Jimmy Carr’s Favourite Joke: Comedy and Society

In this short clip from The Green Room with Paul Provenza, we find a group of comedians discussing the trials of keeping their jokes grounded in reality despite enjoying the privileges of wealth and success which their audience’s may not relate to. In making this point in the clip’s opening, Eddie Izzard touches on the important relationship between jokes and social experience as he states that:

[as comedians] ‘we almost get up and articulate what, maybe, the room is thinking or hoping – or maybe an idea that they hadn’t thought of. We have to be real, we have to be very rooted.’

Mary Douglas also acknowledges this connection between the jokes of the comedian and the thoughts, hopes, and ideas of the audience as a community. Douglas argues that jokes serve as an ‘anti-rite’ which subvert and make light of hierarchical social structures.[1] In articulating what ‘the room is thinking’ in the form of a joke, comedians create a temporary community in which, through collective laughter, the audience are free to engage with ideas which challenge or undermine social conventions.

This brings us nicely to the work of Jimmy Carr, who argues that his act is unaffected by his lack of affinity with the lives of his audience as ‘people will always rape.’ Carr is famed for jokes which ride the line between humour and obscenity, and he demonstrates this here through a dark inversion of attitudes towards both the malaria and AIDs epidemic in Africa. The joke presents itself as an antithesis to society’s stance towards these epidemics. However, Carr acknowledges that enjoyment of the joke does not stem from sharing in its ideology, but from its subversive structure and unexpected crassness. As Douglas argues, sick jokes differ from sick acts or ‘abominations’[2] as they represent nothing more than ‘a temporary suspension of the social structure’[3] where subconscious thoughts and spontaneous laughter triumph over social structures of decency. As seen in the clip, Carr brings together a room in making light of dark thoughts.

[1] Douglas, Mary. “Jokes.” In Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology. Edited by Mary Douglas. London: Routledge, 1975 pp. 102

[2] Douglas, Mary. “Jokes.” In Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology. Edited by Mary Douglas. London: Routledge, 1975 pp. 106

[3] Douglas, Mary. “Jokes.” In Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology. Edited by Mary Douglas. London: Routledge, 1975 pp. 107

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