of time. There was a period after Christmas where all I seemed to do was give advice to people so I decided I wanted to combine these things together. I don’t have all the answers but I am a firm believer in sharing experiences and knowledge in order to make life easier for someone else. The memoir is a series of essays, each of them is about something I’ve been through and concludes with what I learned from it. I’m trying to write it in such a way that each essay can be read separately.
Finally, what are your five favourite places in Scandinavia, and why?
I really like the north of Iceland. I’m a fan of Oslo and Bergen too. [Good choices – Ed.] Probably my favourite place in Iceland would be the Town Square or the hill near Harpa when there’s a community event. You get to see the sense of community here and if you live here you’ll see so many faces you know. It’s sort of what I loved about living in rural Australia; the sense that people take care of each other.