That sweet baby face sticking out of the well-tailored suit tells such well-crafted, silly one-liners (“I recently wrote a book about poltergeists, and I’m pleased to say it’s flying off the shelves”) it’s easy to see why it features on countless prime-time panel programs on British telly. Jimmy Carr is adorable.
But how could such darkness emanate from that same package? On his recent Netflix special, Funny Business, Carr gleefully crosses the line.
“I wrote a joke about the negative stereotypes that still prevail in our society concerning women, and I worry about telling that joke because I worry that if I were to tell that joke, and it would be misconstrued as genuine misogyny, it could really light the fuse on some bitch’s tampon. I would feel awful,” he tells the crowd.
But they get it. These aren’t opinions; they’re jokes. And Carr tells both sweet and sour ones.
“I try and sort of mix both of those kind of styles,” he says on the phone from London, during one of the only 10 days he’s spent at home this year. “All I can do is one-liners. I don’t really do long stories. So it’s trying to find a balance between those two in the light and the shade. Because for me, I can’t sustain one of them for an hour.”
Many comedians make jokes with their colleagues backstage that they’d never dare say on-stage. A few like Carr relish pushing buttons. “I’ve always liked the idea of there being no barrier between the audience and the comedian,” he says. “The more you can kind of break that barrier down and treat the audience like they’re your friend, they get it. Because there’s no malice in my act; I’m just trying to say things that I think are funny.”
Even though he’s well enough known now that he’s essentially preaching to the choir, he can still surprise and shock newbies to his live shows who’ve only ever seen the clean-cut funnyman on network television. And there might very well be a few newbies in Vancouver, a city he’s never been to before, despite having a Canadian wife. (“I think I maybe have some records by Bryan Adams somewhere and I like his photography a lot, so I feel like I’m a native.”)
“Sometimes if you come and see me live you might be shocked at how rude it really is,” he says. “I sort of figure if someone’s paid to see me live, I can be as rude as I want, because they’ve literally bought into it.”
Then there are those reading about this at home. Some rabble-rousing journalist on a slow news day tattles on him to the masses and then shit hits the fan. Apologies are demanded amid the outrage. But Carr will have none of it. He stands firm.
“I didn’t say it by mistake,” he says. “It would be a very disingenuous apology, I think. It’s not like I blurted that out and I was drunk. No, I said that 150 times on tour and then you got offended when you saw it.”
It seems to be a ritual in the British press and online. Carr thinks nobody’s really all that offended over his work. And there are more practical reasons for not heeding the torch mob. “If I started going around apologizing for jokes and taking them out of my set, I’d have to go back to doing five minutes, wouldn’t I?”
That said, he likes the fact that, thanks to social media, the general public now has a voice to air its grievances.
“It’s nice that people can kind of come directly and say something to you and comment and you’ll see it,” he says. “But that isn’t to say that you have to then change what you do. There’s no amount of signatures that can stop me doing what I do. I have the right to free speech, but they have the right to free speech. So I’m allowed to say that thing and they’re allowed to say they don’t like it. I think where things get complicated is where they’re trying to stop you from saying the thing that you want to say.”
He believes the customer is always right, to a point.
“Three jokes into my set, you kinda go, ‘Oh yeah, I like this.’ If you think I’m funny, you’re right. If you think I’m not funny, you’re right. There’s no definitive answer, is there? If it tickles you, then great.”
Jimmy Carr’s Funny Business tour plays the Vogue Theatre on Saturday (May 7).