How not to offend a Danish audience by Jimmy Carr
Jimmy Carr – the man who laughs like he’s just been punched in the stomach – tried to offend the Copenhagen audience. Little did he know.
On Sunday the British funny man performed his stand-up routine ‘Gagging Order’ at Koncerthuset’s perfectly designed and decidedly innocuous concert hall.
Carr was off to a good start by reminding everyone the Danes stood up to the Nazis for two hours – “Denmark is the only place about which they could make a war film in real-time” – and that doing a gig in Denmark is like doing a gig North of the Wall in ‘Game of Thrones’, although the latter was the first in a long line of rehashed jokes. Carr had tweeted the exact same thing about Iceland only a month ago.
A top joke writer, but it’s basic stuff
To be fair, Carr is a talented joke writer and delivered his signature one-liners at a dizzying pace with almost no slip-ups. Who knew that rhinos are unicorns that don’t moisturise, or that there is a dwarf shortage?
There were also ingenious solutions for ecological problems. Carr showed how easy it is to halve out carbon emissions: divide them by two! “And if that doesn’t work, we can always start by moving paedophiles closer to schools. You’re afraid of paedophiles? Grow up!”
No doubt – Carr is a professional. Presumably, his one-liners are funny because he isn’t, in fact, a horny misogynist, chauvinist, homophobe, islamophobe, weightist paedophile. But that doesn’t answer the question about who he is. Several times during the show he refers to himself as an “equal opportunities offender”. Is this how he justifies not straying from the lowest common denominator?
Unworthy of the reputation?
There is enormous humorous and subversive potential in a comedian who isn’t afraid to offend. But an hour into the show of Carr almost mechanically bludgeoning the vulnerable with generic material, I start to doubt whether he even deserves the title.
Carr would call me fat and unattractive for quickly seizing to find his crude jokes hilarious. But my problem is not that they are offensive. On the contrary, they are too repetitive and cliché-ridden to be offensive in an interesting way. Whereas in former shows he would humorously dissect current news headlines, this time he resorted to a slideshow of animated illustrations. A comic version of Carr jerking off on the priest at a funeral. It’s too easy to be truly funny.
High interval hopes soon dashed
During the intermission I decide to give Carr the benefit of the doubt and gather my excitement for the second half of the show for which he had announced he would go all out. Disappointment is correspondingly high when Carr spends most of it recycling – verbatim! – tried and tested quips from old routines.
At one point he went as far (or as low) by essentially rephrasing a joke he made in the first half of the show about abortion being a great way to lose weight: “slimmer in a month”. If there is a joke a professional comedian can pull off twice in one show, it’s got to be funnier than this.
Never an easy crowd
Two chairs standing in the left corner of the stage remain suspiciously unused. It looked like Carr spontaneously back-tracked on his plans for the second half. But why? True, Danes aren’t an easy audience. They clap avidly, but don’t seem to take much offence. They also don’t heckle – a source of frustration for the talented ad-libber, who almost begs to be abused. Meagre attempts – “How short is your penis?” – don’t give him much to work with. “You look like Hitler” at least provokes a satisfying chuckle: “Yes, that’s why they let me in here without any kind of fuss.”
But there is nothing particularly new or unexpected about his act. The supposedly impromptu insults of audience members – “Oh what a shame – spent all afternoon doing his hair, then forgot it at home!” – seem stale and scripted.
Promise in the pub
A welcome exception is his mimicry of a popular pub-conversation:
“If you were to have sex with another guy, who would it be?”
“Well I wouldn’t, so none.”
“Yeah but if you did?”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t, so –”
“But if you had to.”
“But I wouldn’t –”
and so on, ad nauseam.
There is a good reason and a bad reason for why this is funny. The bad one being that it is like a breath of fresh air next to his otherwise metronomic delivery. The good one is that here is a joke that has some weight and seems to touch on something real. It’s not just an insult we can laugh at because we know it’s not true.
Carr’s trademark is one-liners. He is not a storytelling, physical or socio-political comedian, and it is unfair to judge him by the standards of one. Except – maybe it isn’t? Carr weaved in a few stories and didn’t entirely stay clear of politically-charged content either. In fact he devoted a good part of the closing to a race story, which unfortunately culminated in the slightly hackneyed observation that white people cannot tell the difference between black people.
Unless I am only projecting, there seems to be a will to reinvent. Certainly there is a need. “It’s nice to be nice,” as Carr says. But if that’s funny, then it’s only because we all know there is so much more to be than that.
Jimmy Carr’s “Gagging Order”
Sunday April 26; Koncerthuset