Interview: Jimmy Carr

With his latest DVD now on sale, and as he continues to tour the country, Mr Jimmy Carr spares us some time for a chat...

Jimmy Carr is one of Britain’s busiest stand-up comedians, performing, as he tells me, over 200 shows in any one year. And that doesn’t even count the corporate work, the charity gigs and his television commitments. He’s also just released his latest stand-up DVD, which keeps up the standards set in the years before.

On the eve of the disc’s release, he spared us time – presumably between travelling from gig to gig – for a chat about it…

Is it a thirst to keep doing the number of stand-up gigs that you do? Presumably there’s a freedom to the stand-up that you don’t get with your television work?

Yeah. The difficult thing is writing the show. Once you’ve got the show written you might as well take it everywhere. Because once you put it on DVD, you can never perform it again. So I take it everywhere, and then I like to do a new show every year.

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Am I right thinking you have around a month between your tours?

No, I had three days this year!

Three days!?

Yeah. I’m writing next year’s show now. I’ll start previewing it next January and February. I’ll do little tiny bits in London and a few preview dates, working out a couple of bits, a couple of gags. I need 250 jokes, but once a joke works it’s kind of locked down and I don’t have to worry about it.

Your memory must be impressive…

Well, the way to think about it is that it’s my only job in the world. All I have to think about is telling 250 jokes in a year. I don’t have to remember last year’s jokes, I just have to remember this year’s. And also, how highly motivated am I? I’m going to be standing there in front of 3000 people tomorrow night, that’s motivation to remember something.

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Do you ever find that your tours roll into each other just a little bit, or are you at the point where you’re so disciplined about it you can make a complete split?

It’s a total split, much as it’s tempting to say that I’ll throw in a couple of lines from last year’s show. Sometimes stuff will come up with an audience member, and someone will ask me a specific question, and then you can use a gag from two years ago. But even then, people know.

I spoke to Jason Manford, and he’s coming to the end of his current tour. He almost sounded relieved.

He’s done around 100 dates, he’s a lightweight!

He was so very keen to move on to the new material, though. Do you feel that?

No, I feel like you write it, and then you’re excited about new jokes, There’s nothing more exciting than a new joke that works. The joke doesn’t even exist when it’s just a thought, it only exists when you tell it someone. And that excites me. When you get to know it, when you get to know the flow of the jokes, then it’s like a comfortable pair of shoes, and you never want to put on new shoes because these are so comfortable and you’re so used to them. I think as the tour goes on, I get more comfortable with the material, and then I’m more able to go off script because you feel comfortable about coming back in.

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I love the fact that you stop your shows and go for a Q&A with the audience in the middle. And you’ve put a track of some of the different gigs and different responses on your DVD in the past?

Oh, yeah. We did the cartoons! I think it’s a really fun, and I’m really glad you said that. Hopefully, that does come across on the DVD as that’s such an important part of my show, talking to the audience.

What kind of things have audiences being throwing at you? Because you don’t go along and ask them what their job is and where they come from. You ask them directly if they have any questions for you.

Yeah. People come in with the weird and the wonderful. Often you can appear to be much quicker than you actually are, because you get asked the same thing most nights. But you often get thrown a curveball. And it’s different every night. I don’t know how much you stand up to repeated viewings, but it’s always a fun place to be in the room. It feels like it’s live entertainment that couldn’t happen anywhere else. If you do jokes about the local community and what’s going on in that town it feels kind of special.

After 200 shows a year you must be an expert on gauging how your audience is going. Does the tone or feel of the audience ever surprise you anymore?

I’m often surprised. I did a gig last week on a Monday night [this interview took place a couple of weeks ago] and thought that it was going to be slightly more subdued, a calmer sort of thing. And it was like a riot.

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I always say that it isn’t where you play in the country, it’s what night that makes the different. Fridays are the same anywhere in Britain, everyone’s had too much to drink, has left early from work and is a bit boisterous. Sundays are great fun, people getting the last bit of fun out of the weekend. Monday and Tuesday nights tend to be people that booked it way in advance and are going ‘what are we doing out on a Monday? What the fuck is going on?’ But then sometimes they just really go with it.

I suppose nobody turns up to a comedy gig wanting to have a crap time…

No. You really are preaching to the choir. They paid £22.50 to have a good time and they are determined to do so.

At this stage, two things happened. Firstly, we talked Twitter, and how Jimmy believes that the more you put into it, the more you get out. And secondly, our recording went wobbly. Bah. The DVD does have an extra feature featuring many of Jimmy’s Twitter postings, but, sadly, our technical gremlins made sure that bit of the conversation was soundly eaten.

Are there any towns or rooms that you particularly warm to?

I like most of the towns that we play. I think there is a thing that the smaller the town you go to, the more people appreciate the fact that you’ve come. If you do bother going to Skegness or Bridlington or Hull and putting on a show, people really appreciate the fact that they’ve not had to drive to Manchester to come and see you. And they’re having a better time because it’s in their local town and it’s fun. I’ve got a carbon footprint like a wookie!

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I don’t really have favourite towns, but it’s weird. We really like some crews that we’ve worked with. We like most of the people we’ve worked with. But me and Gareth, my tour manager, go out and in certain places you turn up and you know the town’s going to be fabulous and the lights are going to be great because the crew at the theatre are just excellent.

The thing that struck me when looking down the list of places you play is that you could, from where I sit, fill bigger rooms.

I have considered that. Doing Wembley, the MEN. I’ve got four nights at the Manchester Apollo, which is a 2500 seater. I could comfortably do the MEN Arena. But it was Justin Moorhouse, a great comedian, who pointed this out to me. He says there are comedians you come to see, and comedians you come to listen to. And I’m a comedian you come to listen to. You might come to see me every year for five years. Some people have been coming to see me for seven years, to every tour that I’ve ever done. They come to listen to the jokes. They don’t come to see me in the same way they’d go to see Peter Kay.

I don’t think anyone can see Peter Kay any more, though?

Well, he’s going to go out again next year, I think?

Is he really?

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I believe so. People love Peter in a way that you’re going out to be in that room and that space. It’s just a wonderful euphoric event. Whereas for me, I think I suit those 1000-3000 seater venues. I like my job, so why would I want to get it over with in ten nights? I play to, what, 300,000 people in a year? So, yes, I could do 30 shows and get it out in the way in a month. But what would I do the other eleven months? I’d be bored!

Can we talk about Eight Out Of Ten Cats

… we’re back in January!

It does feel like a show with a distinction from other panel games.

It’s a friendly, nice place to sit in the middle of that and watch it happen. There’s not a lot of edge there. There’s no competition to get lines in, we do a long record, it’s the funniest stuff that makes the edit. There’s no talking over anyone, none of that nonsense.

How do you feel, then, when you then go on other shows as a guest?

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I love it. Whenever I go on QI I feel a little bit… you know that moment when you moved from the kids’ table to the adults’ table when you were 13 or whatever? I feel like that when I go on QI, I’m at that stage. I’m at the grown-ups’ table going ‘what the fuck!? I’d better behave’…

The one thing that strikes me about hosting a panel game yourself is that you seem to have the hardest job. That you have to do the bulk of the preparation, and it’s you that’s got to be constantly on your wits. Is that how you see it?

Well, you certainly have to own it. Sometimes you have to be the boring one who moves it forward and gets an answer, and we’re always very conscious on Cats that there’s a narrative arc to the show. That it works as a game. That there’s a play-along-at-home factor. Some quizzes that just use surreal: I find them difficult to watch for the full half hour.

You sort of feel like it works on a number of levels. You can be funny about it, but the answer should be amusing as well. We’re blessed with an interesting idea. What have people been talking about this week? Everyone can have a punt.

One thing I’ve got to ask you. When you walked into the Have I Got News For You office and found that you’d been booked to appear with Ann Widdecombe…

Yeah. I think what came across on TV was a lot of sexual tension between the two of us. Clearly a magnetic attraction. It doesn’t happen in everyone’s life. Obviously. she’s a despicable human being. I upset her before we even went on. I was chatting with Alex James about the book Freakonomics, and there’s a very interesting chapter in that about abortion, and the abortion rates in America. A brilliant, interesting popular science book. We were chatting about that. And then Ann Widdecombe, this hard-line Catholic, starts going on about killing babies or some fucking nonsense. I don’t know. She’s very matriarchal and risible, but the idea that someone like that could be in charge of something…

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It was very surreal, seeing you, Ann Widdecombe and Alex James all sitting in a row…

Then she made a big fuss of it afterwards. That she’s never going to do that show again.

That’s a badge of honour, surely?

Well, yeah! I hope they make it a condition that if she does do the show again – and she will want to, she wants the publicity – that I should be booked.

You seem to be quite a keen disciple of other comedians as well, popping off regularly to other people’s gigs.

I absolutely love it, yeah.

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Is there anyone you particularly recommend at the moment?

Well, I think there’s great people on tour that are perennially on tour. Ross Noble is out there doing his thing, and he’s a great talent. David O’Doherty is doing a little tour, Tommy Tiernan is doing a couple of dates in the UK, and he’s a phenomenal live act. On the Twitter, I big up things that I think would be really good. I’d really recommend The Pyjama Men at the Soho Theatre. There’s loads of great stuff out there.

Are you ever tempted to revisit your Comedy Idol idea again?

I’d really like to. I think we might do it on the next DVD.

You know who I saw today, weirdly? I saw James Mullinger, who’s in that. He’s a great stand-up, really fun. And I think that was one of his first gigs. I see Ed Aczel every year in Edinburgh, he still does his shows.

What I really liked about it, when you were all sat on the panel judging the acts, you were just dying with laughter…

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Losing it, yeah. But first and foremost I’m a comedy fan, and then became a comedian. But I do go out to a lot of the shows, and I just think it’s a great night out. You go and see someone and just out of leftfield they blow you away, and say something that you never would have thought of in a million years. And what fun! What a giggle!

Do you see yourself touring indefinitely?

I think certainly the next couple of years, yeah. I’m absolutely loving it at the moment, why would I change?

Are you determined to get a 10 DVD boxset? You’re up to five now!

Yeah, and they all go in a weird order. The titles all make sense. The first one was Live, then Stand-Up, then Comedian, then In Concert, then Telling Jokes. So, Live Stand-Up Comedian In Concert Telling Jokes!

Isn’t that like the spine of the Mr Men books?

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Yeah, so it’ll all look good on the shelf!

Beyond Eight Out Of Ten Cats, beyond the stand-up, are you looking at doing more books, or film work?

I don’t think so. It was such a lot of work to put together, aided by Lucy Greeves, my friend. To put the Naked Japes book together. It didn’t set the world on fire. I think it did quite well. It was almost like a popular science book. I really enjoyed writing it, and I had great feedback from it from other stand-ups, and people who were interested. But it does feel like it was written for the kind of people who like Den Of Geek. People who are very into it.

I just thought that compiling the jokes in it alone must have taken an age.

Yeah, it did take a long time. But it was a labour of love, and I did enjoy doing it. But I don’t think there’s another one hot on the heels.

There’s a big bit in the show at the moment, the Rapier Wit tour, that I was offered the celebrity biography, so I was talking about what I wouldn’t want to put in to a celebrity biography. It’s just a bit of the comedy show, I don’t think I’m going to do one.

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And finally, just a few things about the material on the DVD. You never answered the question yourself that you pose to the audience in the gig: Gillian McKeith or Brad Pitt?

Definitely Brad Pitt!

The other bit in the gig that I really liked was what seemed like a fingers up to the critics at the moment, where you gradually built it up to see how offensive you could make the material.

Yeah, the encore piece. It’s interesting, some of those jokes I’ve had for five years but never used because I could never find the right place for them. Within the context of saying these are offensive things to say, it feels like a very safe space to dip your toe in the water and see how rude you can be. You’ve got to credit the audience: they get it. They know what’s a joke and what isn’t a joke. They know if there’s hate in your heart, and if there’s hate in your heart, it’s wrong. If it’s just a joke, it’s just words, it’s okay.

The audience really did seem to go with it. I’d imagine that’s a routine that’s worked well right through the tour?

Yeah, that did well in front of 300,000 punters. What I like to do on my stand-up DVDs and in my stand-up shows is credit the audience with being smart. They’re going to get stuff in the same way that your mates are going to get stuff.

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I find comedy incredibly contextual. There’s one bit where you fitted an audience member up with a 13-year-old boy, and even if you took that onto television, it wouldn’t work. Stand-up’s the only place you can make that work?

It’s the last space, the last bastion of good taste and I fully intend to abuse it!

Jimmy Carr, thank you very much!