All of the shows at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival begin first with a pre-recorded announcement for audience members to check in using social media, but please, to turn off or silence the cell phones as well as their heckling mouths and enjoy the show.
Jimmy Carr‘s stand-up performance includes a second pre-show message.
On a big screen above the stage, Carr provides further instructions, a few warm-up jokes, and finally a five-second countdown to welcome him out from behind the curtains. Among his instructions, a warning to hecklers: Better bring your best material. Because Carr certainly won’t hold back with his comebacks.
Jimmy Carr’s “Gagging Order” at Montreal’s Just For Laughs is billed as one-liners, stories and jokes. “I do very edgy stuff, taboo stuff. It can backfire on me,” Carr told his Montreal audience Tuesday night at L’Astral, made up mostly of Canadians and Americans. His fans across the pond are well accustomed to Carr’s gleefully edgy, taboo wordplay, delivered in a deadpan and a natty three-piece suit. In Britain, Carr is a longtime radio/TV presenter. Over here, he may come across as a more fashionable, accented Anthony Jeselnik.
Of course, Carr has been at this game longer than Jeselnik.
And Carr’s never bluffing when it comes to hecklers. Several Carr vs. heckler videos exist, and even Carr posted a “Hecklers Beware” compilation from his three most recent DVDs.
But what about his prepared material in “Gagging Order.”
Carr breaks up his hour-plus set not just by responding to audience heckles and instigated queries, but also by employing the screen above him for several minutes of animated jokes, as he sits down to provide live voiceovers.
If you thought some of his one-liners were gross or patently offensive, just wait until you see a sexually deviant punchline turned into a cartoon.
Carr has an obvious love for wordplay, and as his audience interactions demonstrate, an even quicker wit on display in the moment.
As offended as you may find yourself at any given joke, though, Carr is willing to give you and him an out. Whether it’s a playful rejoinder such as, “It’s just a joke. As far as you know.” Or, in the case of religion, he’ll note after a joke: “I’m an equal-opportunity religious offender. I don’t care which nonsense you believe.” He did take a moment during the hour to ask if the audience if they’d be onboard, so to speak, with a line of jokes targeting airline safety. Too soon? Carr wondered, sincerely, in the wake of the Ukrainian shoot-down of a Malaysian Airlines flight last week. But soon he’d press on with a couple of minutes of jokes about plane crashes.
Then again, Tuesday night’s crowd did respond to Carr’s appeal for questions with a shout of “More AIDS jokes!”
To which Carr replied, “I love my audience. That they’d say, yes, please, more jokes about a killer virus.”
And he’d happily oblige before his show was done, alongside quips about race, cancer, pedophiles and sexuality. He dropped knowledge of a new meaning for the term “spaghetti,” with regard to women feeling more open to bisexuality, then offered: “If you’re not laughing you’re learning and that’s fine, too.”
You always know Carr is enjoying himself, at his own show or someone else’s, when he bursts into his distinctive laugh. It leaps out of his mouth as a “Bahahaha-HI!” or sometimes a “Bah-HA-HAA!” Carr acknowledged it during his act. “I have a weird laugh. I laugh on an in not an out breath,” he said, describing it thusly: “It sounded like a seal getting finger blasted…don’t ask me how I know.”
Carr certainly has hundreds if not thousands of one-liners that cross the line of “good” or “proper” taste and then some. But as he tells his audiences, comedy is a rather unique art form that puts the audience in charge of determining the line. “If you laugh as a group, by definition, it’s funny,” Carr said. Each audience decides what’s acceptable and what’s not. “I don’t know what’s funny until I say something to you.”
He closes his show by testing your limits.
Although you can rest assured that hundreds of shows and hundreds of thousands of audience members already have passed his test, and long ago decided Carr had passed theirs, too.