If hilarity is the best medicine, we’re glad Jimmy Carr is bringing his Laughter Therapy Tour to South Africa. Helen Herimbi spoke to the controversial comedian.
To borrow from novelist Meera Syal: life isn’t all ha ha hee hee.
That’s why, sometimes, we need to see a professional. Fret not, comedy lovers, the good (depending on which side of the conservative fence you’re on) doctor is in. When I speak to Jimmy Carr, the Irish-UK funnyman and TV and radio personality is wrapping up a few shows in Dublin. Next up on his chock-a-block comedy-filled year is a two-city tour of SA this week. Carr is both nostalgic and thrilled about what his one-man show, Laughter Therapy, will have in store for Cape Town and Joburg.
He tells me that his “first ever overseas comedy gig (was) at a university in Cape Town a few years ago. It was just comedy in two rooms, so it really is nice to be coming back.”
And can you believe he’s still a bit nervous about performing?
“It’s still terrifying,” he confesses, “even if you’re in front of 1 000 people. There will be stuff that I’m nervous about when I perform in South Africa. For instance, stuff that I see at the airport that I want to talk about.” He pauses his signature fast-paced speech, searching for the next words. “Maybe a million other people have stood in front of that audience and said that.”
However, you don’t get to tour the world and make headlines by being nervous. You do it by being hilarious. And Carr’s witty writing ensures he fits the bill. He explains: “Shows aren’t written, they are rewritten. You’d think after 12 years of doing this, I’d know what’s funny and what isn’t.” But Carr thinks you have to perform to small audiences until you see what’s working and what isn’t and that’s why “my hit rate is quite good.”
As someone who “left my proper job to go and do comedy gigs in pubs”, Carr believes that “an audience is an audience” and while he misses the “camaraderie that comes with sharing bills with other comedians”, he knows that the difference in performing for a large crowd or an intimate setting at a comedy club isn’t that significant. Except, when you perform in front of thousands, the backlash is magnified. Carr is no stranger to this. With his risqué, no-holds barred brand of comedy, it wouldn’t be surprising that the criticism could drive him to see a shrink.
Is that why he chose this catchy title for his newest show?
“I just wanted a title that would catch people’s eyes,” he laughs. “I wanted to make it sound like a proper job. There isn’t really a message, I don’t know if people will learn anything at my show, but I do know that I want them to laugh. When you laugh you release endorphins and feel happier. Laughter is organic, it just happens… you don’t decide you are going to laugh and then laugh, it just happens. And then your conscience kicks in later.”
Ah, conscience. That voice in your head that admonishes you for laughing at an inappropriate joke. Like when Carr got on stage and made some people laugh out loud as he poked fun at the Paralympics and soldiers who lost body parts in Afganistan and Iraq.
There are no sacred cows in Carr’s sets, which makes me wonder how he’d fare in his own Comedy Roast. The first British Comedy Roast on Comedy Central was hosted by the man himself and he thinks Roasts are good for the industry.
“It’s a great format,” he explains. “That’s what comedy is about. Saying something nice about someone to that person is a certain level of friendship, but being a little mean or telling the truth to that person’s face is real friendship, that’s like family.” Carr is reminded of the recent The Roast of Charlie Sheen which included stand-up comic Patrice O’Neal, who died two weeks ago.
“Patrice was an incredible comedian,” says Carr. “I would urge anyone who has never seen him before to seek out The Elephant in the Room. Patrice packed a lifetime’s worth of funny into 41 years.”
Carr hits the big Four-O himself next year. What would he like his legacy to be? For the first time since we started chatting, he seems truly lost for words. Then he says: “I’d like to die the oldest living man in history. With a 20-year-old wife.”
He laughs. “I’m very much a moments kind of guy,” he continues.
“The lovely thing about comedy is that it’s about the now. Comedy grows with the culture. It’s about enjoying the ride. So I don’t feel 40. I feel like a perpetual teenager who is always in school and comedy feels like doing an essay to me.”
This article appeared in Tonight on 8 December 2011.