The Jimmy Carr Defence

Jimmy Carr bites back in the Graun.


So it’s been another week of navel gazing in the world of stand-up. How these guys ever find time to hone their act, I’ll never know. This time it’s Jimmy Carr on the Mail’s radar for simultaneously dissing the troops and amputees. If you somehow hadn’t heard, Carr made the following joke which was repeated ad infinitum, in case you weren’t offended first time around:

Say what you like about those servicemen amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’re going to have a fucking good Paralympic team in 2012.

Predictably this led to a shitstorm of headlines and misappropriated outrage on behalf of people who’d not even seen the routine. Now it goes without saying that I totally abhor this brainless crusade against the so-called New Offensives and to give him his due, Carr pretty much nailed this point when he said:

Sometimes people get offended on behalf of other people, and you think, ‘You know what, don’t be a dick.’ You often get people coming up and saying, ‘I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but I think some people – not me because I get it – could take that the wrong way.’ And you say, ‘What, some fucking idiots? There are no idiots at the show. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.’

It was as the article wore on, however, that things began to unravel. It’s well known that Carr’s act takes fairly indiscriminate aim at women, race, disability, homosexuality, paedophilia, or pretty much any taboo you can think of. It’s okay though, because he’s doing it for the benefit of culture as  a whole  – can’t you see he’s just ‘pushing boundaries’, thicko? He then makes the following, somewhat laughable (a first) claim:

I’m sorry if anyone was offended, but that’s the kind of comedy I do. If a silly joke draws attention to the plight of these servicemen, then so much the better. My intention was only to make people laugh.

Yeah I’m pretty sure that the next day most of his audience, rather than retelling this deeply satirical jokette to their mates, actually donated money to Help for Heroes or lobbied their local MP for an increase in the defence budget.  But Carr holds no truck with those who offer mealy-mouthed excuses, as evidenced when he confusingly goes on to say:

There is a tendency, when someone is upset, to say, ‘Well, I was highlighting the tragedy.’ I wasn’t. I was trying to make people laugh.

Luckily he didn’t just say that a few minutes earlier or he’d be looking pretty stoopid right now. No, what he effectively said is the comedy equivalent of the shite indie band’s mantra: “I just set out to make people laugh, and if it highlights a serious issue, then that’s a bonus.” All criticism skillfully averted. But anyway, like he says, some of his biggest fans are squaddies:

‘If you look at the young men and young girls who come to my gigs, a proportion are in the armed forces.’ His defenders say his black humour precisely mirrors that of the troops, who have to laugh in the face of possible injury or death.

There may be a valid point lurking in there somewhere, but he’s on dodgier ground when he rightly gets pulled up for his fondness for rape jokes, and in particular saying “What’s the difference between football and rape? Women don’t like football.” Now unlike Jimmy, I’m not a ‘joke technician’ but whichever way you slice it I don’t see how that’s remotely funny. His defence follows:

I’m just an entertainer, but things have moved on and it can’t all be about nice stuff. My favourite noise in comedy is the laugh followed by the sharp intake of breath.

So the calculation is thus: the laughter is for the wordplay and the intake of breath is for the misogyny. Simple. I dare say he would go on to use the (Office’s) Chris Finch maxim:  “How can I hate women? My mum’s one.” Bloody good rep, Chris Finch.

At this juncture I could somewhat lazily introduce class into the argument. Which I will. Carr is a white, middle class, Cambridge educated, M & S endorsing male. There’s an alleged weight of intellect behind his comedy. Can you seriously imagine Bernard Manning would have got away with telling that rape joke? I for one doubt it. But Carr’s fans aren’t working class numpties, they’re in on the joke. They’re laughing at their own reactions, y’ see? And I think that gets to the nub of my problem with Carr: it’s not so much the jokes, the hair, the face, the offensive nature of much of his material, or even his nonsequitous, sub-Steven Wright delivery that grates. Carr belongs to that cabal of smug, patronising, middle class, Sam Kinison worshipping twats who mistake offending without compunction for developing the artform. He probably likes to see himself as the white Chris Rock, but he really isn’t (that’s Jim Davidson.) As proved by Chris Morris and various others, pushing boundaries and not behaving like a homophobic, racist, sexist cunt needn’t be mutually exclusive. And note I’m not saying he is a homophobic, racist, sexist cunt. Just like one. Wordplay.



5 Responses to “The Jimmy Carr Defence”

  1. The real white Chris Rock is The White Chris Rock, and he’s awesome. I like Carr less than you do, and like his justification even less.

  2. Carr strikes me as super-dislikeable when he’s doing stand-up, but weirdly charming on panel shows – and he’s properly good at crafting and telling jokes. If only he could avoid using the 20% of his material that’s depressing, hateful bullshit. I thought the Paralympic joke was good, though. For the day of the outrage at least, every news bulletin on Radio 4 included a genuinely good punchline.

    • That’s the annoying thing; he’s got more talent than most of the hacks out there but doesn’t necessarily use it in the right way. Thought it strange that if he was so unapologetic he felt the need to defend himself in the most sympathetic forum possible, though. But hey, don’t want the corporate work to dry up.

  3. Spot on re: Sam Kinison. His defence against accusations of misogyny – “a man never broke my heart” – is just Chris Finch’s line with sentimental knobs on. Presumably you have impunity for racist material if you explain: “a white man never burgled my house.”

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