For the second time this week I accidentally wander off to the post-crash era when writing. I don’t know when this era ended – but we all know when it started. And well, maybe it ended when Næsti bar* closed? Or maybe rather when Næsti bar fell out of fashion.
Anyways, you get a good dose of good old Næsti bar watching Stand Up Girls, since probably half the film takes place there. I‘m probably in the background somewhere, the camera focuses on the Stand Up Girls, the only audience members you see properly are those familiar looking bartenders.
And now I’m starting to come around to the idea we should have a better look at that era. Away from the events that defined it, political turmoil and the crash and Icesave. Not regardless of it, it’s always there in the background – but have a better look at the live that was brewing in the shadows. Between the boom years. Ladybird showed us last winter that 2002 is already a valid nostalgia, but those years, ca. 2008-10, are unique in the modern history of Iceland, at least out of those almost 40 I remember. We’ve covered the political history well enough – but perhaps it’s time to study what happened up the street from the Parliament.
Icelandic feminism was among the things that was finding a new lease of life during those years and this film is certainly a part of that. Women in Red Stockings, about the 70s feminist movements, premiered just a year earlier and they share a playful way of telling a story, both using lively animation by Una Lorenzen well, and showing how valuable humour and creativity is in all civil rights movements.
Stand Up Girls pretty much sums it up in the title, it’s about a group of women who come together to practice and then perform stand-up together. It features all types – yet if we simplify it, and here I’m quoting one of them – it all started with a few feminists leading the way, but when the second night came along some “Sex-and-the-city chicks at Kaffibarinn” had been added to the mix. It’s a helpful simplification in some ways – explains partly how the dynamics of the group works, but it’s still a simplification. First off, those Sex-and-the-city chicks are no strangers to feminism and the feminists have certainly been spotted at Kaffibarinn too. There’s also an interesting contrast between two of the girls who started the idea, Katla and Þórdís Nadia, who have different views on the project after it starts having a life of its own. Katla, who coins the lovely term practical feminism when describing their methods, is ready to step aside after getting the ball rolling, while Nadia seems to have found her calling and now wants to take it more seriously and go all the way.
I remember being slightly worried when seeing the film originally – I had seen the stand-up live and knew that should at least guarantee a pretty funny film, but could the film add something, could it compete with the live stand-up itself? But Una Lorenzen’s animation and the whole rhythm of the film quickly established it was not going to be just filmed stand-up, in fact there are no long clips of a single stand-up, rather then are snippets of many – since there are a total of eleven girls who all get considerable screen time. On the other hand, we see the preparation and some scenes that echo the actual stand-up and deepen it, even scenes we cut from the stand-up to the source of the stand-up, which in one case was another failed stand-up. Humiliation becomes triumph becomes humiliation, all through the editing.
Time for a Sequel?
Icelandic stand-up is a rather young art-form still – and it’s rarely been mainstream, with occasional exceptions. But finally, in the last few years, we have something akin to a scene. In the 90s the main stand-ups were more famous for their sketches on TV and radio, like the Radius brothers and Tvíhöfði, perhaps it’s a sign of the times now it’s rather the other way around. Yet even if it’s a young art-form in Iceland it very soon become a mostly male territory.
The guys from Mid-Iceland (their main rivals) have some screen time here – the camera captures Jóhann Alfreð who’s watching, and he admits that the girls are much more sexually daring then they are, they would never get away with stuff like that. Which some of them agree with – but perhaps the boys have simply already finished those jokes years ago, exhausted all the dick jokes so now they need a break? I don’t know, but perhaps part of the strength of the Stand Up Girls is that they’re covering new territory, picking up obvious jokes that simply haven’t been told yet.
But even if many of those girls have been visible in the years since, in acting, film making, poetry, dance, academia and activism – it’s a bit of a shame how few of them have kept doing stand-up – with the notable exception of Þórdís Nadia, who has since developed a highly entertaining blend of stand-up and the one-act play. So who knows, maybe it’s time for a sequel. But first, watch the original. It’s even available for free on Vimeo (see below).
*literally: Next bar – a rather legendary establishment, that closed down, like all Icelandic bars seem to do.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson