Alison Rowat: Jimmy Carr the new Billy Connolly? Don’t make me laugh

Signs that life has taken a turn for the worst, number 12: you are snapped in the back of a car being driven away at speed from an angry mob. It is a pose usually forced upon notorious criminals on their way to jail, or, more recently, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

This time, however, the chap in the dock of public opinion is Jimmy Carr, the comedian, who has caused widespread offence with a so-called “joke” about the Holocaust.

The gag to make you gag is part of an hour-long Netflix special, and it is far from the only one of its kind. Rape, abortion, paedophilia, mental illness, disability, death: it seemed no subject was out of bounds. Many of the jokes were, in his own words, “career enders”.

His justification? Given his edgy humour he was bound to be “cancelled”, or made unemployable, in the next couple of years by the liberal wokerati, so he might as well go down swinging.

He was right about the cancelling, but not the time frame. “Has Jimmy Carr had his last laugh?” was one among many headlines.

We have been here before, of course. The only surprise is that Carr is not Scottish. In recent years the Scots have been disproportionally represented in the outrage stakes. Before there was Carr there was (and still is) Frankie Boyle. Before Boyle there was Jerry Sadowitz. Before Sadowitz there was the granddaddy of them all, Billy Connolly. Connolly was passed the baton by Pryor and Bruce and Carlin. All performers lambasted for thinking that nothing should be out of bounds for comedy, that boundaries were there to be crossed. Tell the gag and shame the devil.

READ MORE: Glasgow councillor slates Carr

Carr clearly believes he has a place in such esteemed company. If that is so, he might not have much to worry about. Look at Frankie Boyle, one-time regular teller of sick jokes and purveyor of vicious take-downs. The BBC cannot get enough of him now, giving him money to do travel documentaries, chat shows, and whatever else he fancies.

As for Connolly, he has gone beyond national treasure status. Sooner or later, society eventually catches up with these comedy pioneers and we are left wondering what all the fuss was about.

I don’t see that happening in Carr’s case, for several reasons. At the start of his routine he sets out his defence for what is to follow. “Tonight’s show contains jokes about terrible things,” he says, “terrible things that may have affected you and the people that you love. But these are just jokes, they are not the terrible things.” There’s a huge difference between doing a joke about rape and perpetrating a rape, he says by way of illustration.

If that is his attempt at cast iron logic he wasted his time at Cambridge. This was just a way of having his comedy cake and eating it. Throughout the video he tries to balance things out by providing context. He has a go at the right and the left. This is an equal opportunities slag-fest. So why has the reaction to this particular remark been so fierce?

As soon as you hear the “joke” the answer is obvious. I’ve hesitated about setting it out here, but it is central to the discussion.

“When people talk about the Holocaust,” began Carr, “they talk about the tragedy and horror of six million Jewish lives being lost to the Nazi war machine. But they never mention the thousands of gypsies that were killed by the Nazis. No one ever wants to talk about that, because no one ever wants to talk about the positives.”

It has been said that Carr’s audience know the type of material he does and if anyone does not like it they can stay away. The same used to be said about Bernard Manning.

But there is something more going on here, something that turns the stomach, that is just not on.

The comics that Carr so admires, chief among them Connolly, know what a backlash feels like. Compared to what the Glaswegian endured, Carr is having it easy. Here’s the crucial difference between the two, though: Connolly was often taking on forces far more powerful than he was. The church, for God’s sake. Having grown up in the west of Scotland Connolly had earned the right to take a swing at religion.

In general he punched up, not down, and occasionally to the side. He could get it wrong – there was the dreadful joke about the hostage Ken Bigley for one – but for the most part audiences felt he was on their side, he was one of them. And he was funny with it.

What pain has Carr endured to make him believe he gets a special pass to joke about the terrible deeds done to others? Life as a marketing executive for an oil company, his career before comedy, cannot have been that bad.

As we know from the stories of a few years back exposing his tax avoidance, he is a wealthy man, able to shield himself from any slings and arrows coming his way. He doesn’t have to go to bed at night fearful of a brick coming through the window, or being attacked in the street, just a taste of what Roma have to put up with.

READ MORE: Jimmy Carr reviewed

So far, Carr has not apologised. If he takes the advice of Donald Trump he will not. The former President has been counselling Joe Rogan, another comedian who finds himself pilloried, in his case for spreading manure about Covid and being racist.

The podcaster has said sorry several times, which is more than Trump thinks he should. Says the old conciliator, “He’s got to stop apologising to the Fake News and Radical Left maniacs and lunatics. How many ways can you say you are sorry? Joe, just go about what you do so well and don’t let them make you look weak and frightened.”

Rogan at least accepts what he did was wrong. As he put it, “Whenever you’re in a situation where you have to say ‘I’m not a racist,’ you ****** up, and I clearly have ****** up.”

Carr’s friend, Victoria Coren Mitchell, did not in any way defend her pal’s remark, but she wanted it to be known that he was “a kind person”. Perhaps there is another explanation for his behaviour besides meanness, or some misguided attempt to prove himself fearless.

This much was clear. Carr might have been up on a stage telling jokes and laughing in that oft imitated way of his, but he did not look for one second like a person who was happy. Funny that.

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