Jonathan Duffy on comics, podcasting and making the move to Iceland

Back in 2011 Jonathan Duffy caught Australia’s attention when he appeared in his autobiographical documentary The Doctor’s Wife. The culture clash film follows Duffy and his Doctor boyfriend as they move from Brisbane to Mundubdera is rural Queensland.

The comedian also came to Perth for Fringe World, getting rave reviews for his show Without Me I’m Nothing. Today Duffy is leading a very different life. All the way on the other side of the world.

Jonathan Duffy spoke to us about his newfound career success and happiness.     

Most people would remember from the documentary The Doctor’s Wife and your Fringe World show Without Me I’m Nothing. But now you’re living and working in Iceland. How did you end up there?

Vincent, the Doctor to my Doctor’s Wife, and I broke up. I wasn’t really sure what to do next but I knew I wanted to get away for a bit. I wanted to start over in my 30’s somewhere nobody knew me.

You see being in the relationship I had been in, and the film and the shows, people sort of only knew me as one half of a couple. I didn’t really know how to start over in a place where people kept reminding me of the relationship so I decided to go far away and challenge myself.

I chose Iceland as a place to start. If it worked I would stay, if it didn’t I would go somewhere else. It’s been nearly two years now.

Had you been to Iceland before you moved there?

I came here for a week in 2011. I really liked it. Apart from Mundubbera it was the first time I had been somewhere alien to me that instantly felt like home. When I first arrived as a new settler it was a similar feeling.

How Icelandic are you now, can you make a good Plokkfiskur?

I feel like that’s not a question I can answer, but my friend Hugleikur is sitting next to me and he says I’m Icelandic enough.

I do feel like this is my home now. I know how things work (well except the tax system here, that’s insane) and it’s where I plan to be for a while. I don’t cook anything Icelandic though, the food can be terrible. I won’t ever lose the craving for a sausage sizzle from Bunnings on a Saturday.

I’ve been reading your comic strip ‘Bruce the Angry Bear’, how did that come about?

It actually started when I was promoting The Doctor’s Wife. My film was always on before Bear City in the festivals. There were two versions of my film, a longer and a shorter version.

Sometimes they would advertise the shorter film and then screen the longer version of my film. As a result the former twinkly version of myself would meet really angry bears outside the cinema because they were waiting for their film to start late.

I started creating this characterised version of them in my mind. I remember saying to my (now ex) husband, “Wouldn’t it be funny to create a cartoon character that’s a bear and he’s angry and when he gets pissed off he throws twinks at people.”

He sat in the back of my mind for years until I talked about him with my friend Hugleikur Daggson. Hugleikur (or Hulli) is a famous Icelandic cartoonist and when I mentioned it to him, he said, “This is hilarious, you have to make this happen.”

Later I met an Illustrator who drew a cartoon version of me when I spoke at TedXreykjavik. His name is Einar Masson and I fell in love with his style. I had a chat with him and we decided to give it a go.

We wrote 5 short strips and then pitched them to the website . They loved it and that’s how it all came about.

It’s been so rewarding to see an idea I had almost 7 years ago come to fruition, but that’s sort of been my whole experience in Iceland. It’s a country where if you really want to make something happen and are willing to work for it, it will.

You said in an interview recently that your experienced a lot of homophobia growing up in Australia, describing Australia as a homophobic country. Do you think we’re still a homophobic country?

It’s difficult to answer that question. I still believe that a country which still discriminates against sexually and gender diverse people on a federal level is homophobic. However the only experience I’ve personally had of Australia since I left is when I went back in December for Christmas and to do some shows.

I can say that it was the first time in nearly two years I had that familiar ‘checking myself’ in certain situations because I didn’t feel that safe. It’s a feeling I have never experienced in nearly two years.

When Icelanders ask about how amazing Australia is, I sometimes have to be the guy who informs them that it’s not the utopia they think it is. They always ask why and then when I tell them about the homophobia, lack or marriage equality and the way we treat asylum seekers they’re always shocked.

When I was in Reykjavik, my boyfriend and I spent the whole time suggesting which house belonged to Bjork…. Have you seen Bjork?

It used to be black but was recently painted. I sort of met her a few times. Once I held a door open for her. Then last August I made fun of her during a big gay show for pride. I wore the swan dress and sang it’s oh so quiet and then was informed by a drag queen that she was in the audience. I have no idea what she thought of it but I have avoided her since.

Was that last questions the equivalent of asking an Australian if they know Kylie Minogue?

Not really because everyone here has a Bjork story. They’ve all met her. Celebrity isn’t really a thing here. I mean technically I am one which I think is ridiculous. I get recognised a lot, even when buying toilet paper but in Iceland it’s more just someone telling you that they liked what you did than asking for an autograph. It’s not at all like asking if someone has met Kylie.

What do Icelandic people assume about Australians?

They think we’re all laid back, that we love Neighbours and that we’re tanned, love surfing and throw shrimp on the barbie. To which I always say, they’re fucking called prawns. Thanks Paul Hogan. Thanks so much for everything I’m asked every day.

Beer was illegal in Iceland until the late ’80s, what other odd things have you discovered about your adopted home?

The strange traditions. Eating sheep head, rotten shark that has been pissed on. Just their food in general.

Icelanders never go out before midnight. They drink at home and you’re lucky if they’re out at a club before 1am. When they party, they do it till they’re unconscious and then they go to an afterparty. They’re always late to EVERYTHING (island time).

They even have a word for when two people have slept with the same person – Kviðmágur. It means belly brother in law.

Tell me about your podcast ‘Icetralia’.  

It’s the best podcast on the internet. Basically it’s me and a straight Icelandic comedian shooting the shit.

Each episode we have regular segments. ‘The Embarrassment of the Week’, where we both share something embarrassing. ‘How to Speak Icetralian’, where we teach each other something in our language. ‘Gay it to me straight’, where we are allowed to ask anything of each other sexuality related and the ‘Ants of Agony’, where we give advice.

It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. It’s uninhibited and has become one of the most listened to podcasts in Iceland. From now on, every second one is live so that adds another element of awesomeness. It’s on iTunes. If you haven’t subscribed, you should.

Graeme Watson


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