When 40 per cent of Reykjavik residents voted for comedian, Jon Gnarr, to be their mayor, despite his official manifesto including "four years lining his pockets and doing favours for his family", it was no exception.

Not in Iceland, where former prime minister David Oddsson, whom no one found funny when he was at the head of the central bank during the 2008 banking crisis, started out as comic on the radio. Or where the country’s best known Green politician deployed his comic talents to entertain several generations in the country’s theatres.

The narcissism of this small island nation is such that it must be tempered with a regularly administered antidote – self-deprecation.

Icelanders find it easy to laugh at themselves, which is certainly easier than laughing at others in a country where everyone more or less knows everyone else. They love tales of misconduct — preferably sexual misconduct involving priests or politicians — which they celebrate in rhyming verse; however the best of these poems usually appear sometime after the incidents to which they relate, and the names of the protagonists are never cited.

Parody is another means of poking fun at people without naming them. And the parties that account for a good third of the social life of the island provide an opportunity to lampoon friends and workmates. Naturally, everyone has to have a few drinks first, because this type of highly focused humour requires a measure of daring that can only be excused by drunkenness.

Humour was not a strong point of the Vikings, who found no place for it in the laconic prose of their sagas. However, their unflinching response to every ordeal has now become the main target of jokes about the Icelanders’ difficulty in expressing their feelings.

Shameless country girls

Traditional humour focusing on the naivety and ignorance of county people has long been the stock and trade of Icelandic comics, who regale their fellow citizens with tales of clumsy oafs who bring disaster on their farms, and country girls from the northern fjords who are bit more forward than you might expect.

To one such young lady who had sought work during the herring season, the foreman explained that the fish had to be packed head to head with their "tallies" sticking out. "Oh, I’ve seen that a 100 times before," the hussy replied.

Urbanisation and the penetration of the Danish and American cultures overtook this established order in the 20th century, when expressing yourself in English or Danish became not only funny but also provocative. Following its independence, Iceland embarked on course of linguistic purism. Lexical cleansing was, and still is, the order of the day.

Mixing parody with humorous characters that poke fun at Icelandic archetypes, the Mayor of Reykjavik has sought to renew these traditions.

For example, in one sketch, one of his most popular creations, the unbearable Mr Know-It-All, bangs on to his wife about the the talents of a well-known English actor whom they saw, or at least so he thinks, in a film the previous evening.

When his wife points out that the said actor was not in the film, and even when this information is confirmed by friend, Mr Know-It-All doggedly insists that he is right. The sketch comes to a head when, in the course of a telephone call to the actor in question, Know-It-All deploys his heavily accented English in a bid to convince him that he did in fact participate in the movie.

Read the other parts of the series:

Deadpan comedy – a UK staple

Romanian jokes that got around the censor

Spain’s bawdy smash hit

The series that sends up the middle class

In Italy, the joke is on them

Tickling Germany's funnybone