Stay strong, Jimmy Carr - I've been heckled too

Stand-up comedy is turning into a battleground,
and you need to have your weapons at the ready


There’s one thing new stand-up comedians love more than the sound of laughter. And that’s the sight of a seasoned pro dying on their arse. So I couldn’t be more sorry that I missed Thursday night’s legendary Arts Emergency gig at the Hackney Empire where comedic giant Jimmy Carr apparently had a bit of a rough night.

The glee over a Carr comeuppance was palpable all over social media yesterday. Reports are mixed. According to several accounts, the reaction to Carr’s appearance was intense heckling and horrific rancour, which left the always affable hostess of the night, Josie Long, at a rare loss for words.

It’s very fashionable in comedic circles to “diss” Carr. almost as fashionable as hating Michael McIntyre’s millions. In fact, both men are intense workaholics who have given their lives over to joke-telling. It doesn’t matter what you think of their comedy or their money or the discrepancy between performing at an arts fundraiser when your tax savings could fund several hundred university places, you can’t knock their work ethic or their dedication.

Carr’s crime? Having an excellent accountant, of course. And his one-liners. “We hate you” came one heckle. “No one wants you here. Go home.” And the liberal accusation of choice: “Misogynist.” That won’t have pained Carr. Educated jibes are often deserving of respect. I’ve had “Show us your mammary glands” and I greatly admired it. If BBC Radio 4 made hecklers, this would be their catchphrase.

Others reported that Carr turned the situation around and won himself a host of reluctant admirers in the process. At one point he ended up complaining: “This is turning into a town hall meeting, not an arts night.” Which seemed finally to appease the crowd.

The awkwardness of the night, however, is telling of an emerging clash in comedy. There’s a wave of comedians taking on society and politics in a way that hasn’t happened since the 1980s. Josie Long’s very much at the heart of it: she’s the inspiring force behind Arts Emergency. (Motto: “An arts degree is not a luxury.”) At the same time, though, “offensive” and “edgy” comedy has never been more popular, with lots of newbie comics trying to make their names with rape gags even Jimmy Carr wouldn’t touch.

This week those worlds collided and it wasn’t pretty. The moral of the story? If you’re going to use the most efficient tax loopholes, know your Neil Diamond lyrics. Jimmy Carr steered himself out of trouble by closing on the chorus of “Sweet Caroline”. Where politics and comedy fail, karaoke always wins the day. Good times never seemed so good.

A larger-than-life battle of the sexes

More than 100 miles away from the Hackney Empire in my home county of Somerset, offence of another kind was being caused by someone else being a bit of a cock. The Central Somerset Gazette had the honour of the headline of the week, if not the year: “Woman dressed as vagina stops fight between penis and man in Glastonbury.”

The story was about a scuffle between a passer-by and two performers from the gloriously named Nomadic Academy for Fools. A man and a woman were dressed as six-foot genitalia in folds of pink fleshy fabric (neither entirely anatomically accurate but both strangely realistic). Amusingly, no one seemed to take offence at the giant naked vagina with a grumpy lady’s face poking out of the top of it. But the penis was beyond the pale. Never mind misogyny, surely this was a classic case of misandry.

Meanwhile, the Somerset equivalent of crowd-pleaser “Sweet Caroline”? “A woman dressed as a vagina tried to calm the situation down.” Whatever it takes, people, whatever it takes.

Viv Groskop’s ‘I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took On Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life’ is published by Orion at £11.99

Philip Hensher is away

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pricing Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: low pay, E and non-E online, and the pointlessness of chess

John Rentoul

i Editor's Letter: There's a crackle in the Brum air

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style