‘I’m pretty free to do what I want right now – I’m essentially a child’. Jimmy Carr doesn’t mince his words, which is to be expected from a comedian who has built his career on word play and one-liners. Needless to say, yours truly was appropriately flustered when the phone rang, and made clumsy small talk about uni before remembering to turn on the dictaphone and ask some of the pre-prepared questions. I needn’t have worried; the comedy giant turned out to be affable and eager to chat, in contrast to the expectations created by his dry and often condescending on–screen demeanour.
His rise to fame throughout the Noughties is certainly no laughing matter (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Having quit his job in marketing at Shell at the turn of the century, within two years he had been nominated for the Perrier Comedy Award, and the work in television quickly followed. Early work in Your Face or Mine (‘Wow, that’s going back a bit – how old were you when that first came out?’ – I was 12) was followed by Distraction, of which there were both domestic and American versions.
‘We didn’t do that for long but it’s nice to be remembered. It didn’t get boring – we did a couple of series then left it.’ His longest running show, 8 out of 10 cats, currently in its tenth season, cemented his reputation as hot televisual property, both as a host and as a panellist, and he has since gone on to guest appearances on QI, Buzzcocks, and Have I Got News For You, where he infamously flirted with guest host Ann Widdecombe, who branded his wit ‘a barrage of filth’ and vowed never to return to the show.
‘I’ve been very lucky with Channel 4,’ Jimmy explains, ‘The shows that I do [are] the kind of TV that I would watch.’ Would he ever consider writing a sitcom, as fellow stand ups Jack Dee and Sean Lock have done? ‘I love Lead Balloon (Jack Dee’s sitcom) – I think it’s amazing. I suppose there is that temptation. A lot of friends of mine write sitcoms, and I wouldn’t want to be in competition with them. The guys who write The Inbetweeners (Ian Morris and Damon Beesley) produce my DVD and I just think, mine isn’t going to be as good as that, so I might as well leave it.’
As a stand up, Carr is relentless – with over 220 gigs a year he is on tour for months on end. ‘It’s weird because it sounds like a lot, but I only do 2 hours work a day so I suppose I’m like a PPE student really, I do 2 hours a day, every day – that’s enough, isn’t it? I’m sure psychology students can relate to that.’ At this point the interview degenerated into a conversation about the subjects that have replaced Land Economy as the subject of choice for an easy time at Oxbridge, with a rather predictable outcome. Here’s a hint: it rhymes with Shmography.
With an rapid-fire repartee of deadpan jokes that frequently juxtapose elegant word play with crude or taboo topics, it would be easy to accuse Carr of exploiting the shock value of his material, but he is adamant that critics have got the wrong end of the stick, ‘It’s weird you would put it like that, because to me it’s never been about wanting to shock or push your buttons – it really is my sense of humour. What really gets me, the gut punch, the really visceral response, tends to be the darker stuff, whether it’s about taboo subjects or sexual things; anything kind of transgressive I find funny. If the idea was to shock, you could say more shocking things – a lot of it is purely word play.’
As a jokes-based comedian, Carr is part of a relatively small crowd at a time where the prevalent styles are observational comedy, and what he calls character based comedy – not elaborate, Al Murray style guises, you understand, but playing on the characteristics of the comedian as a person. And despite his popularity and success, Carr is just one of a number of familiar faces on the scene these days, with the profession having undergone a recent explosion of public popularity.
‘I do think there’s a certain sense to which people say it’s the new rock and roll – there’s quite a lot of choice out there now, which there really wasn’t five, ten years ago. People go out and have a great night, and then say, I’d quite like to go out, and do that again, and laugh with other people. It’s such a different experience from say, seeing a movie, it’s so interactive – everyone laughs in the room. It’s a real shared experience, and I think there’s something, and not to be too pseudo-intellectual, but I think there’s kind of a cultural shared experience, that I think people crave.’
If comedy’s the new rock and roll, then contenders for the roles of Jimmy Page and Angus Young must certainly be Ricky Gervais and Russell Brand, with the Office star having smashed the US scene with writing, directing and acting credits, and Brand well on his way to a solid role in the Judd Squad troupe that includes Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill. However, their success has been met with criticism that they’ve sold out, watering down their humour for the mass market of Hollywood. Not that these voices cut much ice with Jimmy, ‘Really? Really? Who criticised them?? What kind of a fuck-knuckle would go, yeah, they’ve gone to Hollywood, they’re not keeping it real. Fucking more power to them.’ Does he foresee a shift to the American market for himself? ‘I’ve done stuff in America, which was very fun, but I don’t think they need more stand ups over there. Life is pretty good here – the grass is always greener I suppose, but life is pretty sweet man.’
JIMMY CARR – LAUGHTER THERAPY
Oxford New Theatre
Sunday 21 November @ 8pm
Tickets: 0844 847 1585 OR www.newtheatreoxford.org.uk