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The charge of the ‘woke brigade’? The case against Jimmy Carr

At the beginning of his latest Netflix special, Jimmy Carr sets out the distinction between his “jokes about terrible things” and the “terrible things” themselves. However, Carr’s show, released at the end of last year, has attracted widespread criticism for using the label “edgy comedy” as a weak excuse to promote less-than-thinly-veiled bigoted attitudes about minority groups. 

Jimmy Carr has built his career on his deliberately offensive style of comedy – nothing is off limits and nobody is safe. His new special, aptly-titled His Dark Material, is supposed to epitomise this ethos, as Carr spends an hour bombarding his audience with endless quips about hipsters, vegans, gingers, women (including his own girlfriend, who sounds like a very lucky lady), victims of sexual abuse, little people, and anybody else he feels hasn’t been at the receiving end of enough grief lately. His pièce de resistance comes in the form of a section at the end of the special filled with jokes Carr brazenly calls his “career enders”, in which he says that few people know about the fact that an estimated half a million Roma people were murdered during the Holocaust because nobody wants to “talk about the positives”. One man’s suffering is another man’s slapstick. 

Though comedy is about pushing boundaries, and many great comedians have made their names from doing so successfully, the idea that stand-ups are free to say whatever they like so long as someone laughs is not just ludicrous but dangerous. Dismissing valid concerns as an attack on free speech and a product of “political correctness gone mad” is especially harmful – particularly when those concerns come from an already-marginalised group who could face further persecution as a result of a throwaway one-liner. Even more concerning is that, upon receiving backlash for the so-called joke (which Carr was oddly surprised about given he admitted it had the capacity to end his career), Carr claimed that it should be kept in the show due to its “educational quality”, because he was drawing attention to the lesser-known victims of the Holocaust. Notably, social justice warrior and all-round arbiter of reason Jeremy Clarkson was quick to jump to Carr’s defence, claiming that, since there were no guns or hand grenades or throwing of Jewish people into a river involved in the show, that people had no reason to moan. Personally, I’m not sure Carr and Clarkson have managed to convince me that the “positives” of genocide constitute a lesson worth learning, but maybe I’m just another snowflake who’s fallen victim to the woke brigade. Damn us lefties and our penchant for human rights. 

The thing is, at a time when marginalised groups are facing a three-pronged attack from the long-lasting effects of austerity, the repercussions of the pandemic, and a government who repeatedly ignores their needs and restricts their rights, “jokes” like Carr’s don’t seem particularly funny or “edgy” – they just work to kick vulnerable people when they’re down. Of course comedians are given a bit more leeway than the rest of us when it comes to being provocative, and of course their jokes don’t have to be fit to be delivered to the Pope or performed in a primary school to be deemed acceptable. However, passing off Jimmy Carr’s hateful comments as “edgy comedy” brings a bad name to the art form. Perhaps the best thing about comedy is that it brings people together and lifts their spirits through increasingly turbulent times – we can’t allow that to be tarnished by hatred.

Image courtesy of Anirudh Kohl via Flickr