"I never really think anyone's that offended. They go and ask a pressure group that's in charge of that bit of society. They take you very much kind of at face value. And journalists, I think, in the main – all journalists that I've met – tend to be very bright people. They get it. They tend to have a very well developed sense of humour. So I kind of think it's bullshit the offense in the press. It's probably very good publicity but I think if I started going around apologizing for jokes and taking them out of my set, I'd have to go back to doing five minutes, wouldn't I?"
– Jimmy Carr
Jimmy Carr: Hello Guy, how are you?
Guy MacPherson: Good. How are you?
JC: Yeah, very well. Very well indeed. What's going on in your world? Tell me everything. What's going on in Vancouver?
GM: Well, it's a beautiful sunny day.
JC: Oh, okay. I'm in another time zone, basically. I'm in London. It's... hmm... Although, I'm quite pleased to be in London. It's my tenth day at home so far this year.
GM: I know you're a touring machine, aren't you?
JC: Sort of. I mean, you don't want to go on about it. I'm not quite a rock band but this year I did Australia, Iceland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, I just got back from Malta, did South Africa last week. So I've covered a good bit of the globe. I'm very much sort of the new age Queen Victoria. The sun never sets on my act.
GM: Good lord! You haven't played Vancouver before, have you?
JC: I've never even been to Vancouver. I think I maybe have some records by Bryan Adams somewhere and I like his photography a lot, so I feel like I'm a native. I've got a big connection with Canada but I've never really travelled in Canada. I've done Montreal every year because Just For Laughs is the greatest comedy festival in the world and I love it, but I go to Toronto quite a bit because my other half is from Toronto. So I bleed blue and go Maple Leafs and all that. But I've never sort of travelled to that coast, which is kind of pretty bad of me.
GM: I heard that your wife was Canadian and that you're a big fan of The Tragically Hip.
JC: I remember the last time I saw The Tragically Hip. That was probably about ten years ago. I went to see them in the Shepherd's Bush Empire, this tiny little room in London. Glenn Wool – I don't know if you know the comedian...
GM: That's who told me you like The Tragically Hip.
JC: Yeah, we were all wearing hockey jerseys and went to see The Tragically Hip in this tiny little venue because when you've got a band that are huge in Canada, that never really took off in Europe, [they play to] people in tiny rooms. I think it's really nice, though, to go and see something that's a bit... When a Canadian band plays, like The Tragically Hip, all the Canadians come out. We have a big party for Canada Day. We make an effort.
GM: Glenn has moved back to Vancouver.
JC: Has he moved back? I talk about my touring and having ten days at home, but for about three years there Glenn didn't have a home; he was just on the road. Kind of a journeyman, like an old school kind of musician. Fabulous comedian. Fabulous. I guess he found his voice in England. He was always a funny man but I think he came to London to really discover his comedic voice.
GM: He sure did. He left pretty early here. But he's back. I don't think he spends a lot of time here. He just uses it as a base.
JC: Fair enough. He's an amazing man. Craig Campbell is the other one that's kind of travelled the world. Brilliant comic as well. Brilliant comic.
GM: When Glenn and Craig travel the world, their profile isn't as big as yours is in your home country. When you come over to Canada – it's an amazing time because of the internet – we can see you a lot even though we don't get your programs here so much.
JC: It is an odd thing. You sort of feel like now doing a thing with Netflix, you become fully global. I think YouTube's been doing it for the last ten years and now suddenly Netflix has taken it up a gear whereby everyone's their own broadcaster now; everyone's their own scheduler – that's probably a better way of expressing it. Everyone schedules their own TV channel and they do it pretty easily without any help from the networks. They basically decide what they're going to watch, when they're going to watch it and how much of it they'd like. And certainly comedy-wise, people just get recommendations and they know what they enjoy. It's very easy because if you have the same sense of humour as someone, you immediately know. Three jokes into my set, you kinda go, 'Oh yeah, I like this.' If you think I'm funny, you're right. If you think I'm not funny, you're right. There's no definitive answer, is there? If it tickles you, then great.
GM: Your jokes are very quick. We're not listening to long Craig Campbell stories.
JC: Yeah, they're quite sort of succinct. I've got slightly different gears, so often you'll see a clip of me on the internet or Canadian TV and you might see me doing a 7-minute Just For Laughs gala set, which is quite clean with short jokes, just rat-tat-tat. And then sometimes if you come and see me live you might be shocked at how rude it really is. I sort of figure if someone's paid to see me live, I can be as rude as I want because they've literally bought into it.
GM: You're really drawn to the dark humour, aren't you?
JC: Oh yeah.
GM: Have you always been?
JC: Em... I think so, yeah. I think I've always liked the idea of there being no barrier between the audience and the comedian in the way that sometimes when I was starting out, you'd be saying the funniest things backstage but you couldn't say that onstage. You could say it to your friends who are backstage. The more you can kind of break that barrier down and treat the audience like they're your friend, they get it. Because there's no malice in my act; I'm just trying to say things that I think are funny. But I think where there's tension in our society, where there's a bit of release of that tension, that's where you find the laughter.
GM: Were you described as cheeky as a boy?
JC: I don't think I would have been. No, I think I was pretty well-behaved. I think everyone was funny with their friends growing up but I wasn't rebelling against authority. I mean, I like to think I was quite fun but I certainly wouldn't have been the cheeky or the naughty one. The only one of those things that I've ever heard – you try and sum up what comedians are about – the only one that's kind of resonated with me is I think most comedians I know had a sick parent, either physically or mentally, that needed cheering up. And we were drawn to that. That seems to be the only thing that I think... maybe not a universal but I think it's certainly a good line of inquiry if you're talking to a comedian.
GM: I know you were the middle child. Were you a bit of a peace-keeper?
JC: I'm not a big one for confrontation, I must say. And I think of comedy as a way of defusing a situation or as a defence mechanism. I mean, it really does work. Not in terms of just avoiding conflict but in terms of resolving things. I think if you can see the funny side, you can resolve issues. Bono, off of U2, was addressing the Senate last week and said actually what we need to do is drop comedians on ISIS because if you laugh at something, it's very difficult to take it seriously. And it's a risible thing that they're trying to do. I'm a hundred percent with him. I think it's great. I'll go.
GM: No, you wouldn't!
GM: Glenn Wool might.
JC: You know what? Craig Campbell might and he might win.
GM: With your dark humour and one-liners, I compare you to Anthony Jeselnik.
JC: I love Anthony.
GM: You guys both have the dark jokes and this boyish charm and good looks that is sort of disarming.
JC: Well, I don't think he's as good-looking as me but yeah, sure, I'll take the point. No, he's phenomenal. We've both got Netflix specials, actually. I was very proud when my Netflix special came up. I turned it on and it said if you like this, you'll also like... and then it was Jeselnik. And I thought, oh, that's kind of cool. I think he's an amazing performer. Often I can't enjoy the jokes there because I'll listen to one of his jokes and go, I should have thought of that! Damnit!
GM: I think of you as a combination of Jeselnik and Stewart Francis.
JC: Yes, Stewart, again, is another remarkable comedian, I think. Again, another Canadian that's sort of had to come to the UK to find success. I think he's since gone back to Canada and been acknowledged. He's a phenomenal joke writer. I suppose there are two different sides of what I do because Jeselnik does edgy. I mean, he writes brilliant, brilliant jokes but they've all got that dark heart. And when you laugh at one of his jokes, it's that gut-wrenching, I-shouldn't-be-laughing-at-this-but-I-am. And I laugh more because of that. And then Stewart is this lovely cerebral... He'll use a phrase that you've used ten times that week and he'll just turn it on its head and you'll never be able to hear it the same way again. It's a wonderful thing that he does, as well, that wordplay. I try and sort of mix both of those kind of styles. I mean, all I can do is one-liners. I don't really do long stories. So it's trying to find a balance between those two in the light and the shade. Because for me I can't sustain one of them for an hour.
GM: Just before Stewart moved to England, I reviewed him and he told me it was the first review he'd ever received in Canada. And he'd been doing it for 20 years, or something like that.
JC: Wow. There is something about Canadian homegrown talent that you have there. It seems increasingly every Hollywood brilliant act turns out to be Canadian. There's such a great tradition there. I wonder is it Just For Laughs and the fact that that festival's there and is kind of on TV a lot, is an aspiration? But also I think that thing of it's half British comedy and half American comedy and there's that lovely mix there.
GM: It's more international, I guess.
JC: Yeah, I think so. And also more willing to travel. I think Canadian comedians are very happy to go around the world. It's something that I'm increasingly doing now, travelling doing comedy, and I love it. It's a great way to keep it fresh.
GM: When you go to a new place, like Canada, do you worry that no one will know you?
JC: No. That's kind of almost the ideal is that an audience is 50 percent of people that have been dragged along by someone saying I saw a clip of this guy on YouTube; let's go out and check it out. I kind of miss that from the early years of doing standup where you would walk onstage and no one would know who you were and you would have to prove yourself. Certainly for the first five minutes of the show you were on your toes. And then maybe after five minutes, you got twenty laughs and you felt like you could sit back on your heels a little bit and enjoy the gig. But that idea of the adrenaline pumping and having to prove yourself and win over a crowd... Often now I'm preaching to the choir when I do gigs in the UK, it's people that have seen me maybe as many as eight or nine times in a row. Every tour, they come to the tour. You do signings after the gig and you recognize faces, you know people that come and see you all the time. It's a lovely thing but it's nice sometimes to go somewhere new in virgin territory. I just did gigs in Malta at the weekend and smaller towns around Switzerland and it's just fabulous going someplace new and it's kind of unexpected. In some of these places there isn't a tradition of live comedy. I played gigs in Malta at the weekend and 50 percent of the audience, it was the first time seeing any kind of live comedy or theatre.
GM: Your dark humour has gotten you into some trouble in the past. I really like the fact that you say you're not going to apologize for it.
JC: Well, I think it's one of those things where I didn't say it by mistake. It would be a very disingenuous apology, I think. It's not like I blurted that out and I was drunk. No, I said that 150 times on tour and then you got offended when you saw it. It tends to be the newspapers write a story about me once a year and the story is always the same. The story is always Comedian Tells Joke and just the words are slightly different. And then they print a joke of mine and then they pretend to be offended. I never really think anyone's that offended. They go and ask a pressure group that's in charge of that bit of society. They take you very much kind of at face value. And journalists, I think, in the main – all journalists that I've met – tend to be very bright people. They get it. They tend to have a very well developed sense of humour. So I kind of think it's bullshit the offense in the press. It's probably very good publicity but I think if I started going around apologizing for jokes and taking them out of my set, I'd have to go back to doing five minutes, wouldn't I?
GM: Did you ever apologize?
JC: I think in the beginning. I've always worded things very carefully. Sometimes you can do kind of a political one. If it's a big enough storm you can go I'm sorry that you were upset. You know, one of those apologies that's kind of a bullshit political, kind of not an apology. The only time I ever apologized was when I had a big tax scandal in the UK and I kind of put my hands up and went, 'Yeah, I was in the wrong. Sorry about that, I'll remedy it. I'll correct that.' It's much easier to deal with something like that. But when it's a joke, you kind of go, 'Yeah, it's a joke. I said it because I thought it was funny.'
GM: It's journalists but it's also Twitter, where people bang out their indignation over something. But who knows if you were to speak to them in person, maybe they wouldn't be all that upset.
JC: Well, I think as well, the anonymity of Twitter and social media is fabulous. It's giving the world a voice and it's cutting down the barriers between... There's nothing special about being a celebrity or famous. It's nice that people can kind of come direct and say something to you and comment and you'll see it. But that isn't to say that you have to then change what you do. There's no amount of signatures that can stop me doing what I do. I have the right to free speech, but they have the right to free speech. So I'm allowed to say that thing and they're allowed to say they don't like it. I think where things get complicated is where they're trying to stop you from saying the thing that you want to say.
GM: Are you hosting anything on TV now?
JC: I am. I'm doing a rather bizarre program. People might have seen it on the internet in Canada. I'm doing a show called 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. So we do a sort of topical panel show and we do word quizzes and number quizzes. And I know reading this in the paper, you're probably thinking, 'That sounds like the worst idea I've ever heard.' It kinda works. I don't know why it works. It definitely shouldn't work. But it kinda works. And it's a really fun show to do.
GM: But you're hardly at home. How do you do it?
JC: I pack them in. I work hard. Well, I don't work hard; I work often.
GM: A fine distinction!
JC: I'm doing this Big Fat Quiz of the Year show. We do a show every year called The Big Fat Quiz of the Year. And it's been very popular. We've been doing it about ten years. Kind of a roundup of all the news. So if you didn't watch anything else from out of Great Britain and you saw that one 2-hour show, you'd have an idea of what happened the last year. And we're making some more general ones now, almost like kind of a pub quiz. They probably won't be on Canadian television but people bit torrent stuff and watch it on YouTube and every other thing, and they're more than welcome.
GM: Do you wish that you could be a panelist sometime instead of the host?
JC: No, I like being the host. I like kind of moving things forward and sort of deciding, okay, that's enough of that; we're going to move forward, and we do the next thing. I dunno. It's kind of fun.
GM: What's the name for this tour?
JC: It's called Funny Business. A slight nod to my financial affairs the last couple of years.
GM: Jimmy, thanks for talking.
JC: Absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much indeed, sir. Take care.