Performing arts in Hong Kong

Jimmy Carr on his Netflix show, comedy’s evolution and why he’ll keep joking about terrible things

British comedian, who's postponed his Hong Kong show because of Super Typhoon Mangkhut, says it’s great that comedy is becoming a platform for debate about wider themes, but he will stick with tried-and-tested material for now

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 7:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 11:09am

NOTE: Jimmy Carr's tour date in Hong Kong was postponed because of the approach of Super Typhoon Mangkhut. The show was rescheduled to March 27, 2019 at Kitec, Kowloon Bay.

Fast-talking comedian Jimmy Carr is having one of his busiest years to date; following a string of Asian shows, he will embark on dates in Europe and the United States. But the 45-year-old Londoner isn’t complaining.

“Work is more fun than fun for me,” he says. “If I take a week off, it’s not as fun as touring Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in a week. That’s more fun than a holiday.”

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His new tour, called “The Best Of, Ultimate, Gold, Greatest Hits Tour”, is a nod to compilation albums full of recycled hits by old-school musical acts. It will mine the most effective jokes from his previous special shows, with some references to recent events such as the royal wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry to American actress Meghan Markle. It will pack in, Carr estimates, 250 jokes into a 90-minute set – but will also leave space for the audience interaction he relishes.

“My ideal show is 80 per cent written material; great jokes you can’t wait to tell people. Then the other 20 per cent is funny interaction with the audience – stuff that can only happen that night in that room where, if you try to tell someone about it afterwards, it doesn’t make any sense,” he says.

 Carr became a household name in Britain in 2005 as the host of late-night comedy panel series 8 Out of 10 Cats. The show catapulted the Cambridge-educated host to celebrity stardom, and his deadpan delivery style, distinctive laugh (which he once described as a “seal honking”), smart suits and anachronistic hairstyle made him one of the most recognisable and bankable names in television.

The idea that someone is making the rules on comedy is a fiction. It’s good and healthy to have that debate, but ultimately, freedom of speech will win out
Jimmy Carr

Although a 2012 exposé on Carr’s involvement in an offshore tax avoidance scheme saw him vilified by the British press (and publicly condemned by the then prime minister David Cameron), the scandal does not seem to have affected his long-term career. As well as maintaining a ubiquitous presence on British television and packing in a busy touring schedule, this year he will feature in his first streaming series, a new panel show called The Fix.

In the 10-part series for Netflix, Carr will serve as host alongside two permanent team captains: Katherine Ryan, a Canadian stand-up comic and frequent Carr collaborator, and DL Hughley, an American comic known for his sharp political commentary. In each episode, the three will deliver humorous takes on serious and pressing issues, including gun control, immigration, gender equality and population ageing.

While creating entertainment for Netflix was “freeing”, Carr says, the main constraint was that the themes and material had to be such that viewers all over the world could relate to them. “We made allowances: we tried to shy away from a lot of the little cultural references that people wouldn’t get outside of America.”

Known for his playful, often risqué, humour and sometimes dark style, Carr occasionally toys with the notion of offence. In one infamous routine, he presented his audience with a test to challenge the level of offensiveness at which they would laugh; he started at “gentle and working our way up”, before cycling through a range of morally provocative themes including Princess Diana’s death, the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centre, and abortion.

In January he attracted criticism from New Zealanders after suggesting the country’s oldest city – Dunedin – would benefit from being hit by an earthquake.

“My show is very edgy – I joke about terrible things, but they’re just jokes; they’re not the terrible things,” he says. “If you don’t want to buy a ticket to my show, you don’t have to. If you don’t want to watch my special on Netflix, you don’t have to … The idea that someone is making the rules on comedy is a fiction. It’s good and healthy to have that debate, but ultimately, freedom of speech will win out.”

There is an ongoing conversation around what constitutes comedy, and whether it is acceptable to poke fun at marginalised groups in society with material that could be construed as racist, sexist or homophobic. Carr believes firmly that those who disagree with a certain style of comedy don’t have to watch it, and those who enjoy it should not apologise for doing so.

“Comedy is a very broad church,” he says. “Just because Hannah Gadsby does her show doesn’t mean that Anthony Jeselnik, Jim Jefferies, Dave Chappelle or I can’t do what we do.”

He is comparing male comics known for their off-colour humour to Australian performer Gadsby, whose live show, Nanette – which was released on Netflix this summer – was seen by some as a landmark moment in comedy. In the show she begins with lighthearted self-deprecation, before turning to address gender inequality and violence against women, illustrated with disturbing personal accounts of homophobia and sexual assault.

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Carr says Gadsby’s show is a signal that the industry is both evolving to include a more diverse range of voices, and increasingly becoming a platform for debate about wider themes.

“[Gadsby] really pushed the envelope,” Carr says. “People are talking about comedy in this incredibly animated fashion; they really care, which is great for everyone … Sometimes [comedians] have this weird perception, like [newcomers] are taking a slice of your cake. No. It’s just making that cake – the comedy world – bigger, and people who watch that show might feel inspired after watching and go, ‘You know what – I’ve got a story to tell, too.’”

The comedy world is changing but, on his 10th major tour, Carr chooses 15 years’ worth of tried-and-tested stand-up material. While he might applaud the industry’s bold newcomers, the comic’s current solo routine keeps him firmly within his comfort zone.