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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine