On the offence

Deadpan English comedian Jimmy Carr is heading to Bangkok — and he won't mind if you heckle him

The best defence is showing you're not offended, and for Jimmy Carr the easiest way to do that is to laugh. Carr knows a thing or two about offending people -- it's bound to happen when joking about everything from disability and dwarf shortages to car crashes. No subject is off limits for the English comedian and TV host who even called himself Roger Federer's weird little brother.

But speaking from Inverness in Scotland ahead of the last leg of his Funny Business tour, he does not expect anyone to be upset when he brings his show to Bangkok next month.

"It's an interesting thing -- no one ever gets offended at the show, no one," Carr said.

"In this day and age, people only come to shows when they know who you are, so you're always preaching to the choir. It's always people who go, 'Oh, I like him, I want to go and see him live', and then they go and see you live.

"Sometimes when it gets reported, someone takes a joke out of context and puts it in the paper the next day and goes 'ban this filth' and then people are offended on behalf of someone else two days later, and you kind of lose the nuance of the joke and the fun of it. I never worry about it, because even though I believe I have freedom of speech and I'm allowed to say whatever I want, people can get offended or they are allowed to not like it or not laugh. I think it's a bit much when people come and see your show and then say, 'I didn't like any of that.' OK, don't come again. Don't come again, can I keep the money? Can I? Good."

Carr in conversation is much more mild-mannered than his stage persona, although he still speaks at a million miles an hour.

He sounds reflective when talking about a BBC documentary where he spoke to American professor Pete McGraw about the science of laughter. At its heart, Carr said, laughter is a sign you are not offended or that you accept "benign violations" such as jokes or being tickled.

"If you're a Martian and you land and you see someone being tickled, you would think it seems like a violent act. But actually the laughter is you making it benign. I think often with comedy shows it's almost like a pressure release, like a valve on the tension if you like, of things that we worry about. So you joke about sex or politics or terrorism and people feel like they are dealing with serious topics, but we're in this safe space. We can laugh about it."

Carr thrives on audience interaction and prefers smaller venues "so I can do more shows". He will play three in Bangkok, with tickets for a final show on Monday, Sept 12, going on sale last week after the first two sold out.

Hosted by the Comedy Club Bangkok, the Westin Grande Sukhumvit will be set up with about 500 seats -- intimate enough so that even those at the back will be able to heckle. He invites the crowd to join in and will gleefully match wits with anyone game enough to interrupt.

"I absolutely love that, yeah. If there's a thousand people in the room, it's not like I'm the only one with a sense of humour and everyone else is, 'Oh, my god, thank god the man with jokes came otherwise we'd never laugh again.' I feel like me hogging all the limelight is a bit much. I want people to join in and have fun with it.

"I'm very lucky with my audience -- good hecklers tend to find me."

Carr has visited Thailand as a tourist but expects it will be different for the four days he's due to spend here professionally. He'll be asking questions and finding out what people find funny or are obsessed about.

But don't expect a wild departure from his 300-jokes-a-show style he has honed over a 16-year career. The further he travels, and Thailand will be his 29th country this year, the more Carr realises people laugh at the same kind of things. Local references to British politics might be out, and there may be references to Trump and Clinton or the Olympics, but expect Carr to keep it broad.

The host of Eight out of 10 Cats and the Big Fat Quiz of the Year, plus a regular on British panel shows including QI and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Carr enjoys being able to balance TV work with his first love, stand-up.

"TV is like a team sport. You're on camera, so you kind of get all the credit, but there's writers and there's producers and there's other comedians, there's people working very hard to make you look good," he said.

"With stand-up, there's just you, just you and a microphone. It's very simple, very pure, and if it's a bad show you've got no one to blame but yourself. TV feels like it's a group thing, and that's really fun."

Carr's touring schedule is relentless, and he is already performing another show in the UK. But he never tires of telling jokes -- or hearing them.

"I mean, it would be slightly disingenuous to say I didn't find myself funny. When I write I think, 'That's good, that will work, funny.' Like anyone else, I guess, your friends make you laugh more than anyone else in the world, hanging out with your buddies. Comedy-wise, I watch everything. I love the medium, I love stand-up comedy. It's so simple, it's just one person with a microphone standing there telling jokes. There's no special effects, there's no pretending, it's just jokes.

"I think I'm addicted to it. I think I'm addicted to drugs and the drug I'm addicted to is the endorphin that's released when you laugh. You laugh, it releases endorphins, it makes you happy and you want to laugh more. That's why people come to the show. Subconsciously they're thinking, 'I'm going to release some endorphins, great, fun.' I think just the adrenalin of being on stage, the endorphins of laughing and making other people laugh and how good that feels."

He won't be stopping any time soon, and fans in Thailand can expect a return.

"This is very much the end of the Funny Business tour, but I'm fully intending to come back next year. If you tour a place, you want to build an audience. You want people to see you, then you want them to come back with three friends next time. That's kind of the ideal -- you want people to have a great night out and say, 'Yeah, I want to see more comedy.' Also, you want it to be good for the local comedy club, you want them to come see a show and go, 'Oh, I'll go see the local guys do a show now.'

"I would encourage people who haven't been out to see a live comedy show to come out and check it out. And then go and see some local comedy in Thailand."


Jimmy Carr performs in Bangkok at 8pm on Sept 12 (the first shows on Sept 11 have sold out). Tickets cost between 1,800 and 3,200 baht and are available from www.comedyclubbangkok.com.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Michael Ruffles
Position: Chief sub-editor of the Bangkok Post Sunday