To watch Jimmy Carr in action at a socially distanced comedy gig, in the midst of a pandemic, is a bit like being already begrimed with oil then smearing yourself with an extra level of malodorous grease. It’s a wanton, gleeful act of self-contamination.
Those seeking a healing moment, a saving round of tea and sympathy, should look elsewhere. There are doubtless churches and support groups near the Clapham Grand where Carr was installed for two back-to-back shows on Monday, trialling a new set, Terribly Funny, ahead of a West End run (yes, really) in November. But he isn’t showing his inner nice guy at this hour of crisis; if anything, the early-evening performance was more like a wicked tea-party. The 48-year-old, seemingly granted the grubby, callous mind of a 14-year-old in perpetuity, has no compunction in airing sweary, potentially offensive material. Jokes about paedophiles, bestiality, “midgets”? He’s got ’em.
With his predilection for the old-fashioned (if barbed and shocking) one-liner – there since he fast-emerged in 2002 and persistent throughout his TV career (8 out of 10 Cats host and all that) – Carr was always something of a comedy throwback. Now he seems even more like the man that time forgot, long resistant to political correctness, seemingly immune to the onset of the woke era. He’s less viciously pugnacious than Frankie Boyle, but free too of the latter’s satirical bent.
He arrives (neatly suited, sans tie but with waistcoat) acknowledging “what I can only describe as difficult times” (the Grand has been bravely, but bleakly, made over to allow for clusters of seats – not all taken on the day – in its vast Victorian auditorium). But his opening Covid-related gags could almost have been penned prior to the pandemic, they so little evince actual concern about it.
Admittedly, some if it is lollipop-stick innocuous: “You lose your sense of taste – I thought I had it at one point because I was listening to a lot of Michael Bublé.” But some less so – “There are a few positives” to coronavirus, he deadpans: “The pensions crisis is over – nana and grandad were meant to be here this evening”. “I don’t even say ‘fat’ any more, I just say ‘pre-existing condition’.” He lets out one of his oddly sinister seal-yelp laughs.