In a battle of wit and words, Jimmy Carr would win every time. Heck, he was just crowned as the Roastmasters Invitational Champion for his uncanny ability to think on his feet, and the teenage Jimmy in the schoolyard surely wouldn’t have been far behind.
“I think that’s always where I started. When I was at school that was a big part of that kind of banter and taking the piss out of each other was a huge part of my upbringing,” he says.
“I think that was a thing everyone did. [I’d never win] in terms of fisty cuffs but I always had something to say, I think I got my nose broken a couple of times in the process, but I lived.”
Despite his smart-aleck behaviour growing up, comedy wasn’t the first choice for Jimmy, or at least, it wasn’t the most accepted. One career in marketing later and at age 26 Jimmy jumped ship to the unruly world of laughter and risk – or as Jimmy puts it, he joined the circus.
“I’ll be honest with you, I think it was sort of depression that did it. I had kind of a quarter life crisis and I didn’t like my life in my mid 20s,” he says honestly on why he made the change.
“I was working for a big oil company in marketing and it was kind of a good job. I had a nice life but it wasn’t very exciting and I just wanted to join the circus and do something exciting with my life. And that’s how I got into comedy. So I didn’t get into it to be on TV or to make lots of money and be a big star, I just did it because it’s like joining the circus.”
And a circus it has been, as Jimmy has worked on TV shows Distraction, Big Fat Quiz of the Year and 8 Out of 10 Cats and guest appeared on QI, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You amongst many others and all while juggling the many comedy festivals and tours he does each and every year.
Given his unique (though ultimately classic) style of comedy, each set means he can pump out a hundred or so individual jokes. On asking Jimmy just how many he thinks he’s created in his career, he quickly does the maths and throws out 2,500 – a ballpark figure. Though of course that amount doesn’t count the many hundreds that didn’t make the cut.
“Half the time you don’t know what’s going to be funny until you get in front of the audience. The audience regulate comedy – they tell you what is and isn’t funny and what is and isn’t offensive. The audience is the genius,” he says.
“I think Lenny Bruce said it first and he’s absolutely right, it’s this weird thing where the collective mind decide if it’s funny or just offensive. Sometimes you think, ‘Oh that’ll be really funny they’re going to love that’ and then you get nothing.”
Other times there’s the moment where Jimmy may put down a joke thought of as socially offensive, the crowd laugh but it’s quickly followed by gasps from the audience as they laugh and instantly question their decision to do so. It may sound unusual, but for Jimmy, those gasps are what give him the biggest thrills in his job.
“You don’t choose your sense of humour, you don’t choose what you laugh at. It’s pretty much like your sexuality it pretty much just chooses you,” he says.
It begs the question, does Jimmy ever get offended by anything himself and let out a similar gasp of surprise? “I don’t get offended by anything,” he adds with a laugh.
“Though I’m often offended by people’s point of view; whether it’s their personal point of view or social point of view, but I’m never offended by jokes – they’re a different thing.”
Occasionally those gasps he creates may follow on with media backlash, but he’s become known for his comedy style and as a result only attracts fans who get what he does, and then love him unconditionally for it.
Joining the game later than some comedians, many may wonder when the “day” will finally come for Jimmy to hang up the mic, but you’ll be assured to know that won’t be any time soon. After all, there are far too many Australian summers and tennis seasons for him to enjoy.
“I think I’ll die with my boots on and do it to the end,” he says.
Written by Amanda Sherring
When & Where: Hamer Hall, Melbourne – January 25 & 26 and Costa Hall, Geelong – January 29