‘I look like this because my dad is Irish and my mom is Roger Federer,’ Jimmy Carr announces, his face so boyishly sweet and innocent there’s not even a hint that he’s joking. Even his wardrobe is in on the deception: He has on a very serious, well-fitted suit – there’s even a waistcoat, although, mercifully, no tie. The chic attire is part of his act. He is, on appearance alone, not the sort of charming, well-groomed gentleman who would ever tell a lie. Would he?
Except, of course, Carr is not the angel he appears to be. Rather, he’s a full-on stand-up comedian who, despite those youthful looks, comes with tons of experience and a penchant for absolutely deadpan delivery. Sometimes it’s so believable, so proper, you have to pinch yourself as a reminder that he’s delivering punchlines rather than rounding off a Sunday sermon.
‘I met Brad Pitt at a party,’ he’ll quip, nonchalantly. ‘They say you should never meet your heroes. But I think Brad handled it pretty well.’ It’s this kind of simple demonstration of his lateral way of thinking that’s earned him such wide appeal, making him one of the busiest and most successful comedians in the world. Not that all his jokes are quite so polite and inoffensive. He will, just moments after dropping a one-liner suitable for family television, throw in something sharp, prickly and likely to upset at least one sensitive soul. Then he’ll remind you – straight-faced – that ‘they’re just jokes’.
‘Well, most of them are jokes,’ he continues. ‘That last one really happened.’ And with that, he reveals his fondness for really dark comedy – ‘that last one’ happens to be a macabre joke about how he once skidded his car across the ice and hit three pedestrians. Ouch! But somehow it works as a multilevel joke, even with a few groans from the audience.
And thus Jimmy Carr, whose Irish father was an accountant and therefore unlikely to have married Roger Federer, takes his audiences on a trip through his very fertile, and sometimes depraved imagination. It’s a place crammed full of smart jokes, each one revealing that he really understands the precise location of the human funny bone. He’s even written a book about it, The Naked Jape: Uncovering the Hidden World of Jokes, in which he discusses the history of humour, explaining the technicalities of a joke and the theory of joke-telling. He says
it’s fairly simple: He writes his jokes backwards, starting with the punchline. He adds, though, that he writes about a thousand jokes to get 250 really good ones. What’s a good joke? ‘Ultimately, the audience always decides which ones they like and which ones they’re not too keen on. You can work on a joke as long as you like, but the real test is when you do it in front of a crowd.’
Plus, of course, he’s not averse to self-deprecating laughs. He kids around saying that one of the reasons he got into comedy was to have people laugh at him, rather than laughing out loud himself. ‘One of the reasons I don’t laugh on stage, and the reason I didn’t laugh at all during my early career, is because my laugh is so ridiculous. I laugh on an in breath, not an out breath. So instead of going “haha” like a normal human, I make a weird honking goose noise or I sound like a happy dolphin. And if I try to suppress it, it sounds like someone smuggled an owl into the room.’
Carr’s been on the stand-up scene for 15 years now, first making a name for himself when his show Charm Offensive sold out an entire month’s performances at the 2003 Edinburgh Festival. He says that he was initially incredibly nervous about becoming a performer, but he’d been inspired to pursue comedy by his mother (who turns out isn’t even a tennis player). ‘She was an incredibly funny woman, and that’s why I wanted to get into it. Everyone who met her gravitated towards her charisma and her humour. I wanted to be like that.’
Over the years, he’s had plenty of opportunity to rid himself of performance anxiety. Carr tours relentlessly and has put on over 2 000 performances, racking up massive audiences for both live and recorded shows. He was also – in 2007 – the first major comedian to perform in the virtual-reality world of Second Life.
South Africans will soon be able to get a regular hit of Carr’s ribald humour when his smash hit show Your Face or Mine lands on Comedy Central (DStv channel 122) in November. Referred to as a game show for the Tinder generation, it revolves around couples rating each other on their hotness – as Carr puts it, it’s about ‘placing attractiveness on a pedestal above intelligence’. It’s perfect, he says, in a world where people are constantly evaluating one another based on looks. And if that’s not enough, Netflix has just announced that Carr is to host a new comedy panel show called The Fix, in which guests attempt to solve the world’s biggest problems.
While many of his TV appearances depict him performing relatively squeaky clean jokes, he doesn’t necessarily hold back on swearing or punching below the belt when he’s in front of adult audiences. Sometimes there’s a sweet sting. ‘I tried to write the shortest joke possible,’ he says, ‘so I wrote a two-word joke, which was simply “Dwarf shortage!”’ Then, quickly, he adds: ‘If you’re a dwarf and you’re offended by that, grow up!’ This underscores that Carr is no fan of political correctness.
He’s also especially well known for interacting with hecklers. He’ll go so far, in fact, to include segments dedicated to heckling, inviting audience members to take their best shots at him. Be warned, though, that you will never beat him at his own game – he is the master of devastating insults.
To those who think it’s safer to stay at home, however, Carr makes this appeal: ‘People spend their lives in front of screens now, and so there’s something special about going out and being part of a crowd. It’s a lovely experience laughing out loud with other human beings.’ Plus he says there’s a spark that happens when there’s a live audience – he’s driven by ad-libs and audience interaction. ‘I want people at the back of the audience to be able to shout out and be part of it, because the audience is a big part of the show. I write jokes for about 60 or 70 per cent of the show, but the rest of it – on a good night – is about the audience shouting out and heckling and being rude to me.’
Come to think of it, Jimmy Carr does look surprisingly a lot like Roger Federer. And he’s really very good at returning a serve. Now just to get him out of that suit…
The Best of, Ultimate, Gold, Greatest Hits Tour
Venue The Teatro at Montecasino
Dates 21 & 22 September
Venue Grand Arena, GrandWest
Date 29 September
Cost From R425
Tickets Visit computicket.com