It takes a lot to make Jimmy Carr sweat onstage. A few diehard fans may cast their minds back to an especially humid evening at Melbourne’s The Toff In Town, in which the typically dapper stand-up comic sweltered through a hilarious preview of his show Gagging Order. “I’d basically organised this whole tour so I could go and watch the tennis in Melbourne,” Carr jokes. “We saw women playing in 44-degree heat. I mean, it was just brutal.”
Still, on the eve of his next visit to Australia – with his latest show, Funny Business – Carr sees the bright side. “You don’t understand how great it is for me: I’m doing this tour because I loved doing it two years ago, I loved coming out to Australia in January. You wonder why Poms are so whingy? I’ll tell you why we’re so whingy – have you ever been to Britain in January? It’s like, ‘How is the weather today?’ It is depressing. It’s just depressing every day. It’s cold and wet and windy and shit. Then you go to Australia and you go, ‘Oh, this is where it’s at.’ Everyone wants to come out as well. People just want to go out and have fun.”
Carr scores plenty of screen time in the UK as host of The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year, 8 Out Of 10 Cats and as a frequent guest on the beloved quiz show QI. But here, Carr remains somewhat of a novelty. “In Australia I’m not on TV all the time. I do a couple of QIs and people might know me from that, but people have to search me on YouTube. They have to go and find me. It’s quite a defining thing, a sense of humour, especially if you’ve had to go and sort of seek it out and go, ‘Oh, I like this guy, I like what he does.’
“I really like that quote about comedy, that laughter is the shortest distance between two people. And I like the idea that you come halfway around the world and suddenly you’re in a room with friends because you’ve all got the same sense of humour.”
If you have yet to come across Carr’s comedy before, you’ll quickly note his reputation for sparkling repartee. It’s a rare breed of comedian who relishes a heckle, but Carr seems to fit into that category.
“You’ve got that 100 per cent right,” he says. “I know the jokes and I’ve rehearsed them, I know they’re funny and it’s going to work and we’re going to have a great time together. 20 per cent of the show has got to be me messing around with the audience. It’s got to be something that can only happen that night, in that room with those people. That’s the fun of it for me and also for the people in that room.
“People might have heard the term ‘heckle’ and think it’s a drunk guy at a wedding interrupting speeches. At my shows, it’s someone shouting something really funny out. They’ve got to have a little bit of chutzpah before they shout out at one of my shows, because they know I’m going to say something incredibly unpleasant back. But it’s all in good fun and they know it’s got to be good, because they know the rest of the audience are not going to laugh unless it’s funny.”
Carr bases his career on risk-taking; he’s a renowned purveyor of polarising gags. He’s no stranger to the press, which has scrutinised his various missteps over the years. Still, Carr is relaxed regarding the apparent ‘controversial comedian’ tag.
“Anything following me around at all is great. I think the fact of the matter is, I’ve got quite a dark sense of humour and I tell those jokes and I think you’ve got to wear it, haven’t you? You can’t be surprised that people call you controversial when you joke about those things. But having said that, my aim is never to cause offence. The primary aim is never to cause offence, the primary aim is to get laughs, and ultimately it’s not my decision what I joke about – it’s the audience’s. If they don’t laugh, then it’s not in the show.
“There’s a great Lenny Bruce quote: ‘The audience is a genius.’ They decide what is and what isn’t funny. They decide what is and isn’t acceptable through laughter. If an audience laugh, then it is acceptable and it’s funny. If they don’t, then it’s not in the show. They regulate comedy, the audience.”
As a self-confessed “comedy nerd” and a veteran of the scene, Carr knows what it takes to make it in stand-up. “All you’ve got to do as a comedian is listen. You get immediate feedback from the audience. It’s such a great medium for that. You know, for people that make films, opening night is tremendously stressful because they’ve put three years of work into this thing and they’ve got to see if people like it. A comedian – you say one line, if they don’t like it, you say, ‘Right, we’ll do something else.’ It’s not a tough job – you’ll never find me complaining.”
Nevertheless, it’s a job well done, and as Carr’s star continues to rise, the risks and the pressures of his profession faze him less. “When I started doing comedy, I left a very good job to join the circus of being a stand-up comedian. Now it feels like the stakes are a bit higher. You have to remind yourself, ‘Who cares?’ I make my living telling jokes, which is a lovely way to make a living.”
BY NICK MASON