British comic Jimmy Carr, who started in comedy in 2000, has paid his dues. Now, at 43, he’s going mainstream with “Funny Business,” a new Netflix special, and a U.S. club tour. He began by hosting game shows (“8 out of 10 Cats”), then satirical news programs (“10 O’clock Live”), then found his footing with controversial material. He was pilloried for offering the shortest pun in the world on BBC TV: “Dwarf shortage.” And in the regular “most offensive jokes” portion of his set, he listed Hitler and Pol Pot’s finest achievements: conducting successful scientific experiments in which no animals were harmed. Brace yourself, America.
You’re always getting in trouble for risqué gags. Is the world just too PC now?
Well, I think there’s a weird thing about comedy, where the medium is the message. Sometimes newspapers will take a comedian’s joke and print it out of context, and even I will look at it on the page and go, “That seems a bit harsh at 9:30 in the morning, over my cornflakes.” But within a room, where you’ve built up a rapport with an audience? There is nothing you can’t say.
At first, you studied political science. What were you planning?
Nothing at all. I didn’t make a decision in my life until I was in my mid-20s. I was like a parent’s wet dream – I did very well at school, went to the best university I could, and then went to work at a big blue-chip company, Shell Oil, where I was a marketing manager. Then, at 26, I just thought, “Whose life is this? It’s boring – I’m not doing this anymore!” So I joined the circus — I always had a love of standup, and I thought I’d give it a go.
What was your final day like at Shell Oil?
Awesome. I loved all my co-workers, but marketing was basically the same job I’m doing now — telling lies to strangers. And the pay was very nice. But I really subscribe to that theory that the things you own end up owning you. Because in my mid-20s, I stupidly bought a sports car, thinking I wanted excitement. But actually, all I wanted was excitement, so I thought, “Why not do something exciting instead?”
And your missus was cool with you changing careers?
Well, we got together very early on, so she understood. And I think with most comedians, if we’d been more successful with the ladies early on, we wouldn’t have developed this sense of humor. So if you look like me? You’d better have some jokes. You’d better have some charm lined up.
IF YOU GO
Where: Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. April 24, 7:30 p.m. April 25
Contact: (415) 928-4320, www.livenation.com
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