Icelandic comedian Jón Gnarr to return to Houston

Jón Gnarr, the Icelandic comedian, writer and former mayor of Reykjavík, will return to Houston in January as part of a new joint energy and environmental arts residency program established by Rice University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) and the University of Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

gnarr-2016-11-2-640As part of the program, Gnarr will give a series of guest lectures at Rice and teach a screenwriting class at the University of Houston and serve as the showrunner for a new TV series about climate change and Houston. He will also be developing a new TV series project, “Elves,” about the degradation of the Icelandic highlands.

“We are extraordinarily pleased to welcome Jón Gnarr and his family back to Houston and to have the opportunity to work on raising the profile of energy and environmental art together with our colleagues at the University of Houston,” said Dominic Boyer, director of the center and professor of anthropology at Rice. “We are citizens of Houston as well as scholars, and we feel a moral responsibility to pursue new ways of making climate change a matter of public awareness and concern.”

“Jón Gnarr’s unique vision of the world will have a profound impact on UH students, broadening their horizons in terms of how they think about societies, politics and the environment,” said Dr. Kairn Klieman, co-director of the UH Graduate Certificate in Global Energy, Development and Sustainability program. “We expect amazing synergies to be created as he shares his unique approach to dealing with climate change through comedy, mystery and fictional writing. Through his residency he will help students, as well as the broader Houston community, begin to process the often unacknowledged emotional and intellectual challenges of living in an age of extreme climate change.”

Gnarr spent spring 2015 as the first writer-in-residence at CENHS. While at Rice, he worked on building bridges between the academic world of energy and environmental research and the arts and media.

Boyer had written a paper on Gnarr’s Best Party that caught the comedian’s eye, which in turn led to a conversation and Boyer’s subsequent invitation to Gnarr to come to Rice in 2015.

Writing from Reykjavík, Gnarr said, “I am very excited to come back to Houston and to continue my work with CENHS and start a new project with the Mitchell Center. I was not born in Texas but I welcome every opportunity to visit!”

When he was a child, Gnarr was diagnosed with severe mental retardation due to dyslexia, learning difficulties and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He overcame these hardships and went on to become one of Iceland’s best-known actors and comedians. In late 2009, in the aftermath of Iceland’s banking crash, Gnarr founded the Best Party, which sought to bring joy, humility and humanity back to Icelandic politics. Although the Best Party was dismissed as a “joke party” by the Icelandic political mainstream as well as national and international media, Gnarr’s ability to be equally sincere and satirical about his country’s political situation struck a chord with disillusioned and disoriented voters, organizers said. The Best Party surprised all observers by winning the 2009 municipal elections in Iceland’s capital, and Gnarr served as mayor from 2010 to 2014.

Gnarr has won 10 Edda awards from the Icelandic Film and Television Academy. Eddas are awarded for outstanding work in various categories of film and television and are the most prominent film and television awards in Iceland.

In 2010 he was chosen Man of the Year by and Fréttablaðið newspaper.

Gnarr is an honorary member of Samtökin ’78, which identifies itself as “the national queer organization of Iceland,” for his work for LGBT rights; in 2013, he was honored with the Humanist of the Year Award by Siðmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association. In 2014, Gnarr received the prestigious LennonOno Grant for Peace Award.


About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.